In search of societal security in Belarus: mission impossible



Since the collapse of the USSR, Belarus has not been transformed into a market economy with well-developed and strong democratic institutions and civil society, in contrast to most of the eastern and central European states, including the Baltics. Today, Belarus is a country where the state still preserves and plays the leading role in determining all spheres of life of the Belarusian society. Maintaining their stability and security is considered to be an issue of great importance for the Belarusian authorities. Thus, application of the societal security concept is rather problematic in the case of Belarus, from a methodological point of view. It has neither an adequate translation into the Russian or Belarusian languages, nor any appropriate equivalents conveying the essence of the concept in the Belarusian political and academic discourse which are still based on state-centric views. Due to the dominant role of the state, Belarusian society cannot be considered as an actor and a source of policies. Therefore, societal security could be analysed as a subordinated sector of national (state) security of the Republic of Belarus. In contrast to the Copenhagen School of Security Studies’ approach, which refers to a state not just as a government or a territorial entity, but rather as a community with a certain identity,1 the Belarusian political and academic discourses focus on the protection of the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, constitutional order and socioeconomic model of Belarus (socially-oriented market economy). Stability, in contrast to resilience or sustainability, has been a cornerstone of the state ideology which actually substitutes the national identity.

In 1994, Alexander Lukashenko came into power in the context of very strong, pro-Soviet sentiments within the Belarusian society. At the All-Union referendum in March 1991, 83% of Belarusians voted for preservation of the USSR. Lukashenko began his own nation-building experiment with a focus on the Soviet heritage and the concept of the Belarusian unique path, opposing liberalisation, democratisation and de-Sovietisation processes in other post-Soviet states, especially in Russia and Ukraine. According to Lukashenko, after his election he was forced to take charge of the elaboration of the new system of ideology to build the foundation of Belarusian sovereignty, stressing patriotism, collectivism, social justice, the high prestige of education, and socially useful work without any financial rewards. As the US diplomats noted in their telegram, in 2005, Lukashenko’s most significant victory with this ideology was his ability to convince so many Belarusians that he was the guarantor of Belarusan independence. However, it seems that after two and a half decades of Lukashenko’s rule, he has yet to reconvince the Belarusian society, not only of his role as a guarantor of Belarusan independence, but of the sacred value of independence and sovereign Belarus as such. For instance, in 2013, 70% of Belarusians believed that a single state with Russia would be an acceptable option for Belarus on condition that the move would contribute to the improvement of the economic situation in the country (82% of the respondents said that a union with Russia was acceptable on certain terms in 2010). Even the Russia-Ukraine conflict of 2014 hasn’t changed the situation dramatically. In March 2015, 66.6% of Belarusians agreed that Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians are three branches of the same nation. In June 2015, answering the question “If Russia tried to annex Belarus or its part with the help of armed forces, what would you do?”, 18.7% of Belarusian said that they would “resist up in arms”, 52.8% would “try to adapt to a new situation”, and 12.1% would “greet these changes.” 62.3% of Belarusians also evaluated the annexation of Crimea by Russia as “a restitution of Russian lands and re-establishment of historical justice.” As a result, the former slogan — "For a strong and prosperous Belarus’ — was replaced by a new one — “For the future of an independent Belarus!” — during Lukashenko’s pre-election campaign in 2015. He also claimed that Belarus was not part of the so-called “Russian world”, calling on other countries to respect its sovereignty and independence.

In this respect, relations between the Belarusian state and society can be described through the concept of social contract defined as an implicit agreement between the state and the main social groups, in which the parties are more or less aware of the costs and benefits of their behaviour. According to Belarusian researchers, Belarusian stability is based on public consent to the state of things in the country determined by the authorities providing the minimum package of obligations promised to society. Belarus is characterised by the vertical social contract. Thus, the national security system in Belarus is aimed at preserving the current status quo in contractual relations between the society and state, preventing any mechanisms of voluntary withdrawal of society, and considering any minor deviation as an attempt to escape from the social contract with all ensuing punitive consequences. However, the societal security in Belarus will be defined as the soft security opposing the hard security issues, first of all represented by the sphere of national defence (military security). The most comprehensive narrative is represented by the national security concept, adopted in 2010, which is still in force. It includes the following interconnected components: political security, economic security, scientific and technological security, social security, demographic security, information security and environmental security. Every component describes the national interests in the respective sphere, threat perception matrix, including the main internal and external sources of threats to national security, threats to the national security and state policies to counter them. Usually, nobody challenges the content of this document.

