The opposition cannot solve the problem of low political activity among Belarusians
On 24 March, an authorized demonstration was held by opposition forces in Minsk to mark the 95th anniversary of the Declaration of the Belarusian People’s Republic.
The small number of demonstration participants shows that the format of political activity traditionally offered by the opposition is losing popularity among Belarusians. What is more, Belarusian society is ignoring mobilization attempts made both by the opposition and the authorities.
According to various accounts, around 1,000 people took part in the demonstration, which is very small. The core of the demonstration appeared to be made up by sympathizers of the national-conservative wing of the opposition (Belarusian Popular Front, Belarusian Christian Democrats), for whom the most significant value of the historical date of the 95th anniversary is the declaration of the Belarusian People’s Republic’s independence [on March 25th, 1918]. This group most actively takes part in similar events.
It should be noted that the joint application to hold the action was made by political organizations - representatives of the Belarusian Popular Front, the United Civic Party, ‘For Freedom’ movement, and the organization committee for setting up the party ‘Belarusian Christian Democrats’.
On the one hand, this indicates the readiness of opposition forces to act jointly around symbolic events. On the other, there is a lack of agreement among the opposition as before regarding joint long-term political initiatives (e.g. in the run-up to the next local and presidential elections). In particular, the politicians who spoke at the meeting did not present a similar programme of joint activities.
An important organizational detail should be noted separately: organizers of the action were unable to agree with the authorities about the legal use of full sound systems and were forced to limit themselves to hand-held loud speakers, which brings future major actions into doubt.
As noted in summer 2012, the problem of low activity among Belarusians during election campaigns (and the low turnouts at electoral polls) also holds true for the opposition. What is more, the organization and the implementation of this demonstration shows that not only the authorities, but also the opposition are not yet able to mobilize significant groups of Belarusian citizens to participate in joint political actions.
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.