Summer season will calm down Belarusian protest movements
On April 26th, the authorities allowed the Chernobyl Path, the annual demonstration, to be held in Minsk.
The small number of the demonstration participants demonstrates that the opposition’s political message as well as the environmentalists’ message advocating against the NPP construction enjoy little popularity among Belarusians. The summer holiday season, which is about to start, will make it even more difficult to gather people for street protests in the coming six months.
The Chernobyl Path demonstration, which conventionally included a march through the city and a meeting, advocated against the started construction of a nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Independent media reported about 600 participants in the demonstration and about 200 in the meeting.
The Chernobyl Path did not attract many participants, - even less than the Freedom Day rally on March 24th – which could be explained by the starting holiday season. This factor, combined with others, such as people’s low motivation to participate in mass protests, and the opposition’s low popularity, imply that political activity in Spring-Autumn 2013 will be low.
During this period, the opposition, as well as near-political activists (environmentalists) will face difficulties in organizing street protests due to these objective reasons, even without the authorities’ interventions. In turn, the authorities if necessary can use the administrative tool to reduce the protest activity.
In particular, before the demonstration started on April 26th, the police arrested several environmentalists, thereby preventing them from taking part in the rally. After the event, several journalists, working for the independent media outlets, were briefly detained. United Civil Party Chairman Anatoly Liabedzka was detained in Ostrovets, when he was trying to enter the NPP construction site.
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.