The Russian public lobby is getting stronger in Belarus
The Constituent Assembly of the Public Association \"Eurasian Peoples’ Union\" (EPU) took place in Minsk on March 25. A former director of the Information and Analytical Center of the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus Yury Baranchik was elected Chairman of the organization.
The establishment of the EPU is another attempt to create a social movement in Belarus which would represent an ideological and geopolitical alternative to European-oriented democratic NGOs. The authorities’ most likely response to this action will be a hidden opposition.
According to the charter of a new and not-yet-registered NGO, the main objective of the EPU is to promote the construction of the Eurasian Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This initiative is extremely timely, since it occupies a vacant niche in the Belarusian public and ideological support of Eurasian integration. Democratic NGOs operating in Belarus traditionally only support European integration of Belarus.
Voluntary work in the field of Eurasian integration is a new and urgent direction for Belarus. It has been monopolized by a small circle of government officials from the presidential administration mainly on projects of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. After the launch of the Single Economic Space the area of cooperation expanded rapidly, which the EPU made use of. The EPU has already announced plans to promote the state and public partnership between Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.
The EPU’s leadership is not associated with the traditional opposition movement and is known for its moderate criticism of the Belarusian authorities. Obviously, the EPU is planning a further transformation into a political organization, but it is also clear that the Belarusian authorities will have their counteraction, since they have no interest in the appearance of uncontrollable social and political actors, especially in the Eurasian area. The first test of the Belarusian authorities’ intentions will be the Ministry of Justice’s response to a registration request from the EPU.
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.