States social responsibility shrinks
On June 5th, former presidential candidate and a political emigrant Andrei Sannikov was interviewed by Deutsche Welle.
In Belarus, the state’s social responsibility is consistently shrinking, while social and economic security risks are increasing. In the meanwhile, the increasing labour migration opportunities for Belarusians compensate the rising costs of the ruling group’s social policies.
In his interview, Sannikov reiterated his opposition to concessions by the EU and the U.S. in favor of the Belarusian regime (regarding recent lift of sanctions against some Belarusian companies) and talked against maintaining political contacts with Belarusian authorities within the Eastern Partnership Programme. He also urged the West to develop a long-term, consistent and joint policy towards Belarus.
To sum up, it seems that Sannikov’s team tactics is to convince the West to block all political and economic contacts with Belarus’ officials, which should result in a social explosion in Belarus, consequently enabling the united opposition to gain the power in the country. Currently Sannikov plays a consultant and expert role vis-à-vis Western politicians and coordinates ‘European Belarus’ campaign, which mainly runs Charter97.org website.
In particular, Sannikov said, that “Lukashenko is no longer the guarantor of security for the population and professionals, with the exception of a handful elite and businessmen”, which is justified. After 2011, economic risks have been consistently increasing in Belarus (currency devaluation), as well as security (the threat of terrorist attacks) and social risks (concessional housing construction and lease rules were revised).
Until now, social tensions in the country were manageable primarily due to migration opportunities within the Common Economic Space. Official statistics confirms the growth of labor migration from Belarus: employment in the economy is shrinking, alcohol and petrol sales are dropping, indicating men’s migration. Accordingly, currency cash inflow to the country from private persons is growing (USD 913 million in 2013).
However, the ongoing shrinking of the state’s social responsibility (administrative personnel reform, cancellation of benefits, opportunities for shadow incomes) will sooner or later reach its limits, creating a critical mass in the population whose standard of living has deteriorated and who cannot compensate it through labour migration. When it happens, the risks of mass unrest will rise dramatically, and the government will have to increase wages.
If so, Sannikov’s forecast – that when it happens the opposition will be able to unite and seize power from the ruling group – is highly questionable. Following 2010 Presidential elections, centrifugal trends developed in the Belarusian opposition and existing coalitions are only nominal, since they do not imply common programmes and structures for their members.
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.