Social protests could prompt changes in domestic security policy in Belarus

February 20, 2017 10:22
Фото: Максим Мирович,

Social tension in Belarus will grow inevitably and may affect the plans to downsize the Interior Ministry. In an effort to prevent the expansion of the social base for public protests, the Belarusian authorities are likely to resume ad hoc repressions against potential organisers and leaders of such protests. The Belarusian authorities are hardly ready to make any concessions.

The ‘March of Angry Belarusians’ held on February 17th, 2017, against the state’s socio-economic policy was the largest protest action in Belarus in the past five years. Amid deepening economic recession, Belarusians are likely to become more discontent with the authorities, which could influence the state’s security policy.

The Belarusian authorities are unable to find a way out of the economic crisis and the crisis of the Belarusian socio-economic model in principle. This leads to the growth in protest moods in Belarusian society. The political crisis in relations with Russia only exacerbates the situation. The Russo-Belarusian "Cold Peace" may become a "Cold War." In Minsk, people fear that external actors, notably Russia, could use the growing social instability in Belarus to provoke the political crisis to put pressure on the Belarusian authorities.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to take measures to pre-empt massive public protests, with that avoiding brutal and concentrated use of force. The authorities are likely to overestimate the risks of offering concessions to the protesters as it could create a precedent when open pressure on the authorities would have achieved its goals (whether social or political). This, in turn, on the wave of success, could lead to new protests and new demands. Meanwhile, it appears that these risks are actually negligible, and the decision to abolish the decree would be a simpler solution making economical sense.

Amid the threat of growth in protest mood in society, the authorities could revise the decision to downsize the Interior Ministry. The redistribution of funds within the agency in favour of the Interior Ministry troops is very likely. In addition, the authorities are likely to resume pointed repressions against persons and organisations, which are willing to organise and lead social protests in Belarus. Informal movements and their leaders are likely to become the most vulnerable social group (anarchists, autonomous nationalists, etc).

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Death penalty discussion in Belarus: yet not ready for either abolition or moratorium
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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.