President is ready to release political prisoners
On 3 June President Lukashenko held a meeting on the activities of the Belarusian courts of the first instance.
The Head of State initiates measures that will visually liberalize the Belarusian judiciary, making it a clear signal to the international community about potential renewal of the damaged relations. For instance, the aforementioned event implies the readiness of Minsk to release political prisoners in exchange for improving relations with the Western institutions and the IMF in particular.
During the meeting a number of statements were made, for instance, about overcoming the Soviet tradition of “prosecutive” nature of sentences, or about the possibility to review the decisions of the Supreme Court, which are final at the moment. Another liberal proposal concerned the introduction of jury trials.
Following the Presidential elections on 19 December 2010 the work of the law enforcement agencies and of the Belarusian judiciary in particular, was a subject to harsh criticism by the international community (they expressed concerns about the process of investigation and trials, sentences to demonstrators). It still is. Minsk had to start somewhere to renew the relationship and the judicial system appealed to the authorities as the safest area for liberal experiments. At least the judiciary is easier to reform compared with the KGB and MIA, or with the electoral system, where reforms are put on hold until the next election in 2012.
An indirect evidence of the willingness of Alexander Lukashenko to release political prisoners was his verbal approval of the sentences handed to post-election protestors. Therefore the President symbolically assumed the responsibility for sentences, alongside with the right to release prisoners early.
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.