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.
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.