Written by Aliaksandr Autushka-Sikorski
The president’s speech delivered at a solemn meeting called on the occasion of Independence Day of Belarus turned out to be longer than last year’s address, but contained essentially the same package of “classical” message blocks. The chief difference from last year’s address is the change in the country’s foreign policy rhetoric, which in 2012 did not focus on Belarus’ relationships with Russia and the West independently, but instead included an all-new narrative – integration as Belarus’ destined development path.
Integration vs. “blank fence” and capture
This year’s presidential address traditionally incorporated the theme of the remarkable feat accomplished by the Belarusian people during WWII and the price the Belarusians had to pay to “snatch that victory for entire Europe.” This conceptual block then evolved into a brief historical overview of the formation of the Belarusian statehood and the two development options that the country had to choose from to further build up its independence – either the independence of a nation state (a “blind fence” and rudiment that “most countries gave up at the end of the XX century”) or “dependence” as part of its eastern neighbor.
The president made it clear that Belarus managed to resist the power-hungry “nationalists” and withstood the difficulties that hampered its very existence as a separate independent nation. Belarus chose a third way, namely, a broad integration and cooperation, a choice shared by most countries of the modern world, both Europe, which “is doing its best to save the integration” and the world giants, the United States and China.
The address thus lost the “condemnatory” block, which contained observations about some nations’ intention to “to bring Belarus down on its knees” for various reasons” – last year, this block was something that the Belarusian leader quite sharply proceeded to once he opened the address. Overall, this year’s foreign policy has been free of any categorical statements concerning the West or Russia, and the president not only failed to mention sanctions at all (last year, he said Belarus was “bombed with them” in order to “make Belarus dance to Brussels’ tune”), but also made no specific comments at all.
The address got longer due to the replacement of the “condemnatory” block with the integration theme – a description of Belarus’ integration-based development pattern made up a significant part of the replacement block. The president noted that the Eurasian integration project (the Common Economic Area – author), in which Belarus is engaged, is perceived not as a political instrument and method of “isolation” and “creation of a sheltered market,” but as the first step on the way towards “further integration with the European Union in the West and dynamic Asian economies in the East.” Moreover, Belarus will resist any attempts to change this integration concept. The main objective of the country’s involvement in the integration project is to streamline economic relations with a view to boosting standards of living for regular Belarusians.
The idea of a sort of mega-integration involving Belarus as an essential link is an exciting move, and there are two reasons for this. First, this is an attempt of economic rationalisation of the eastern integration project, which is a de-facto instrument to evade EU sanction. Second, this idea is intriguing as a “window of opportunities” to put in place potential economic reforms in Belarus itself.
Belarus’ social model – no emphasis
Last year’s Independence Day speech was largely made up of the president’s giving a brief outline of his address to the nation and parliament. That was a compressed yet overwhelming description of the model of the Belarusian social state, which incorporated a series of points, from enumerating its advantages as a formula to transit from a post-Soviet economy to a developed one to the rules of conduct for economic agents and privatization issues. This year’s address had a somewhat curtailed “uniqueness” block essentially reduced to the citation of the achievements of the Belarusian economy over the past 17 years supported by exhaustive statistics. There was a separate, albeit again, brief, point covering the privatization of state property – no one will be allowed to “ransack” the country.
The president made a separate point about the unfeasibility of his heirs taking over when the time comes, because “his children are fed up with their father’s presidency.” This declaration must have a connection to Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s recent statement made in Venezuela, when he said he was sure that his youngest son Nikolai would succeed him as president.
This year, the president missed something that made an important block of his last year’s address – the silent protests, which ran through the entire country in mid-2011. The low protest activity this year simply made this matter irrelevant this year.
This year’s solemn address at a meeting celebrating Independence Day and the president’s address to the nation and parliament both demonstrate a considerable mitigation of foreign policy rhetoric compared with last year’s messages. Alongside the detailed description of the integration strategy of the country and declaration of “non-political” objectives of Belarus’ engagement in the CEA, this must be connected with the state leader’s wish to de-escalate the tensions in his country’s relations with the EU following the extension of sanction and the diplomatic scandal early this year. In other words, the cautious foreign policy message remains the keynote of the president’s public addresses, along with the topic of the “integration of integrations from Lisbon to Vladivostok.”