Opposition: steps towards consolidation
On 11 April the National Coordinating Council of the Democratic Forces of Belarus adopted a statement regarding the “conditions for the participation of the Belarusian democratic forces in the election campaigns”.
In the statement, the Council members demanded to release all political prisoners, to cease political repressions in the country, to respect constitutional rights and freedoms, to reform the electoral system and particularly underlined the reservation of their right to boycott the upcoming election campaign if the demands they put forward were not fulfilled.
The statement should be regarded as an important step towards the likely consolidation of the alternative political forces in Belarus after the 2010 Presidential election campaign. The collective boycott strategy could become a strong argument while making the authorities listen to the demands of the opposition, given it could be implemented. In the past decade this strategy has been regularly discussed however was never implemented to the extent, when the governmental candidate could find him/herself in a situation of no alternative.
The potential boycott of elections by the opposition is doubtful. In fact, the history and inner logic of the opposition movement in Belarus shows that the strategy of boycotting the elections is the most difficult to carry out. The last three presidential campaigns since 2001 demonstrate that the opposition has been consistently breaking up its participation in the elections: from the single candidate in 2001 to two candidates in 2006 and seven candidates in 2010.
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.