However, there are many questions about how it is implemented by the Belarusian authorities in practice. The results are assessed with the help of international rankings. The reality check on whether the societal security concept is appropriate to the case of Belarus can be verified with the help of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in 2014, which led to the unprecedented geopolitical tension between Russia and the West. Due to its geopolitical, security and economic consequences to Belarus, this regional crisis can be considered as an existential threat to it. In this context, the maintenance of statehood and national security have suddenly become a much more prominent part of Lukashenko’s governing formula. In other words, he has replaced the social contract by a security contract, guaranteeing peace and stability against a background of war in Eastern Ukraine and the evident crisis of the so-called Belarusian socioeconomic model. As protection of the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, constitutional order and stability of the socioeconomic model of Belarus has been prioritised by the Belarusian state’s political discourse, and transformed into matters of security, it is quite difficult to find a reference object for societal security in terms of the Copenhagen School of Security Studies. All these matters usually refer to the system of ensuring the national security of Belarus, where the state plays the role of security and stability provider for the Belarusian society. This system could be called total security (as opposed to the total defence concept in Sweden), where the role of society is limited and subordinate to the state and its national interests. Its strategic task is to ensure political stability within the country. It also suggests that Belarusian society is not considered as a source of any significant internal changes. These are usually only possible as a result of external influences (of global economic crises, regional military conflicts, geopolitical confrontation, trade wars, etc.). And the main task of the Belarusian state is to manage and control carefully all these external influences in order to prevent any significant destabilisation effect on internal affairs.


In practice, all components of the national security system (political, economic, scientific and technological, social security, demographic, information, environmental) are subordinated to the strategic task of ensuring political stability within the country. In this regard, such 188 system could be called total security, where the role of society is limited and subordinate to the state and its national interests. This is the opposite of the total defence concept developed in Sweden, for instance. While total defence begins with the willingness of the population to participate in the defence of the country and society along with the government, government authorities, municipalities, private enterprises, voluntary defence organisations, and inpiduals that represent horizontally connected security actors, total security clearly separates the society and state in Belarus and subordinates the former to the latter. On the other hand, it demonstrates how every aspect of life of Belarusian state and society is completely securitised.

In 2010, a new national security concept was adopted in Belarus that expanded the key areas of national security, including science, technology and demography in comparison to the previous ones of 1995 and 2001. The national security concept of Belarus is still in force and provides a relatively broad vision of national security, focusing on its soft and hard aspects and does not operate with the notion of societal security. In this respect, societal security in Belarus should be considered as a part of national security as a result of securitisation of all spheres of life of Belarusian society into matters of security by the state. Therefore, it can be called total security.

The national security concept defines a system of ensuring national security, which is represented by a set of interacting actors and the means they use to carry out actions to protect and realise the national interests of Belarus and ensure the security of the inpidual, society and the state. The goal of ensuring the national security is to achieve and maintain such a level of protection of the inpidual, society and the state from internal and external threats that guarantees the sustainable development of the Republic of Belarus and the realisation of its national interests. Belarus is considered as a successful, independent, sovereign European state that does not belong to any of the world’s power centres, pursues a peaceful foreign policy and strives to create conditions for acquiring a neutral status. By virtue of its geographical location and openness, Belarus is fully exposed to the influence of most of the geopolitical processes taking place in the world. 189 The national security concept operates with the following basic concepts:

• National security — the state of protection of the national interests of the Republic of Belarus from internal and external threats;

• National interests — the totality of the state’s needs for the realisation of the balanced interests of the inpidual, society and the state, allowing to ensure constitutional rights, freedoms, high quality of citizens’ life, independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and sustainable development of the Republic of Belarus;

• Source of a threat to national security — is a factor or a combination of factors that, under certain conditions, can lead to a threat to national security. Sources of threats to national security are pided into external and internal;

• Threat to national security — is a potential or actual possibility of inflicting damage to the national interests of the Republic of Belarus.

