On 7 June Minsk drivers staged a three-hour protest action right in front of the Presidential Administration, demanding to lower petrol prices which were increased on 6 June by 30%. The next day, Lukashenko ordered petrol prices to be reduced by 15-20%.
The driver’s rally was well-organized, massive in scale, fun, and enjoyed the support of the passers-by. Moreover, it was supported by President Alexander Lukashenko, who recognized the validity of the claims of civic activists and told the government to reduce petrol prices.
It was the first large-scale and effective event since the beginning of the active phase of socio-economic instability in the country. It is important that the “old” opposition was not responsible for the event, which was organized by the “new generation” of public figures. The organizers of the fourth action “Stop: petrol” since the beginning of the year was a public organization “For Auto”.
Actions of the participants were coordinated via forums and social networks. Drivers were asked to tie white ribbons to the antennas of cars, put stickers on windows and gradually form a column that would block the main avenue of Minsk.
During the rally drivers were moving at the slowest possible speed or stopped, simulating car break-down: opened bonnets, put up warning signs, some were pushing their cars manually. Traffic police behaved carefully and tried to convince drivers to keep moving. Pedestrian observers were active: loudly applauded and strongly supported the drivers. When the rally was over one could find many small (10-20) ruble notes: the passers-by were throwing them under the cars’ wheels protesting against the depreciation of the Belarusian ruble.
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.