Digest of Belarusian Analytics: More Protests Will Follow As The Crisis Deepens
Belarusian analysts discuss the reasons for decline in the "silent revolution" and the future effects of the deepening economic crisis in Belarus. Most analysts agree that Belarus economic and political system will undergo a stress test this autumn, which will show whether the system can last much longer.
Results of the political season. Political analyst Andrey Suzdaltsev admits tactical victory, but strategic defeat of the Belarusian authorities during the spring-summer political season. The authorities could not offer an ideological alternative to the "network revolution", were unable to launch any organic pro-Lukashenka initiatives. The main conclusion is the ideological bankruptcy of the Lukashenka regime. Suzdaltsev predicts more severe economic problems and new forms of protests later this year.
The horizonal protests.Belarusian experts discuss on Radio Liberty the results and the differences of the last action of the "silent protests". According to Vital Tsyhankou getting rid of Lukashenka is the supreme and final goal in many people's understanding. What should follow is beyond anybody's imagination, a life in another dimension. Philosopher Valiantsin Akudovich explains the effectiveness of network revolution by its horizontal nature. The horizontal structure is a contrast to the vertical structure of the state authority. According to Akudovich, the Belarusian security services struggle to find ways to cope with new forms of resistance.
The organizer effect. Journalist Viktar Martynovich believes that the initiative "Revolution through social networks" begins to decline because its organizers from outside of Belarus begin to appear often in independent media and give multiple interviews. Those who took part in protests feel that if they come out again, they will do it for the organizers based abroad rather than for the sake of protests as such. Martinovich is sure that the organizer itself is worse than the lack of an organizer, envisaged by the concept of networking.
The crisis of genre in the "silent revolution". Political analyst Alexander Klaskouski and Belarusian politicians Alexander Milinkevich and Alexei Yanukevich see a significant decline of silent protests and offer to their organizers to take a break until autumn. Milinkevich thinks that it was wise for politicians not to try to head the "silent revolution"
The social contract collapsed. Analyzing the latest results of independent polls, Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) concludes that the system of "social contract" between the regime and society in Belarus has collapsed. BISS assumes that the government could restore the public trust if it started to resolve economic issues. The authors observe that in the absence of an effective strategy the authorities focus on security issues and look for enemies.
Belarus economic model has no future. Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) organized a round table with participation of Belarusian experts (Kirill Koktysh, Vladimir Mackievich, Alexey Pikulik, Michail Zaleski, etc.) and representatives of foreign diplomatic missions. Participants discussed the current situation of the Belarusian economy and possible models of its transformation.
The experts agree that the revenues of Belarusian authorities will shrink even further in September. That will result from a new Russian pipeline BTS-2, which will divert oil transits from Belarus. The experts think that the main reason for the economic crises was the economic model based on external subsidies and the lack of trust to the Belarusian authorities. Privatization will not resolve the crises but can soften it for the time being. Structural and political changes are needed but the authorities are too afraid to implement them.
The autumn stress test of the Belarusian economy. Economic analyst Yuri Pshennik believes that in fact all Belarusians understand the necessity and inevitability of changes. If the authorities blockthese changes further, the crisis will deepen. He believes that this autumn the system will undergo a stress test, which will show whether the system can survive for a longer period without any structural changes.
October 8 "National Assembly".Analysts began to discuss the upcoming large-scale action of the Belarusian opposition – "National Assembly", to be held on October 8 in many cities. While analysts express rather pessimistic attitude to the action. Thus, according to Denis Melyantsov, "now in Belarus there is no alternative force that would really want and could take power. Well, or at least it could consistently improve approaches, techniques and tactics to learn from defeats".
Russia's integration efforts. Economic analyst Michas’ Ilyinsky sees benefits and losses from Belarus' participation in the Customs Union with Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia assertively lobbies various integration projects trying to imitate the Soviet Union. Eurasian Union, a close confederation of states dominated by Moscow is the ultimate goal of Russian leadership. Ilyinsky concludes that Russia was unable to create a truly attractive integration model in the region and the main motivation of Belarus authorities is to gain financial aid from Russia, which benefits from high oil prices.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Jean-Eric Holzapfel: “I hope that Belarus will join the EU one day”
Jean-Eric Holzapfel, Chargé d’Affaires of the EU Delegation to Belarus since 2006, will leave the country at the end of July upon expiry of his diplomatic mission.