The national interests of the Republic of Belarus cover all spheres of the life of an inpidual, society and the state, are closely interrelated and represent conceptual reference points for their long-term development. The strategic national interests of Belarus, according to the national security concept are: ensuring independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, the inviolability of the constitutional order; sustainable economic development and high competitiveness of the Belarusian economy; achievement of a high-level and quality of life of citizens. They are secured by the following interconnected components of the national security system: political security, economic security, scientific and technological security, social security, demographic security, information security, environmental security, as well as military (hard) security which is taken out of context of this report.

The most important element of the national security system is political security. It is defined as the state of security of the political system from external and internal threats, ensuring the implementation of national interests in all areas of national security. In practice, it is aimed at ensuring stability of the sociopolitical sphere. The main national interests in the political sphere are:

• Observance of constitutional human rights and freedoms, sustainable development of a democratic, legal, socially responsible state, ensuring the effective functioning of state institutions in the public interest, effective counteraction to corruption;

• Achieving a balance of the political interests of citizens, public associations and the state, public consensus on key issues of the development of the Republic of Belarus, development of civil society, taking into account national traditions and features;

• Formation of a multipolar world and a system of international relations based on the supremacy of international law and multilateral cooperation, ensuring the participation of Belarus in resolving issues affecting its interests; improving and strengthening the mechanisms for ensuring national and collective security with the participation of Belarus at the global, regional and bilateral levels;

• Pragmatic interaction with world centres of power, based on effective multilateral and multi-vector diplomacy, strategic partnership and special relations with friendly states, equal interaction and mutual consideration of interests;

• Positioning Belarus abroad as a democratic law-governed state, responsible and predictable partner, donor of international and regional security;

• Ensuring the protection of the rights of compatriots and solidarity of the Belarusians throughout the world for the sake of a strong, prosperous Belarus.

Threats to political security include: encroachment on the independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and constitutional order of the Republic of Belarus; dictating terms of political discourse that do not meet its national interests, interference from outside into domestic political processes; a sharp or large-scale decrease in the confidence of citizens in the main state institutions.

The most important direction of the state policy of neutralising internal sources of threats to national security is preservation of the role of the state as a guarantor of personal security, the comprehensive improvement of the processes of preventing and combating crime, primarily corruption, terrorism and extremism in all their manifestations, separatism, racial and religious intolerance. Measures for protecting against external threats to national security focus on a consistent and balanced multi-vector foreign policy based on the principles of mutual respect, equality and partnership, non-interference in the affairs of sovereign states; resolute protection of national interests within the framework of international and regional organisations and associations, etc. However, in practice, Belarusian authorities have been tightening political control over the society recently, blocking any unauthorised political and civil activities. According to Democracy Index 2017, Belarus is considered as an authoritarian state and occupies 138th position (↓11) from 168.

Stability of the Belarusian socioeconomic model is ensured by economic security. It is viewed by the national security concept as the state of the economy, under which the national interests of the Republic of Belarus are guaranteed to be protected from internal and external threats. In the economic sphere, the main national interests are:

• Economic growth and increasing the competitiveness of the Belarusian economy on the basis of its structural adjustment, sustainable innovation development, investment in human capital, modernisation of economic relations, reduction of production costs, import intensity and material intensity of products;

• Preservation of the stability of the national financial and monetary systems; achievement of a sufficient level of energy security to neutralise external dependence on energy supplies; maintaining a guaranteed level of food security;

• Ensuring non-discriminatory access to world markets for goods and services, raw materials and energy resources;

• Transfer of modern technologies to the economy of the country mainly due to foreign direct investment, availability of foreign credit resources.

Threats to economic security are represented by insufficient competitiveness of the economy of Belarus; decrease in quality of life of the population; destabilisation of the national financial and monetary systems, loss of stability of the national currency. The inability to pay and service external and internal debt, as well as the impossibility of provisioning raw materials and energy resources in sufficient capacity, ensuring the planned GDP growth, are also recognised as threats to the economic security of Belarus. The list of economic threats includes: loss of external markets, including discrimination of Belarusian producers, and a lull in the transition rate of the economy to advanced technologies from other states, degradation of the technological basis of the real sector of economy; inadequate and poor quality of foreign investments.

