Andrey Kulikov
Editor-in-Chief at Europe Insight

None of their concern

The opposition, Russia, the World Bank and OSCE tested future parliamentary elections in Belarus

The conference BelaRussian Dialogue, organised by the Higher School of Economics, was held in Moscow this week. Participating in the conference were former candidates for the presidency of Belarus Yaroslav Romanchuk and Tatiana Karatkevich; the leader of the Belarusian movement Our House, Olga Karatch; the leader of the Fair World party, Sergei Kalyakin; Deputy Finance Minister of Russia Sergei Storchak; Head of the World Bank in the Republic of Belarus Yang Chul Kim; Head of Mission of the OSCE short-term observers Kent Härstedt; and others of similar ilk.

The listing of distinguished guests here is not a banal formality in this case. Approximately six months from now, parliamentary elections will be held in Belarus. They will take place against the backdrop of the difficult economic situation in the country, which is conducting negotiations concerning the disbursement of the next batch of loans. So the assessments of the participants and observers of the forthcoming events made it possible to get a sense of which way the wind blows for President Alexander Lukashenko.

And it should be noted that it blows into the presidential sail.

The representatives of the opposition were unanimous: it is necessary to participate in the elections. At the same time, they presumed that the authorities would again make various efforts to block their success. And the opportunity to ask outside players how they see the situation made it possible for them to predict what their reaction will be six months from now.

They repeatedly posed questions to the official representatives of Russia, the World Bank and OSCE about how they perceived the chronic inadequacies of Minsk’s economic policy and the problems in the electoral legislation. However, these latter responded diplomatically or noncommittally. They either had no criticism or it was very tempered.

Sergei Storchak spoke of the achievements of financial relationships between Russia and Belarus. Yang Chul Kim maintained that today is not the country’s “last chance” for reforms (as

claimed by the organisers in the name of the section). Kent Härstedt recognised that the  violations in the presidential elections held last year were indeed unacceptable, but at the same time he emphasised that “a window of opportunity” is opening before Belarus and “the country must make the choice on its own” with regard to the improvement of legislation.

This wish to focus on achievements (speaking of the past) and possibilities (for the future) sharply contrasted with the mood of the opposition. It was evident that the interests of participants in Belarus’s domestic political processes diverged significantly from the views held by Russia, the World Bank and OSCE. For whatever reasons, this is not the right time for them to be accentuating political and economic criticism.

Such a position essentially leaves the Belarussian opposition facing the power structure alone. Russia and the international organisations are not prepared to openly compromise their relationship with Minsk. Nothing imperils the mechanism developed for obtaining the needed results in the upcoming elections. Alexander Grigoryevich can sleep peacefully.

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