Belarus Police on the Edge of Reform
Despite being "over-policed" Belarus has one of the highest rates of crime per capita among ex-USSR countries.
This fact contradicts a famous myth about stability and order in Lukashenka regime. Belarusian system of justice and law enforcement obviously needs a serious reform, which Lukashenka publicly acknowledged. Such a reform presents quite a task for the government, as police serves as one of the main pillars of authoritarian regime in Belarus.
Statistics Breaks the Myth
Very little official information about inner processes and problems of police reach the public in Belarus. Still it is possible to find and analyse some data which can tell much about the issue.
The first publication of criminal statistics that recently appeared at National Statistical Committee website shows a rather interesting picture of crime in Belarus. The diagrams below suggest a small comparison of police and crime rate per capita.
It is a widely known fact that Belarus has the largest per capita number of police among the ex-USSR countries. While the world average for this proportion is around 3 officers per 1000 citizens, in Belarus it reaches 14 officers. It is twice as much as in Russia or Ukraine and three times as much as in Moldova or Azerbaijan.
If compared to statistics of registered crimes per capita in the region, the excess of police presents a real problem for society. Although the number of crimes per 100 000 citizens in recent 5 years clearly decreased, Belarus stays among the leaders of crime in post-communist area. It firmly holds the second place after Russia throughout the period.
This fact contradicts a widespread myth about due public order in Belarus which is a result of high state effectiveness. It turns out that actually the inflated staff of police could not deal with crime and situation remains very bad. However, lack of information and massive propaganda make many people think differently.
The last diagram shows some interesting distribution of crime rates over the territory of Belarus. The cleavage between Western and Eastern Belarus, which exists in politics, culture and identity, reveals itself in criminal statistics too.
Western regions of Hrodna and Brest have a 1/3 less crime than eastern regions and 1/2 less than central Minsk region. Minsk city and region are most criminal areas, apparently because of higher economic and human concentration in the heart of the republic.
Police on Modernization Agenda
On the 8 May this year, Lukashenka made an annual “Address to the People and the Parliament”. This time the main message of the address proclaimed a need for an extensive modernization of Belarus. One of the most important issues that appeared on modernization agenda was the reform of Ministry of Internal Affairs – Belarusian police.
This reform, according to the Belarusian leader, will become the next step of a comprehensive reform of system of justice and law enforcement, which started with a creation of Investigatory Committee (The Committee was supposed to take investigatory functions from other security services such as KGB and police and thus make this function more independent).
During the Lukashenka rule, security services as practically whole system of public administration, remained out of citizen control. Belarusians have no information about what is going on there and cannot influence or lobby any change. The only channel of information remains Lukashenka himself, who sometimes reveals major problems that exist inside the bureaucracy.
Back in 2009, he mentioned such crimes as corruption, abuse of authority and betrayal of service interests as well as ineffective personnel policy among the problems of police. Since those times, no major changes were made to improve the work of this service.
This year, Lukashenka publicly confirmed another well-known problem of security services. He insisted that security services should act within legal boundaries. There should be no “shakedowns, reprisals, lawlessness”, when security services pursue their own interests covering under “combat against corruption”. Apparently, such facts took place systematically within the system.
Lukashenka started the reform from the very top - he sacked notorious Minister of Internal Affairs Anatol Kuliashou, who managed the crackdown on protests after presidential elections in 2010 and “silent protests” in 2011. The new minister, Ihar Shunievich, got a task to lead the reform of police.
Neither a program of reform nor any public discussion was suggested to make the process more democratic. Nevertheless, citizens know that the reform has already started in progress from scarce information pieces that appear in official media.
According to them, reform aims to improve police image in society. For example, the reformers plan to estblish civic councils to consult and assess police work, to amend service regulations and create the code of honour, and to introduce some other changes to enhance citizens involving in police operation.
According to Minister of Internal Affairs, the reform will proceed in three main directions: ideology and personnel, public security police and criminal police reform. Such plans sound not bad indeed, the question though remains how the reform will actually be implemented.
A Delicate Challenge
Reform of security services poses an extremely delicate task for any government, since they serve as one of the pillars of state authority in all societies. In non-democracies, where authority is not based on trust in government and rests upon coercion, the issue becomes even more complicated.
An unexpected mistake can lead to discontent among relevant social groups which will lose positions and benefits within the system. Subsequently, they can even join the opposition or create a new political group.
This group will be different from present opposition in Belarus, which consists of intellectuals, dissidents, and mere fans of “extreme sport”. The regime will have to face a coherent legion of combatants with extensive connections within the regime, power skills and thorough knowledge of the system.
Lukashenka, as a very insightful leader, fully realises all dangers of such enemies. That’s why the phrase “the most important thing is not to hurt the people (“the people” means dismissed policemen)” became a central message of the police reform rhetoric.
One may only guess what benefits the regime can suggest to those who will suffer from downsizing and restructuring of security services. Any financial tools will hardly apply here, as the reform implies reduction of expenses. For some of the policemen, gloomy future is approaching already. The regime on his part faces another challenge of badly needed change with unpredictable outcome.