According to the national security concept, the necessary condition for neutralising internal sources of threats to national security in the economic sphere, is the maintenance of long-term macroeconomic stability through structural reorganisation of the economy of Belarus on the basis of direct foreign investments, growth of labour productivity and innovation activity of all economic entities, reducing the negative balance of foreign trade, reducing import capacity, material intensity, cost of production and improving the quality of products. Structural reorganisation of the country’s economy is provided through the accelerated development of high-tech sectors with high added value, production based on local resources, and realisation of the transit potential of the country. In general, Belarusian authorities are focusing on forming an internally consistent, institutional, socially-oriented market environment, fully harmonised with the developed countries, with the goal of becoming one of the top 30 countries in the world in terms of doing business. Protection from external threats to national security in the economic sphere is also ensured by multi-vector foreign economic policy, expansion of commodity nomenclature and export geography, persification of imports of raw materials and energy resources.

Driven by the deep economic crisis of 2014–2016, the Belarusian authorities have developed an anti-crisis plan in cooperation with the western international financial institutions. The World Bank helped to produce a Roadmap for Structural Reforms in Belarus in 2015. However, government reform initiatives are oriented toward short-term benefits with the aim of sustaining power and preserving stability, rather than based on a long-term modernisation strategy. While the Index of Economic Freedom 2017 (104 from 180 (↑53) and Doing Business 2017 (37 from 190 (↑7) demonstrate the significant progress of Belarus, security services are aggravating the business environment, increasing their control over the Belarusian economy through combating corruption and tax evasion. In 2014–2017, the KGB, Ministry of Interior and Investigative Committee blocked any significant attempts to promote structural reforms, as well as initiating investigations against prominent Belarusian businessmen (for optimisation of taxation schemes) considering them as “cash cows” required to provide the Belarusian state with financial assistance in hard times. In the paying taxes ranking of 2017, Belarus was in 99th position, from 189 (↓36) countries.

The next element of the national security system is scientific and technological security. The national security concept views it as the state of domestic scientific, technological and educational potential, which provides the opportunity to realise the national interests of Belarus in the scientific and technological sphere. The main national interests in the scientific and technological sphere are:

• Formation of a knowledge-based economy, ensuring the development of science and technology as the basis for sustainable innovative development of the Republic of Belarus;

• Creation of new industries, sectors of the economy based on advanced technologies, intensive technological renovation of the 195 basic sectors of the economy and the introduction of advanced technologies in all spheres of the life of society;

• Expansion of the presence of Belarus in the global market of intellectual products, science-intensive goods and services, mutually beneficial international scientific and technological cooperation and attraction of world-class technologies to the country’s economy. The main threats to scientific and technological security represent the lag in the transition rate of the economy to advanced technologies from other states, degradation of the technological basis of the real sector of the economy; reduction of scientific, technological and educational potential to a level not capable of providing innovative development.

The most important direction of neutralising internal sources of threats to national security in the scientific and technological sphere is the completion of the creation of an effective national innovation system and the implementation of a new technological strategy for the development of the economy of Belarus. The production sphere is oriented towards the creation of joint companies for the production of high-tech and complex technical products, the development of the sector of science-intensive services. The export of capital (technology) to the countries of the third world, the creation of assembly plants for Belarusian technologies abroad should be an effective factor in solving the tasks. However, Belarus stayed in the 88th (↓9) position from 127 countries in the Global Innovation Index 2017. In 2016, Belarus spent only 0,5% of GDP for research and development which demonstrates that it is not the priority for the state. Therefore, the Belarusian authorities are relying on investments and technological transfer from abroad. To facilitate this process, special economic zones with fringe benefits have been developed — the “Great stone” China-Belarus industrial park and High-Tech Park.

Social security has been always a cornerstone of the Belarusian socioeconomic model. It is perceived as the state of protection of life, health and welfare of citizens, the national and moral values of society from internal and external threats. In the social sphere, the main national interests are:

• Satisfaction of the basic social needs of citizens, minimisation of negative consequences of social differentiation and social tension in society;

• Maintenance of public safety and safety of vital activity of the population, decrease in the level of criminality and criminalisation of a society;

• Ensuring employment of able-bodied citizens and a decent level of work remuneration;

• Development of the intellectual, spiritual and moral potential of society, preservation and enhancement of its cultural heritage, strengthening the spirit of patriotism;

• Ensuring the harmonious development of interethnic and interconfessional relations.

Main threats are represented by the growth of criminal and other unlawful attacks against persons and property, cases of corruption; manifestations of socio-political, religious, ethnic extremism and racial hostility on the territory of Belarus; loss by a significant part of citizens of traditional moral values and landmarks, attempts to destroy national spiritual and moral traditions and a biased revision of history, affecting these values and traditions; encroachments on the life, health and security of Belarusian citizens staying abroad.

