Belarus At The United Nations: Resentment, Bragging And Anti-Western Rhetoric
Three weeks ago Belarus Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei presented the country's multilateral initiatives in the general debate of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly. The United Nations remains Belarus' preferred tool for promoting its foreign policy initiatives and a source of development assistance.
Makei chose to please mainly Minsk's allies among third-world countries. He made no attempt to capitalise on recent timid advances in relations between Belarus and the West. Instead, resentment, anti-Western rhetoric and unjustified bragging filled his rather bleak statement from the UN rostrum.
UN's Special Place in Belarusian Diplomacy
Belarus, together with Ukraine, became a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 in recognition of these nations' role in defeating Nazism. The Soviet Union thus got three votes in the Organisation.
The permanent mission of Belarus to the UN opened in New York only in 1958. The mission even lacked nominal independence in its diplomatic activities. It was often staffed with diplomats sent from Moscow and all decision-making was made there.
Nevertheless, the mission became a great school of practical diplomacy for many Belarusian civil servants. They formed the core of the foreign ministry's staff when Belarus obtained independence in 1991.
Belarus' Priorities at the 69th Session
Traditionally, Belarus invests a significant amount of human and financial resources into its participation in the annual UN General Assembly sessions. Also, the government used to formally approve the country's priorities at each session drafted by the foreign ministry.
This practise seems to have been abandoned. The priorities for the 69th session are only available as a non-paper at the web site of Belarus' permanent mission to the UN.
The 16-point document pays special attention to the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. Belarus also intends to further prioritise its two key initiatives, the fight against human trafficking and the protection of traditional families. In the field of security, the priority issue is the prohibition of the development and manufacturing of new types of weapons of mass destruction.
Some priorities have been rather oddly formulated and sound more like political statements, i.e. about "international human rights law, which some countries have repeatedly violated through their unilateral activities".
Belarus sees the country-specific resolutions on human rights only as a "tool invoked by some countries to advance their own political and economic interests". As a target of one of such resolutions, Belarus intends to "strongly oppose" them.
Belarus' Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei made his statement in the general debate of the 69th UNGA session on 30 September. He spoke in Russian, hastily and unemphatically, before the half-empty UNGA meeting hall.
Makei's statement contained few positive statements or overtures. He preferred to develop the anti-Western rhetoric of a besieged state.
Uladzimir Makei started with a historical reference to the WWI, which he used as an introduction to his condemnation of those "revising the outcome of WWII… or defiling the memory of the fallen heroes".
The minister failed to name such offenders. He also preferred to disregard the fact that Belarus' closest ally, Russia, routinely befriends far-right political forces in Western and Central Europe, whose leaders often honour Nazi collaborators and deny Holocaust.
Faithful to the country's declared UNGA priorities, Makei aligned with those who believe that human rights rhetoric serves only to punish those nations, which rebel against subordinating themselves to the greedy transnational capitalism.
Uladzimir Makei intentionally reminded the General Assembly who the main allies of Belarus were: "Countries like Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela surely feel such pressure much more than others". The minister has clearly taken pride in being in this company of outcasts.
Autocratic Stability and Ukraine
From the UN rostrum, Makei promoted Alexander Lukashenka's vision of a "powerful", strong state meant to protect its citizens from "chaos, lawlessness and impunity". Many UN members will certainly disagree with this vision arguing that the state's strength and power derive from democratic institutions and not a one-man autocratic rule.
The minister asserted that Belarus had been chosen as a "site for addressing acute international crises" namely because the international community considered it to be a "stable and internally coherent state".
Not many experts would agree with this assertion. The international community has certainly appreciated the balanced position of the Belarusian government in the Ukrainian crisis. Belarus indeed has some geographical and logistic advantages, which warranted the choice of Minsk as a venue of the talks on Ukraine. However, it is doubtful that the negotiating parties ever considered Belarus' internal autocratic 'stability' as an advantage when making this choice.
The above passage was the only reference to the conflict around Ukraine in the minister's speech. Makei refrained from assessing the new challenges to the regional and international security even within the constraints of Belarus' position of neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Development Priority and Traditional Family
The foreign minister called the international community to use thematic global partnerships as a tool to implement the post-2015 United Nations development agenda: "Only effective partnerships among states, international organizations, civil society, and the private sector can deliver success in addressing any global problem". Ironically, the Belarusian authorities are reluctant to engage civil society and private sector as equal partners when discussing domestic affairs.
Uladzimir Makei also resented the alleged attempts to force Belarus "to renounce the values of a traditional family, and recognise instead the diversity of this institution’s forms". Again, he sees the liberal policies on family issues only as another capitalist plot: "This may be just another way to subdue the resisters to the capital by turning them into soulless slaves".
The strengthening of traditional family has become Belarus' top priority initiative within the UN. Regrettably, the Belarusian authorities have failed to provide more clues about their understanding of this term. It is not clear whether it goes beyond the rejection of the same-sex marriages and adoption of children by homosexual families.
In 2013, Belarus ranked No. 2 in the world in terms of the divorce rate. BelTA once quoted Professor Katsiaryna Antsipava saying that this divorce rate "signalled the ill-being of the family institution in the country". So much for Makei's offer to share Belarus' advances in this sphere with others.
Belarus' Prospects in the UN
Belarus has probably begun losing momentum in its UN-centered multilateral efforts. It becomes difficult to continue to capitalise on the successful initiative on combatting the human trafficking as it is becoming another institutionalised UN issue.
The initiative on traditional family has failed to gather proper international support. It is vague and non-priority for most countries if not directly unacceptable. Also, it seems unwise for the Belarusian authorities to emphasise their pariah status just to show off before the third-world allies.
