Immersed in defensiveness

Category status:
- (The situation has deteriorated)
01-31.12.2021
1 – Painting presented by the Lukashenka’s security service to Lukashenka. Image by Pul Pervogo Telegram channel

In 2021 the ruling class failed to restore public confidence in state institutions (although they barely tried). Still, the security forces succeeded in purging the public space of cities of manifestations of the protest movement. The regime relied solely on the siloviki to resolve the political crisis, refusing to negotiate with opponents. Despite attempts to indefinitely defer political reform, Lukashenka was forced to launch a process to amend the constitution in response to the demands of society and the pressure from external players, primarily the Kremlin.

The ruling regime maintained a clear division in society in 2021, hoping to consolidate the state apparatus and the security forces. The latter continued to demoralise advocates of change and coerce society into political inaction via repression. An "export miracle" and economic growth fuelled the government's economic optimism, contributing to the depoliticisation of public sector workers.

Lukashenka played for time regarding constitutional reform, postponing campaigning to the beginning of 2022, after the defeat of the civil society and the emigration of a significant number of protest activists. However, Lukashenka was still compelled to tinker with the constitutional design despite doubts about its practicality.

The first president of Belarus is trying to provide himself with comprehensive guarantees and leave himself a wide range of opportunities for the next decade. Even in the event of relinquishing the role of head of state, Lukashenka intends to maintain complete control over the political system by giving the All-Belarusian People's Assembly constitutional status with broad powers to control the siloviki, state policy, and the new president (including provisions for impeachment and rejection of election results). The head of the assembly is envisaged to be Lukashenka, personally.

In 2021, the security forces continued to assert their influence and establish control over all spheres of life. Many positions in the public sector, state apparatus and even pro-government NGOs were assigned to the representatives of the power bloc.

Repression gradually expanded to involve the activists of the protest movement of 2020 and dissidents from broad swathes of society, including those previously considered to be Lukashenka supporters: pensioners, large families, public sector labour collectives and civil servants.

The state legalised political persecution of opponents, and criticism of the regime was classified as "extremism". Lawmakers continued to introduce restrictions on the rights and freedoms of dissidents. Compelled ideological loyalty of workers has grown significantly in many areas, including education, culture, and medicine.

The price of political participation and civic activism has steadily increased as repression has expanded. The most visible leaders and committed opponents of the regime, such as Viktar Babaryka and Siarhei Tsikhanouski, have received substantial prison terms, as have members of their teams. The number of political prisoners increased every week and reached unprecedented proportions for independent Belarus – almost 1000 people by the end of the year.

Security forces expanded the persecution of subscribers of independent media channels, social networks, and political commentators. Therefore, the number of potential offenders increased to hundreds of thousands of citizens. The security forces selectively detained dissidents who angered Lukashenka, diminished the influence of independent media, and reduced audiences with repression, persecution, and legal restrictions. However, the ideologues failed to seize the leadership of the independent press and impose their own agenda on social networks and the internet.

Despite a lack of support from civil society due to the defeat of fundraising initiatives and purges of disloyal doctors by the siloviki, the health care system continued to function. However, following covid waves caused difficulties and the contradictory actions of the authorities apparently, led to increased excess mortality (the National Statistical Committee classified the data).

The economy's growth convinced the ruling class of the correctness of their policy of support for the public sector, complemented by the loyalty of state-owned companies since the start of the political crisis in 2020. As a result, the ruling class plans to redistribute benefits to the public sector and increase expropriations from private businesses and the population – raising taxes and penalties, confiscations, and worsening competitive conditions.

Lukashenka redirects resources to support the loyalty of the siloviki and state apparatus by reducing social guarantees for the rest of the population. The regime refuses to support incomes and maintain employment levels, it also implements massive layoffs on the state-owned companies, purging them of dissidents.

Forecasts for 2022

The probability of a sudden collapse of Lukashenka’s management model remains, should there be external shocks or mobilisation of society in response to regime actions.

The leadership will delay the transformation of the political model until before (and after) the next presidential election.

The role of the security forces within the regime remains high, and the repressions continue with possible relaxations in the second half of the year.

Capital injections into the public sector of the economy with restrictions for the development of the private business (small and medium-sized), reduction in the number of state employees and public sector employees due to political purges.

 

Previously in: The ruling elite

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