In the social sphere, Belarus intends to be among the top 50 countries of the world with a high level of human development. At the same time, the state’s actions are being aimed at ensuring a decent level and quality of life of the population, including through the growth of real wages and other incomes, improving the pension system and targeted social assistance, and developing a system of state social standards. The most important directions are the creation of conditions for effective full employment of the population, more rational use of labour resources, improving the quality and competitiveness of the workforce. Belarus has the lowest poverty rate within the Commonwealth of Independent States and one of the lowest Gini coefficients in the world. But this has been achieved at the cost of highly regulated labour and pricing policies. According to the Human Development Index 2016, Belarus is in 52nd (↓2) position from 187 states.

However, some elements of a social-oriented economic model are being highlighted, retirement age increasing, utility rates are growing. Conservative trends prevail with the explicit imperative for binding people to their jobs in the inefficient public sector. Forcing measures such as Decree No. 3 “On the prevention of social parasitism”, which required those who worked less than 183 days per year to pay the government $180 in compensation for lost taxes, provoked great tension within the Belarusian society and led to the first serious protest activities in Minsk and regions in February — March 2017, since December 2010. But they were brutally cracked down on by law enforcement agencies. Its new version, in the form of Decree No. 1, aimed at stimulating employment and self-employment, introduces mandatory payment of state-subsidised services at their full cost by able-bodied unemployed citizens and therefore does not ease the social tension.

Demographic security, which is very close to social security, is considered as a separate element according to the national security concept. It is perceived as the state of protection of society and the state, from demographic phenomena and trends, the socioeconomic consequences of which have a negative impact on the sustainable development of the Republic of Belarus. In the demographic sphere, the main national interests are:

• Steady growth in the size of the Belarusian nation on the basis of a consistent increase in the birth rate and life expectancy, reducing the death rate of the population;

• Increase of the general level of health of the population, protection of the health of mothers and children;

• Strengthening the institution of the family as a social institution, most favourable for the realisation of the need for children, their upbringing;

• Optimisation of internal and external migration flows, ensuring a positive balance of external migration of an economically active population.

Main threats are represented by activation of emigration processes, the growth of unregulated immigration to the country; disturbance of the sustainability of the social protection system; growth of unemployment, including unreported and concealed; depopulation, general ageing of the nation, decline in the birth rate, deterioration of other basic indicators of demography and the health of the nation.

In the demographic sphere, the main priority of the state policy is the comprehensive stimulation of the birth rate, which ensures an extended reproduction of the population. Increasing the prestige of a strong family and improving the support system for families with three or more children are fundamentally important areas for ensuring demographic security. The important tasks for the Belarusian authorities remain: a reduction in mortality, an increase in the life expectancy of the population, protection of the health of the mother and child, and the preservation of the reproductive and general health of the population. In the Health-related index of Sustainable Development Goals 2016, Belarus occupies 120th position from 188 countries.

Information security has been paid much more attention by the Belarusian authorities recently, due to the dramatic influence of information on political stability. The national security concept views it as the state of protection of balanced interests of the inpidual, society and the state against external and internal threats in the information sphere. The main national interests in the information sphere are:

• Realisation of the constitutional rights of citizens to receive, store and distribute full, reliable and timely information; effective information support of public policy; formation and progressive development of the information society; equal participation of Belarus in the world information relations;

• Transformation of the information industry into an export-oriented sector of the economy;

• Maintaining reliability and stability of functioning of critical objects of information.

Main threats include, influence of destructive information on the inpidual, society and state institutions, which harms national interests; dysfunction of critical information objects; insufficient scale and level of introduction of advanced information and communication technologies; reduction or loss of competitiveness of domestic information and communication technologies, information resources and national content; loss or disclosure of information considered as state secrets protected by law and capable of causing damage to national security.