Belarus and Ukraine Football Fans Unite against Putin
On 9 October, during a Belarus-Ukraine qualifying match to Euro 2016, Ukrainian and Belarusian fans demonstrated an unprecedented level of solidarity. They shouted the national slogans of both countries and chanted an infamous anti-Putin song.
Although the police detained around two dozen fans before and after the game, their response was rather restrained. This light punishment" could be a signal to the Kremlin that Belarus does not support its imperialist politics in the post-Soviet space.
Belarus' security services see the hardcore fans, known as ultras, as a threat to society, as during the Ukraine crisis they proved to be a formidable protest force. But because of the decentralised nature of their activity, which is mostly non-political and popular among a younger crowd, the ultras are hard to control. This may play into Lukashenka's hands, as they may be used by the regime in its games with Russia.
Preemptive Measures of Police
A week before the match Belarusian fans announced that they would be making a show of solidarity with Ukrainians. They made stickers and banners with national Belarusian and Ukrainian symbols, saying “Brothers Forever” and “Together Forever”.
The Belarusian security services, of course, were preparing for the possible political implications that the game could carry. On match day, Ukrainian sport and fan web sites reported that Belarusian border guards denied several dozen Ukrainian fans entrance into the country because they cited the football match as the aim of their visit.
Belarusian ultras also reported the police detaining known fans at home and at work. Police told them that they had to sign some papers at the police station, and upon their arrival, they were sentenced up to 10 days in custody. Many were arrested on their way from Minsk to the match, which took place in Barysaŭ, a town not far from Minsk.
Belarus and Ukraine – Together Forever
This game, as many commentators noted afterwards, was made by the fans, not by the football teams. Ukrainians brought an atmosphere of freedom to Belarus, where security services restrict any unauthorised activity and carefully control the ultras. This seems to be the first time that the fans of any two countries displayed such a high degree of solidarity over the whole course of history of football in Belarus.
Taking turns, the Belarus and Ukraine fan sectors shouted famous national slogans from both countries: “Slava Ukraini-Heroyam Slava!” (Glory to Ukraine – Glory to the Heroes!) and “Žyvie Belaruś!” (Long Live Belarus!).
The fans also jointly sang the famous obscene chant about Putin. Belarusian fans sang patriotic songs in the Belarusian language. The stadium was indeed filled with an unbridled spirit of enthusiasm as many visitors would go on to state later.
Interestingly, the match became widely popular in Ukraine thanks to the massive support for Ukraine displayed by the Belarusian fans. For instance, the web site censor.net had 130,000 views for its piece on the phenomenon just in the first night following the game.
However, the captain of Belarusian team Cimafiej Kalačoŭ in an interview with Euroradio said that he regards the behaviour of fans improper. “Shouting political slogans was wrong. And anti-Russian songs were really stupid”, Kalačoŭ said.
He also accused the Belarusian fans of being somewhat uncultured because, in his opinion, they provided their home team with weak support. His claims stirred up a wave of anger among fans on the Internet, as most of them were enthralled with the actions of the fans – and disappointed with the team.
Regarding the game itself, Belarus lost 2:0, but neither Ukrainian nor Belarusian fans were satisfied with their teams and wrote the game off.
Authorities Dole Out Light Punishment
Such unprecedented action from the fans could not, of course, go unpunished. The Minsk regional police office reported detaining 41 fans, 14 of them being Ukrainian citizens, accusing them of 'hooliganism' and being drunk in public.
In reality, some of them simply had national symbols on clothes or banners, which is more than enough reason for the Belarusian police to detain them. Fans themselves claimed that around 130 people had been detained. A majority of those who were detained were then quickly released.
One Ukrainian was accused of possessing a swastika and received 10 days in prison, while a few others received 5 days for using foul language. For their troubles, the Belarusians got US$60 fines.
However, a Dynamo Kyiv Ultras representative going by the name of Vitali claimed in an interview to Football.ua that the Minsk police transferred six Ukrainians to Homiel, a city near the Ukrainian border, where local police took them outside of the city limits and beat them.
On 11 October, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman reported that all of the detained Ukrainians had been released and were already home. He said president Poroshenko personally dealt with securing their release.
The authorities, it would appear, gave out the most minimal punishment possible for such a massive anti-Putin action. Although the police anticipated it and took measures in advance, in the end, they largely acted with restraint. The punishment served out was more of a formality, a reminder that the authorities are in control. Many senior officials in Belarus, including the president, may have rather enjoyed the anti-Putin chants.
Solidarity of Ultras
The Belarusian police view the ultras as potentially dangerous groups and try their best to control them. They are known to apply overly restrictive regulations on their activities, and detentions are a widespread practise during sporting events. One should hardly be surprised to find out that Belarusian ultras are not the biggest fans of Aliaksandr Lukashenka's repressive regime.
Many Belarusian ultras, much like other ultras, hold right-wing views and do not shy away from promoting blatantly racist views. At the same time, they are one of very few groups engaged in reviving national identity and employing the Belarusian language, national symbols and historical episodes that have been rejected by the state's official ideology.
Being nationalists, and therefore rejecting the imperialist ideas of Russia, Belarusian ultras were themselves on the side of Ukraine when the whole crisis erupted. Currently, they present perhaps the only social group that regularly tries to express its position on the Ukrainian conflict publicly.
On the one hand, this is inconvenient for Lukashenka, as he tries to extract money from the Russian budget, all while maintaining his official disagreement with Russian policy towards Ukraine.
On the other, this kind of behaviour by fans may actually be quite useful for him, as it demonstrates to Putin that Belarusian society does not support his imperialist behaviour — a society that democratically elected Lukashenka enjoys the support of.