Opposition is split over „European issue”
Last week, opposition and civil society representatives had hot debates about the Belarusian-European relations’ principles and about the role they could play. The debates started on April 8th when “Wider Europe for Belarus”, the Belarusian Popular Front, “For Freedom” movement and “Tell the Truth” civil campaign made a joint statement.
Last week’s debates in democratic environment confirmed disagreements among them over the “European issue”. The “Trio” (“For Freedom”, “Tell the Truth” and BPF) called upon the EU to implement different policies towards the authorities and the Belarusian population, regardless of the Belarusian authorities’ actions. Charter 97 and the UCP stood against dual policy and called for ‘freezing’ relations until Belarusian authorities fulfill the EU demands.
BPF leader Yanukevich, “For Freedom” movement Alyaksandr Milinkevich and “Tell the truth” Vladimir Neklyayev called upon the EU to implement proactive policy of engagement vis-à-vis Belarusian population, regardless of the relations between Belarus and the EU. Namely, they proposed to unilaterally minimize visa barriers, to launch implementation of small border traffic agreement, to simplify the rules for the Belarusian-European small and medium-sized joint ventures, to create favourable conditions for Belarusian students at European universities, to continue supporting civil society.
Mr. Sannikov, “European Belarus” (Charter 97) leader said it would be unacceptable for the EU to expand cooperation with Belarus without the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners. Sannikov called upon the EU to demand immediate release of all 13 political prisoners. In his view, the EU should seize all relations with the dictatorship, suspend oil products trade, potash imports, freeze bank accounts, and stop all formal and informal interactions with the authorities until all political prisoners were released.
There are no formal contradictions between these positions. The “Trio” talked about the EU’s unilateral steps towards Belarusian citizens, and about leaving relations with the authorities unchanged – i.e. no dialogue until the political prisoners were released. Sannikov said nothing about the EU’s policy towards the Belarusian citizens, but demands maximum isolation of the regime. However, these positions differ not only by their “conciliatory” or “non-compromising” tone, they base on different concepts about the most probable and desirable scenarios for changes in Belarus.
The first group reckons that the most possible and desirable changes will come when the regime is eroded by the increased opportunities for the Belarus’ citizens, when their dependence on the state is reduced, thereby reducing fear of the regime and bringing changes. The second group advocates for narrowing opportunities for both, the regime and its citizens, creating unbearable socio-economic conditions and, as a consequence, for social explosion. Both positions base on the current electoral perceptions in the Belarusian society.
Therefore, regardless of the EU policy towards Belarus, the differences among the opposition forces in Belarus will remain – at least until of the scenarios becomes true.
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.