Belarus closes the border for the domestic opposition
On March 7, Belarusian border guards did not allow the Chairman of the United Civil Party Anatoly Liabedzka to leave Belarus en route to Lithuania. On the same day, the wife of Liabedzka became a subject to extended examination at the same border while traveling from Lithuania to Belarus. Also, Mr. Dobrovolski, Deputy Chairman of the UCP, was taken off the train en route to Lithuania.
The ban on leaving Belarus for the Head of the UCP Mr. Liabedzka without any explanation implies the Belarusian authorities had to improvise and had no clear action plan against the politician. Otherwise, the authorities would have referred to a formal pretext, for instance, a “criminal” case initiated against him.
Actions against Messrs Liabedzka and Dobrovolsky could represent a “symmetrical response” to the visa restrictions, imposed by the EU against Belarusian officials. However, unlike the ban on entry to the EU of foreign nationals, a ban on leaving the country for the citizens of the country is a more complicated task: it contradicts the Belarusian legislation in the first place.
These recent developments at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border confirm that the Belarusian authorities have not yet decided on the tactics in response to the demands and actions of the EU. They adhere to the tactics of passive retention of the status quo: political prisoners are not released, the CEC threatens not to invite OSCE observers to the parliamentary elections in the autumn, and in response to the visa sanctions against Belarusian officials the authorities introduced vague travel bans on opposition politicians.
These passive measures only meant to restrict the leadership of opposition parties (the UCP in this particular case) from maintaining their international contacts. It is worth mentioning that some governmental officials advocated for a “pro-active” response, i.e. to introduce penalties against those who call for sanctions against Belarus (it has been recently discussed in the Prosecutor’s Office). However, such pro-active response fits in badly with the existing trend towards “passive response” and therefore unlikely to be implemented.
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.