Opposition supports authorities in Russian air base deployment issue

April 22, 2016 18:34

On July 15th, the Belarusian Popular Front party has applied to the Minsk City Executive Committee to hold a picket against the Russian air base deployment in Belarus.

The opposition’s protest against Russian air base is in line with the country leadership’s position, - the latter needs a lever to put pressure on the Kremlin. The chosen protest form is safe for both, the opposition and the authorities.

The situation around the Russian air base deployment is characterized by the fact that Russia is the only news-maker about the issue and seems to act autonomously. In particular, the latest information - about choosing Lida airport as the most desired location for the air base – was disseminated by Russian Air Force Commander Viktor Bondarev.

Simultaneously, Belarus officials remain silent: the most recent official statement was made by Lukashenko, who said back in April 2013 that the talks were about aircraft supplies for the Belarusian Army needs, not about the air base deployment.

Chances are high that bilateral negotiations about the issue will be dragged on, while the ruling group seeks support from the outside. Therefore, the authorities’ and the Belarusian opposition nationalist wing’s positions objectively coincide. In particular, the BPF is known for its anti-Russian platform.

In this regard, it is noteworthy that the BPF proposes to hold a picket in the front of the Russian Embassy and not in the front of a Belarusian governmental building (eg, Presidential Administration or Defense Ministry). It is also essential that the BPF waited for nearly three-month to break out with its picket initiative (the ‘plans’ were announced in April).

Very likely, the government will reject BPF’s picket initiative, since it is not interested in the street protests’ revitalization in the capital and even more so – in front of the Russian Embassy. In turn, the three-month pause sustained by the opposition implies that they are not ready to initiate protest actions independently with a few exceptions.

For instance, on July 4th, a new member of the United Civil Party Nikolai Gladyshev held a single-person 1.5-hour picket in Mogilev against the Russian air base deployment, which resulted in his detention by the police. The UCP Mogilev Branch Office head said, that the picket was Gladyshev’s ‘own initiative’ and was not coordinated with the party HQs.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.