With the beginning of the protests in Belarus, there was an expectation of the officials and security forces siding with the protesters. Moreover, there were certain grounds for this.
For example, during the presidential elections in Minsk there were several polling stations serving the houses where high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Security Committee live. Judging by the known results, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Aliaksandr Lukashenka gained approximately equal number of votes there.
Meanwhile, the officials didn’t join the protests. The reasons for this are entirely objective.
Firstly, the state apparatus and the security forces are under strict cross-control. Which was originally created to prevent internal conspiracies. There are several types of control over them. The basic level is direct management control. However, in practice, this control is not always effective. Because of the high level of bureaucracy in the work of the state apparatus and law enforcement agencies the officials and officers often don’t have time to exercise full control over the activities of subordinates.
The second level of control is intradepartmental, which is carried out by higher structures.
The activities of law enforcement agencies are controlled by their own security services and the State Security Committee (SSC). However, the SSC itself is not omnipotent and uncontrolled. The system of control over the special services is not completely clear. Based on fragmentary information, one can come to the conclusion that such a system is “circle”: the special services control each other, their leaders are under close supervision of fellow competitors.
The system of prosecutorial supervision is largely formal in nature. In practice, at the grassroots level, there is often a fusion of the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement agencies and bureaucracy, which leads to a virtual mutual responsibility.
The supreme control authority is the ruler of Belarus.
One has to note the ideological vertical, which is formed in all state bodies of Belarus according to the Soviet model. Together with quasi-social structures, participation in which is mandatory for Belarusian officers and officials, ideologues are forming a system designed to deal not only with indoctrination, but also to control the personal life and activity outside the work of law enforcement officers and officials.
State trade unions also act as a control authority over employees, rather than an institution for the protection of their rights and social partnership.
Let’s give the following example to better understand the situation:
— by virtue of their official duties, the chief officials in the regions are controlled by the head of the regional department of the SSC, the assistant inspector to the president and the president’s representative in the region. These are 3 control systems, two of which are directly connected personally to Lukashenka;
— an ordinary police officer is controlled by his immediate supervisor, the Internal Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the SSC, an ideologist and a prosecutor, i.e. 5 control systems.
Thus, the officials and the security forces themselves are under harsher control on a much larger scale than even the political opposition. They are also often intimidated.
Secondly, one must understand that law enforcement officers and officials are accustomed to working within a rigidly vertical hierarchical system. The Belarusian authorities are characterized by directive management, not coordination of interests and compromise.
In turn, both civil society and the protest movement represent a broad coalition, which is built on horizontal ties, and therefore the principles of its functioning are poorly understood by an official and security officials.
Another problem is the lack of practically leaders, leaders of the protest. There are symbols, iconic persons. But there is no leader. For civil servants who are accustomed to working within the framework of a personalistic system, following the will of a specific person, such a system is inconvenient and alien.
The lack of hierarchy within the protest movement means that it is impossible to mobilize the resources necessary to supply and maintain alternative governance structures (shadow/parallel state).
Thus, in their understanding, officials and security officials simply have nowhere to go: there is no alternative structure where they could integrate and which could provide conditions for their activities.
Thirdly, the protest has so far no clear message for officials and security officials. What future do the opponents of the regime offer them? Democracy and European values are too vague. In this regard, the regime is more understandable from the point of view of planning its own future for officials and law enforcement officers. Although this plan is not always pleasant. They understand what will happen to them under Lukashenka. But they do not understand what will happen to them without Lukashenka.
In addition, one should keep in mind that in the Belarusian province, working for the state is often the only way to get a decent income for your work. The alternative is to go abroad to work.
Thus, the problem is the lack of a clear picture of the future for officials and officers. Moreover, the regime is actively intimidating them by the fact that during the change of power, all employees of the regime will be subjected to lustration and repression.
Fourthly, a big problem is the fact that for many years the state apparatus was formed according to the principle of selecting the worst. Active and professional young people often do not stay in public service, including because of the low wages (for comparison, a young officer earns the same as a waiter in a McDonald’s restaurant, about 1,000 BYN (around 330 Euros), while the salary of a young official is even lower). As a result, the civil service often includes people who are unable to find a job with a comparable source of income in the labour market (who are uncompetitive in the labour market). At the same time, the paradox is that the level of training of officials and officers in the provinces is often higher than in Minsk. This is connected with the narrower labour market: young professionals simply have nowhere to go.
Officials and law enforcement officers often fear that the system of functioning and staffing of the state apparatus will change with the change of government. As a result, they will find themselves in new uncomfortable working conditions or even will lose the job.
Fifthly, the problem is the indoctrination of civil servants, who are taught that the protests were inspired and paid for from outside by foreign secret forces, aiming to destroy Belarus as a state, to include part of its territory into the neighbouring country. Despite the obvious absurdity of such statements, they find a response. This is due both to the quality of personnel in the system, their inability to critically perceive information, and to the dominance of the Russian media, which actively broadcast various kinds of conspiracy theories.
Thus, it should be recognized that a significant part of the state apparatus sincerely believes in Lukashenka and that he defends the country from external aggression. It is impossible to convince these people.
Sixth, Moscow’s position traditionally has a great political and psychological influence on the Belarusian state apparatus. This is not a direct influence or infiltration by agents. The officials and law enforcement officers understand the degree of economic, financial and technical dependence of Belarus on Russia. The Kremlin’s support for Lukashenka to some extent legitimizes the Belarusian ruler, strengthens his position within the country and demonstrates a significant increase in the chances of his political survival in the eyes of the state apparatus. It is widely believed in Belarus that someone who is able to negotiate in Moscow can rule in Minsk. Therefore, Lukashenka is extremely interested in solving the problems of Belarusian-Russian relations or at least demonstrating the ability to solve them.
The change of the Kremlin’s position to negative attitude towards Lukashenka will weaken his political status. However, one must understand that Moscow does not yet have a direct influence on the Belarusian state apparatus. During the entire period of his rule, Lukashenka tried to eliminate any external influences on domestic policy. Therefore, Moscow’s support or hostility does not automatically mean Lukashenka’s victory or defeat; it affects the stability of the public administration system and its readiness to implement the decisions of the Belarusian ruler. Especially the most radical decisions like using of punitive measures or vice versa – quietly to sabotage Lukashenka’s orders.
In whole, the Kremlin’s position is still rather neutral. We see multidirectional signals from Russia. Obviously, for now, Moscow is interested in the early adoption of a new constitution, which provides for a significant weakening of the presidential powers and early elections for both the president and parliament according to the new constitution.
Since the beginning of the political crisis in Belarus, no preconditions for the officials’ and officers’ siding with the protest have been formed. However, there is no reason to believe that the public servants have extreme incentives to support the regime. Therefore, with the exception of the ideologically motivated part, one can expect that the bulk of officials and officers, while retaining external loyalty to the regime, will try to avoid personal participation in repressive actions against the people and will try to maintain neutrality. To a large extent, the development of the situation will be influenced by the ability of Lukashenka’s opponents to offer the future, understandable for the state apparatus.