Taking part in social protests is a good training for the opposition
On March 17, a meeting of Deputy Chairman of the Smolevichi Executive Committee Mr. Verevkin and local dacha owners took place near Minsk. The meeting concerned the construction plan, envisaging construction of a Chinese industrial park, which would be in the immediate vicinity of the dachas.
Involvement of regional authorities in the negotiations confirms the general trend that at least the authorities are willing to enter into a dialogue with the protesters, particularly in cases when the latter are well organized (in this case, the protesters were organized and supported by the leadership of the “Tell the Truth!” campaign). Previously, the governor of Minsk Oblast, Mr. Batura, met with dacha owners.
On the one hand, the strategic importance for the Belarusian authorities of the construction project (it has already been agreed with the Chinese Embassy) implies that the authorities will adhere to their position as long as possible. On the other hand, it is likely that the negative publicity of the project, i.e. a “Chinese invasion” of Belarus (rumors circulate that the project will bring 600,000 Chinese workers), keeps the authorities from signing the decree to launch this project and, in the end will reflect interests of the local residents in the body of this document.
Representation of collective interests remains the most effective means of influence on both, the authorities and the population, available to political and civic organizations.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.