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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.