Sannikov and Bondarenko released
In the context of recent statements by high level officials and President Lukashenko, it could be stated, that the range of issues for a dialogue is rather wide. Belarusian authorities made Europeans understand, that the release of the political prisoners is far from being the only concession they are prepared to make.
Minsk is ripe for compromises: from the abolition of the death penalty to a certain liberalization of the upcoming parliamentary election campaign.
At the same time, the liberalization trend is yet far from being irreversible. Evidently, Lukashenko has hard time making decisions like that. The future of this trend will largely depend on the external factors; it could be undermined by a minor provocation.
Brussels should not overestimate its own efforts and the efficiency of the sanctions. Indeed, the latter played a significant role, however the situation should be treated systemically. During the recent conflict Moscow was inflexible and did not offer the alternative to Lukashenko. Quite the reverse, Kremlin’s position was less attractive for Minsk, compared with pompousness of Brussels. On the other hand, Belarusian leader, perhaps, recons the situation is not hopeless enough to implement the “North Korean” scenario.
The release of two political prisoners coincided with the Easter celebrations (a very significant festivity for the Orthodox). On the one hand, it allowed the authorities to save face to an extent (in the view of Christian mercy), and on the other, to minimize the public interest.
Authorities’ concerns about the potential public response turned out unjustified. Society (including the opposition) had lukewarm reactions to Sannikov and Bondarenko being set free. Their release was something everyone expected, moreover, after signing clemency appeals, their heroic aura had faded considerably. It is worth to note, that the release of a large group of activists in September last year provoked stronger emotional reactions in the society.
One could anticipate that Sannikov would try to take advantage of the moment to try to win leadership in the opposition or at least to increase his own influence. However his first statements were not firm enough. It is clear, that if before the end of the week Sannikov does not take a pro-active stand, the radical part of the Belarusian opposition will continue marginalizing in the future.
Analysis of the first comments on the Charter97 website demonstrates, that Charter97 intends to stick to the previous practices of many years: to do minimum inside the country and concentrate on lobbying outside the country. As well, the nature of the messages they send to the West has not changed either: do not trust the “vile regime”, apply new sanctions and isolation.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.