Before returning to Brussels, he agreed to give an interview to Belarus Digest. On 20 July we talked about his time in Belarus and the current situation in the country.
BD: What did you expect when coming to Belarus?
When I applied for the post, I wanted to discover this part of Europe. I had never lived here, and I wanted to be involved in developing EU-Belarus relations. I wanted to learn about the culture. In an ideal world, I would have liked to learn Belarusian as well, but for now I am happy I could study Russian during my time here.
BD: When did you start working here?
I started in June 2006. At that point, there was no Establishment Agreement between Belarus and the European Union to open a Delegation, so I had to work in Kyiv from the Delegation to Ukraine and commuted to Minsk very often.
BD: What was different in Belarus from what you had expected before your arrival?
When EU media report on Belarus, they cover mainly the political situation. When living in a country, one sees it in a different way and discovers many other aspects. For instance, in my view, Minsk as a city is a model of urban planning – it is very well organized. It is also original. In one of the tourist guidebooks, I read that Minsk is “Communism with Cappuccino”, and I think it is a cute description as it reflects the mixture of Soviet style and modern cafés, terraces and shops.
BD: How did Belarus change during the time you spent here?
Despite the present difficult state of EU-Belarus relations, people are working side by side and in fact develop strong and rich connections. Belarus' civil societies, its journalists, its people of culture are the forerunners of this tendency.
From the political point of view, I have to say that the evening of the elections and the aftermath of December 19th were shocking. The clampdown on the protests and the subsequent developments ruptures the relations we had worked so hard to improve.
There were several stages in the relations between the EU and Belarus during my time here: in June 2006 when I started, the relations were difficult. After the energy crisis in the winter of 2006/2007 we were experiencing a rapprochement that led to the signature of the Establishment Agreement in 2008. The new policy of the so-called Window of opportunity that started in 2008 stopped abruptly after the elections in December 2010. Now we are back to where we were in 2006; the situations is even worse than it was back then because of the high number of political prisoners.
BD: Is Belarus now closer to the EU than it was in 2006?
Culturally, the country is closer to the EU, especially thanks to modern communications and the internet. But there is the political stalemate. Belarus has common heritage with Europe; there are people-to-people contacts, which is normal and good. Unfortunately, there is this artificial political divide that does not correspond to the cultural reality.
BD: What are you going to miss about Belarus?
A lot: the work was most engaging and challenging. The contacts with Belarusians were rewarding. In general, the time was fulfilling for me. Although now I will go back to Brussels or work at another delegation, I will always have a connection with Belarus.
BD: Which measures should the Belarusian government take to combat against the current crisis?
The situation now is difficult; at time like this, it is important to rely on friends. The EU has extended a hand to Belarus, and we would like to be able to help more, but we cannot do so as long as there are political prisoners in Belarus.
BD: In your opinion, are the current protests and the so-called revolution through social networks going to lead to a change in the country?
The “revolution through social networks” can be seen as part of an evolution towards global communications which no power can block. But still, this will not solve everything. Social and economic environments are key factors. And the social situation is worrisome. An expert recalled recently, that while the average salary in Belarus was the equivalent of around 515 $ in December 2010, now it is around 260$.
BD: Looking back on your time in Belarus, what would you have done differently?
In my opinion, the EU policy on Belarus is correct. We have always referred to our values- as we have kept the window of opportunity open for Belarus. The EU uses soft power, and we act according to our convictions.
If Belarus could use the whole panoply of instruments within the EU Neighborhood Policy and Eastern Partnership, the country would have substantial backstopping for reform. And there could be a lot of direct foreign investment if the environment in the country was conducive to it.
I hope that Belarus will join the EU one day if such is the choice of the Belarusian people.