In the information sphere, in order to neutralise internal sources of threats to national security, Belarusian authorities are improving mechanisms for realising the rights of citizens to receive, store, use and dispose of information, including using modern information and communication technologies. A significant stage will be the development and implementation of a comprehensive informatisation strategy, aimed at the development of an electronic system for implementing administrative procedures provided to citizens and businesses by state bodies and other organisations, and the transition of the state apparatus to work on the principle of information interaction. The industry of information and telecommunication technologies will develop at an accelerated pace. While Presidential Decree No. 8 “On Digitalisation of the Economy” that sets out numerous regulatory breakthroughs and allows cryptocurrency-related companies to operate in the Belarusian High-Tech Park, a privileged regime zone for IT companies, the Operational and Analytical Centre, together with the Ministry of Information, are tightening controls over the Internet and information flows (restrictions on connectivity, prosecutions and detentions for online activity, blocking and filtering). According to the World Press Freedom Index 2017, Belarus occupies the 153rd position from 180 (↑4). Belarus is also marked with the “Not Free” status in the Freedom on the Net 2017 ranking.

Environmental security, in accordance with the national security concept, is the state of protection of the environment, life and health of citizens from threats arising from anthropogenic influences, as well as factors, processes and phenomena of a natural and technogenic nature. The main national interests in the environmental sphere are:

• Ensuring environmentally friendly living conditions for citizens; contribution to maintenance of global and regional ecological balance;

• Overcoming the negative consequences of radioactive contamination of the country’s territory and other emergencies, rehabilitation of environmentally disturbed territories;

• Sustainable natural and resource provision of the country’s social and economic development;

• Rational use of natural and resource potential, conservation of biological and landscape persity, ecological balance of natural systems.

Main threats are represented by degradation of land, forests and natural complexes, depletion of mineral and raw materials, water and biological resources; radioactive, chemical and biological pollution of soils, land, waters, vegetation and the atmosphere.

Neutralisation of internal sources of threats to national security in the environmental sphere is facilitated by ensuring economic growth within the economic capacity of the biosphere and improving the environmental situation in Belarus through the introduction of energy and resource-saving technologies, modern systems for the protection of environmentally hazardous facilities, development and introduction of environmentally safe technologies, renewable sources of energy. In the Environmental Performance Index 2018, Belarus occupies the 44th (↓9) position from 180 countries. One of the most securitised issues is construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant by Rosatom, that has provoked great tension in relations with Lithuania who are opposed to the project. On the other hand, if it is successful it will improve energy security and reduce the import of Russian gas by 30%.


The Republic of Belarus is proclaimed by its Constitution to be a democratic socially-oriented state, based on the rule of law that admits the priority of generally acknowledged principles of international law and ensures the conformity of legislation with them. In practice, however, some democratic institutions and procedures do not function, and power is concentrated in the hands of the president, who has effectively placed the judiciary and legislature under his control. The whole system is crucially influenced and dominated by Alexander Lukashenko himself and the groups around him, principally the presidential administration, which he often manages through a process of pide and rule, carefully balancing different interests which range from hardliners in security apparatus to moderate economic technocrats. Hardliners, particularly those in law enforcement agencies and security services (KGB, Ministry of Interior, Operational and Analytical Centre, etc.), tend to block any market reforms and political liberalisation in Belarus and support closer ties with Russia, while some technocrats support limited modernisation and improvement of economic ties with the West (Ministry of Economics, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Bank, etc,). The president appoints the prime minister and the cabinet, who nominally is the head of government but, in effect, is subordinate to the president.

According to the national security concept, the national security actors carry out coordinated activities aimed at achieving the goal and solving the tasks of ensuring national security in accordance with their legal status determined by law. However, the president carries out the general management of the national security system by exercising his power in this sphere through the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus and its working body — the State Secretariat of the Security Council and through the Council of Ministers (government) of the Republic of Belarus, which are both national security actors. Other stakeholders are represented by the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus (parliament); state bodies subordinated to the president and the republican government bodies subordinated to the government;

courts of different levels; local government and self-government bodies. The national security concept views citizens as recipients of security and passive actors participating in ensuring national security through the realisation of their rights and duties (including the performance of the sacred duty to protect the Republic of Belarus) provided by the Constitution, laws and normative legal acts of the president. But they realise their vision of national interests, ways and means of their protection by participating in elections, referendums and other forms of direct democracy, as well as through state bodies and local selfgovernment bodies.

