State property privatization could lead to anti-corruption fight in state apparatus
The Belarusian authorities avoid a wide public anti-corruption campaign and keep this topic low profile in order to reduce people’s discontent with the authorities. Meanwhile, the Belarusian leadership used anti-corruption prosecution to balance out different nomenclature and business groups in the regions and at the national level. Nevertheless, amid the decline in traditional economic sectors, attempts to redistribute state assets are likely to strengthen tension and spur anti-corruption inquests related to business interests.
According to the Global Corruption Barometer - 2016 by the Transparency International, 45% of Belarusians believe that the state is not doing enough to fight corruption.
The president seems to have abandoned the fight against corruption for quite a while now. He has clearly outlined the acceptable corruption level, which is determined by people’s attitudes and public discontent with public demonstration of personal well-being by representatives of the ruling elite. The lingering economic crisis and falling household incomes have distracted citizens from the corruption theme, which is not among the priority issues for the society, according to a study by Transparency International.
Nevertheless, corruption prosecution is among the mechanisms of redistributing the influence between regional nomenclature groups. The most recent high-profile case was in Bobruisk, where the city mayor Andrei Kovalenko was detained on suspicion of bribery. Kovalenko differed from the ‘conventional’ Belarusian mayors by being a more open, creative and somewhat democratic ruler.
In addition, apparently, the fight for state property in the centre of Minsk has prompted the president to look into the issue of transferring to the High-Tech Park a public building of Minsk Production Association of Computer Engineering. It is worth noting that so far, due to the economic success of the IT industry as compared with the traditional economic sectors, IT managers have been successful in defending their positions vis-a-vis the state and gradually promoting their interests.
The Belarusian leadership monitors corruption perceptions among the population in order to adjust the state anti-corruption measures and maintain government ratings.
The Belarusian authorities have revived the cyclical political agenda, including preventive crackdown with the use of force during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk and a loyal attitude to the participants in the opposition events in the regions. The protest rally in Minsk has evidenced that the Belarusian society has freed from the post-Maidan syndrome and showed high self-organisation capacity during the event in the absence of opposition leaders. In the future, the authorities are likely to expand the framework for sanctioned and legal activity for the moderate opposition in order to reduce the potential for street protests.
The Freedom Day march in Minsk on March 25th, 2017 was marked by unprecedented and brutal detentions before and during the event.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to stretch in time the political cycle - liberalization followed by repressions - and move beyond the electoral campaigns. Simultaneously, Minsk has demonstrated a rather high mobilisation potential under political slogans, despite the pressure from the state media and security forces before and during Freedom Day, including the presence of armed officers and new special equipment to disperse demonstrations in the streets of Minsk. That said, in other towns (Vitebsk, Gomel, Brest and Grodno) the Freedom Day march led by the opposition, was sanctioned by the local authorities (except Vitebsk), albeit there were fewer participants than in February and March protests against the decree on social dependants.
The Belarusian leadership has depersonalised (removed leaders) the protest, preventively weakened the protest movement, and has not opted for the harsh crackdown like in 2010 with many injured and hundreds arrested. For instance, some party leaders were preventively arrested or detained (Lebedko, Rymashevsky, Gubarevich, Neklyaev, Logvinets, Severinets) before the event. Nikolai Statkevich has disappeared and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Some could not pass through the police cordons (Yanukevich and Kostusev) or participated in the rallies in the regions (Dmitriev, Korotkevich and Milinkevich).
Despite the lack of protest leaders, some demonstrators managed to self-organize and march down the Minsk centre. The march was unauthorised but gathered several thousand participants. Many were detained by the law enforcement and later released without charges. In addition, the Belarusian law enforcers used some tactics of the western riot police against peaceful protesters, allegedly in order to mitigate the criticism from Western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have used the entire set of propaganda and power mechanisms applied during the highly politicised 2006 and 2010 elections - criminal prosecution of the opposition leaders, preventive detentions and arrests of activists, harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and, finally, the crackdown on the protest action in Minsk with the use of force.
Overall, the mobilisation potential of the Belarusian society remains high and the authorities are likely to expand the legal framework for public participation in politics in order to absorb superfluous tension.