Belarusian law enforcement protects without owning
In Belarus, the security forces do not benefit from a particular business. Their task is to ensure the state's economic interests, namely to preserve the immutability of the political regime in the country. If Belarusian security forces or their senior officers obtained economic influence in addition to power influence, the existing government system in Belarus would be under a threat.
It is common in the post-Soviet space for security forces to have a share of control over the economy. Senior security officers are often business owners. As a rule, this leads to the abuse of power and amalgamation of economic and security structures.
During his rule, Lukashenka consistently destroyed all power centres, which could challenge his absolute authority. A merger between business and the law enforcement would be a particular threat. In the early 1990s, when this process only started and was semi-criminal, the Belarusian authorities nipped a potential alliance between "the sword and the purse" within the framework of the criminal law.
To date, the main functions of the law enforcement in the Belarusian economy include:
- ensuring the national security (enforcing secrecy, mobilisation readiness, overall security of enterprises)
- ensuring the rule of law in the economy
- controlling finances and assets of state enterprises
- mobilising financial resources for the state in addition to existing taxes and duties (so-called "voluntary" contributions, compensation for damage to the state in criminal cases and the like).
That said, the Belarusian power system is subjected to corruption and abuse of various kinds. However, such criminal activity is only attributable to concrete individuals, rather than being a behavioural standard sanctioned in the highest power echelons.
The most common types of abuse of power by the law enforcement, not related to bribes include:
- granting jobs to relatives
- offering paid services to businesses
- owning businesses (registered to 3rd persons).
Locally, the Belarusian law enforcement, commercial structures, executive and supervisory bodies often link together, creating a system of mutual cover-ups, conspiracy and protection.
In the Belarusian power system, there is only one power centre, which grants powers and resources to other actors. Other state bodies either raise funds and/or implement the decisions of the central political power. Due to severe repressions, the Belarusian security forces or their senior officers are unable to obtain economic influence in addition to power influence, so as that could threaten the existing government system in Belarus.
Yet the Belarusian authorities have not taken any action to prevent massive protests against the decree on ‘social parasites’. On February 26th, 2017, multiple protests against the decree were held in three Belarusian regions in Vitebsk, Baranovichi, Brest and Bobruisk (more than 4 000 people participated in total). Very likely, the authorities, on the one hand, anticipate that the decree will be abolished, and other hand, do not want to take responsibility for decisions either on the decree or on the protests.
It should be noted, that the mass street protests on February 17th, 19th, and 26th, were held in the absence of the president in the country. There are reasons to believe that the authorities did not expect such a massive action. The state propaganda responded tangentially, insisting that protests were unjustified, because ‘the state did not require a lot’, despite the fact, that the protesters primarily complained about the lack of jobs in the country. In addition, the protesters pointed to the unfairness of the requirement to pay the tax for being unemployed as the state could not provide job and money making opportunities, while people were humiliated by the need to prove to the state they were unable to pay the tax.
In the past ten days, there were several protests against the decree, which were characterised by the following: the protesters easily picked up anti-Lukashenka slogans; they eagerly shared their outrage with journalists; many protesters said it was their first time when they took to the streets; protesters were ‘common people’, i.e. not political activists; there were fewer white-red-white flags during these protests than during conventional oppositional actions; politicians, who organised protests (eg on February 26th, by the centre-right coalition and the independent trade union) did not attempt to take the lead, especially in the regions. All this gives a picture of truly popular protests.
While refraining from interfering with the meetings and protest marches, the militia on February 26th attempted to put pressure on the protest organisers in the regions by handing out reports on administrative violations after the events. Other than that, it appears that the local and central authorities are unable to respond to the massive protests against the Decree No 3, including crowded street speeches, numerous signatories of petitions (over 80 000), multiple collective and personal appeals to the authorities, and mass meetings.
That said, the authorities are unable to enforce the Decree No 3 as they do not have sufficient resources to trial some 400 000 people for non-compliance. In addition, the authorities do not have sufficient institutional capacity to exempt all those not liable for the tax from the mailing lists of the Tax authorities. The Belarusian Bar Association will provide free legal consultations on March 1st, 2017 for those wishing be exempt from the tax imposed by the Decree No 3, however, this would only slightly east the tension in society.
In addition, despite concerns expressed by some experts and the leader of the protest in Minsk on February 17th Mikola Statkevich, there were only scarce reports in the Russian media about the protests in Belarus.