January 29 – February 4, 2024
The ruling elite

Will the security forces bring protests back to the streets of cities?

The situation has not changed
Will the security forces bring protests back to the streets of cities?

The regime is pushing for an initiative to ramp up penalties for the unemployed. The ruling class is increasingly out of touch with society, and public administration quality is on the decline. This could escalate into more widespread unrest and protests.

Belarus is facing a growing labor shortage. However, the dominance of the security forces in power and the lack of checks by technocrats are hindering the regime from adequately addressing the situation. Consequently, they resort to using force to solve socio-economic issues. For instance, the Ministry of Internal Affairs suggests reintroducing the article on social parasitism to the Criminal Code. Interestingly, this initiative is announced by the regime’s guards during the election campaign, when society is most engaged.

Let’s remember: in 2017, there were significant protests against the “Decree on Social Parasites.” Mass unrest erupted due to a sense of injustice towards socially vulnerable groups. Nearly half a million Belarusians were slapped with a demand from the tax service to pay an annual fee of around USD 245. Only about 10% paid up, while the rest ignored the messages.

The public perceived this as an attempt by the authorities to bolster the state budget. Moreover, those without the means often had to pay. Massive protests forced Lukashenka to tweak the decree, easing requirements and narrowing the affected population categories.

However, Lukashenka didn’t fully scrap the decree. Simultaneously, the regime established regular commissions for the employment of “social parasites.” This is because the regime sees high employment as crucial, viewing the unemployed as a potential threat to the political system. Hence, substantial budget funds are consistently allocated to the state sector of the economy, and unprofitable state-owned companies (keeping employees despite financial inefficiency) receive support. From 2020-2023, 3 to 4.5% of GDP was annually allocated to such enterprises through loans.

It’s worth noting that the regime’s guards are expanding their influence in the financial and economic sphere, including having round-the-clock super access to Belarusians’ payments.

Therefore, it’s unlikely that the ruling class will revert to the Soviet practice of criminally prosecuting unemployed citizens. However, there’s a good chance that administrative punishments and fines will be extended for “social parasites”.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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