President Lukashenko ornaments foreign policy
Before the elections, the country’s leadership takes hasty advance measures to mitigate the effects from the highly probable non-recognition of the legitimacy of the new parliament and the electoral process by the international observers. The authorities hope to limit their measures to the public relations domain.
On August 21st, President Lukashenko delivered a programmatic speech at the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented the new Minister Vladimir Makey. On August 24th, the President met with staff of the international TV project “Welcome to Belarus”.
Country’s authorities act primarily in the field of public relations to improve their image. President’s surroundings believe that Vladimir Makey’s appointment as Foreign Minister will be welcomed by, first of all, the EU and the U.S., since Makey was the main policy maker behind Belarus’ Western foreign policy during the ‘liberalization’ period in 2008-2010. Therefore, President Lukashenko hopes Makey’s diplomatic skills will “normalize relations with the West”, during conflict periods in particular. It is clear that today Belarus and the West are in a conflict state.
Simultaneously, the Belarusian authorities still hope they do not need to fulfill the conditions for the resumption of the dialogue with the EU and the U.S. – to release and rehabilitate political prisoners. In particular, Lukashenko in his well-known manner, reminded the Foreign Ministry staff and reporters that today’s main challenges and risks for Belarus “are external and brought to our country by some world forces interested in destroying the stability of the Belarusian society and the state”.
Such rhetoric is rather traditional for Lukashenko and indicates that the release and rehabilitation of convicted politicians and activists is regarded as a stake card in a bargaining game, which, in the authorities’ view, has not yet begun therefore leaving any tangible democratization in the political life out of the equation. Lukashenko aims to reach a compromise at the minimal cost.
For example, such a compromise could be the minimum possible “positive” assessment of the election campaign by the OSCE and PACE international observers. Judging by the President’s statements, the government welcomed the recognition that the image of Belarus was changing for the better. In terms of the election observation mission during the parliamentary elections, the authorities would like to see ‘progress’ being asserted.
Following this logic, it is not a coincidence that on August 19th an international TV project “Welcome to Belarus” has been launched, which shows six families from China, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and the United States making guided tours around Belarus. On August 24th, President Lukashenko personally met with the participants in the show and reiterated that Belarus was an open and welcoming country.
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.