However, the Belarusian political system is highly centralised, with the presidential administration sitting at the apex of a so-called power vertical. The council of ministers is in reality subordinated to the unaccountable presidential administration. Subordinate structures are expected to implement commands and there are no genuine horizontal checks or balances between different branches of government. This has led to a situation in which there is a lack of actors who are ready to take responsibility and even high-ranking authorities try to avoid responsibility where possible. The Belarusian government is made up of the prime minister, his deputies and ministers. The government is accountable to the president and answerable to the parliament. Its mandate covers the budget, domestic and foreign policy, economic and social development, national security and defence.

Local issues are represented by the locally elected councils of deputies. These local councils operate on three levels: primary (villages and towns), basic (towns and regional councils) and regional (oblast). Deputies are elected for a four-year term to address local issues and represent the local population in decisions on issues relating to health, education, social welfare, trade and transport. As they are subject to central control, they are not autonomous in their jurisdiction over the local community. Subnational executive bodies have no direct democratic legitimacy, since they are formed and controlled by, as well as accountable to, the president and central government. The executive chairman at the regional (oblast) level is usually appointed personally by the president, and usually from among his closest associates.

The bicameral parliament known as the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, and consisting of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic, lacks the resources and capacity to fulfil its lawmaking and investigative responsibilities. In practice, the presidential administration drafts nearly all legislation acts and initiatives. Pro-Lukashenko parliamentarians predominate in the parliament. The democratic opposition and even registered political parties have no impact on or influence over the state and society. Only two representatives from the opposition and civil society, Anna Konopatskaya (United Civil Party) and Elena Anisim sit in the House of Representatives (for the first time in 20 years). Their inclusion in 2016 and presence in the parliament does not reflect the true level of support for the opposition, but rather Alexander Lukashenko’s willingness to demonstrate goodwill to the EU. Out of 110 mandates, 108 seats in the House of Representatives are taken by pro-Lukashenko parliamentarians. The absolute majority of members of parliament were non-party, 23 were from the pro-governmental Belaya Rus association. The council of the republic voting system is based on indirect election by regional assemblies and appointment by the president.

The activities of civil society organisations continue to be restricted by the authorities. Nevertheless, they are surprisingly active compared to many other post-Soviet societies. Since the late 1990s, the Belarusian Assembly of Democratic NGOs has established a united national coalition. In 2010, a National Platform was created to engage with the Civil Society Forum of the EU’s Eastern Partnership. However, the state has also been active in creating government-oriented civil society organisations. Independent NGOs are most active in the arena of Belarusian-European cooperation, the most significant example of coordinating efforts of cooperation being the Belarus National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. The Belarus National Platform tries to consolidate the voice of civil society in EU-Belarus relations and is partly involved in policy dialogue within the formats of the EU-Belarus Coordination Group and Human Rights Dialogue. Among positive trends are a reduction in government harassment, successful advocacy campaigns, use of online crowdfunding platforms, organisational capacity development and grassroots organising.

Various independent think tanks, including the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), the Centre for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies, the Belarusian Institute for Public Administration Reform and Transformation (BIPART), the Research Centre of the Institute for Privatisation and Management, the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC), Warsaw-based Research Centre Eurasian States in Transition (EAST), the Institute of International Relations (Warsaw, Poland), the Centre for Social and Economic Research (CASE), the Republican Confederation of Entrepreneurship, the Belarus Research Centre, the Belarus Security Blog analytical project, the Agency for Social and Political Expert Appraisal, and the website of the expert community of Belarus Nashe Mnenie (Our Opinion), the Centre for European Transformation, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Human Rights Centre Viasna and the Legal Transformation Centre (Lawtrend) are a great source of expertise in different spheres, but they still remain uncalled by the authorities. They focus on reform and the transformation agenda of the Belarusian socioeconomic model. However, influence of civil society on the decision-making process of the state institutions is limited. The state is interested in engagement with the civil society only when it comes to the need for demonstrating some progress in democratisation. But, independent think tanks and experts are usually recruited for consultations by international organisations (UN, WTO), financial institutions (World Bank, EBRD, IMF), European commission, etc.

Belarusian authorities usually rely on their own sources of expertise represented by the state research and analytical institutions, especially within security services. The most prominent are the National Academy of Science of Belarus, Information and Analytical Centre under the presidential administration, national research institutions or subordinated agencies under different ministries: The Economy Research Institute of the Ministry of Economy, national unitary enterprise “Pricing Centre” of the Pricing Policy Department of the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Belarus, National Agency of Investment and Privatisation, Labour Research Institute under the Labour and Social Security Ministry, National Centre of Legislation and Legal Research of the Republic of Belarus, etc. The ministries and state bodies are allowed to establish their own civic and expert councils and even the Security Council has its own. However, usually they exist nominally and consist of pro-governmental experts. Therefore, there are doubts whether they are able to produce relevant analysis and influence the decision-making process.


