Opposition pre-election activity is affecting political climate in Belarus
Future oppositional parliamentary candidates successfully use creative approaches while campaigning to consolidate basic protest electorate. Relaxed pressure and milder rhetoric of the authorities with regard to the opposition have somewhat transformed political atmosphere in the society. The Belarusian authorities are likely to somewhat step up the pressure on opposition in order to cool down the response in society to oppositional candidates.
Despite the distrust in electoral procedures, opposition supporters seem to be eager to participate in the campaigning events. For instance, substantially more people have participated in the permitted picket organised by Logvintets from the For Freedom movement to commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of Sovereignty, than usually participate in protest actions. For comparison, only twenty people responded to the call to celebrate the anniversary in an unauthorized action on the Independence Square.
Overall, according to signature collectors and picketing activists, Belarusians willingly respond to political communication, which, in turn, encourages potential candidates and signature collectors to use creative approaches. For instance, they organise collaborative pickets (together with the centre-right coalition, nominees and leaders of associations), mini-events, and activities to protect the interests of voters. Over a month, the process of collecting signatures has mobilised both, activists and electorate, and prompted society to overcome the political frustration.
Meanwhile, the authorities are beginning to feel nervous due to the non-conventional approaches used by the opposition. For instance, the special services have attempted to disrupt the concert by Liavon Volsky at a campaign picket, without engaging in a conflict with the organisers and the participants publicly or directly. In addition, Central Election Commission Head Yarmoshyna expressed dissatisfaction with the use of amplification equipment, megaphones and musicians at pickets organised by Ales Lahviniec and Andrei Dmitriev.
Apparently, after the elections, the authorities may introduce a more detailed regulation for the collecting signatures stage and restrict the use of sound amplifiers and other equipment, which could up-scale the opportunities for the opposition. If election campaigning transforms into protest actions, and the opposition toughens its rhetoric and calls for a ‘Maidan’ to which society responds, the Belarusian authorities are likely to impose a harsh clampdown.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.