The case of Belarus points out several underlying weaknesses of the concept of societal security developed by the Copenhagen school: a tendency to reify societies as independent social agents, the use of too vague a definition of identity, as well as a claim that inpiduals have a psychological need to achieve societal security by protecting their group boundaries.21 Belarusian society cannot be considered as an independent social actor with a certain stable identity. Research on solidarity potential in Belarusian society demonstrates that the existing structure of social identifications, the level and character of mutual trust, the contents of communication, the perception of significant axiological objects, and strategies of the Belarusian population’s communicative behaviour and civic participation do not spur on the formation of stable bases for solidary actions of a public political character. In the structure of social identifications of Belarusian society, the biggest group is one’s belonging to a group of family and friends (77% of the population), i.e. a close circle, the private sphere of life. And it is difficult to count on wide and stable solidarisation of a public-political character, which presupposes the presence of a stronger identification with abstract (public) notions such as the nation, citizenship, and ideological and political groups.22 On the other hand, the state still plays the dominant role in all spheres of the society, where the national identity is substituted by the state ideology with focus on the protection of the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, constitutional order and the socioeconomic model of Belarus. Therefore, there is still a great question whether the Belarusian society is able to survive without preservation of the sovereign and independent Belarusian state, which actually forms and constructs the contemporary Belarusian nation and its identity. But the state ideology and national security concept have a clear answer on this question of what should be protected first.

In the face of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and geopolitical tension between Russia and the West, Belarusian authorities have implemented several measures, in order to improve the military (hard) security of the state. At the end of 2014, a new defence plan and a special directive on defence of the state were signed by Alexander Lukashenko, and in 2016, a new military doctrine was adopted. The threat perception has changed dramatically, as it now takes into consideration possible security threats and challenges coming both from the west and the east. Even hybrid warfare is perceived in terms of internal armed conflict, which is provoked by foreign states with large-scale use of military force, including both traditional and guerilla (partisan or terrorist) tactics, where the use of information-psychological and other tools play a supportive role.

This regional security crisis has far-reaching consequences for contractual relations between the state and society. Today, Alexander Lukashenko is proposing a new type of social contract for Belarusian society — the so-called security contract guaranteeing peace and political-military stability (absence of war), but significantly slashing the so-called social package against a background of security crisis in the region and evident crisis of the so-called Belarusian socioeconomic model. However, there is still a great question about the substance of the new social security contract.

Minsk’s most significant progress has been in foreign policy, which has deep roots in the state ideology, presenting Belarus as an island of stability. This narrative is projected on the foreign policy and positioning of Belarus on the international arena as “neutral Switzerland” and a regional security and stability provider, especially in the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and a new Cold War. Thus, Alexander Lukashenko is trying to preserve the status of Belarus as a regional security and stability provider, keeping a distance from Russia and reaping economic and political pidends from the EU, US, China, international organisations (OSCE, UN) and financial institutions (World Bank, IMF, European Bank on Reconstruction and Development, etc.). It seems that this strategy has reaped some results already, as the normalisation process with the west is continuing and China is paying more strategic attention to Belarus as a key element of the One Belt One Road initiative in eastern Europe. However, foreign policy progress does not help the authorities effectively address the main challenge — the degradation of the Belarusian socioeconomic model. The lack of political will to introduce reforms alongside the wait-and-see attitude that replaces a strategic plan to develop the national economy is aggravating this challenge, provoking great tension within Belarusian society. In the face of current geopolitical turbulence provoked by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and confrontation between Russia and the west, which can be examined as an existential threat to Belarus due to its geopolitical, economic and security implications, Belarusian authorities focus mainly on improving military and political security, rather than developing a comprehensive resilience strategy. In contrast to resilience or sustainability, the concept of stability runs through the Belarusian state ideology and conservative trends prevail in other spheres (economy, social, information, etc.). Therefore, the system that ensures stability within the Belarusian state and securitises all spheres of life of the Belarusian society can be called total security.