Belarusian government will raise retirement age and will preserve monopoly in pension sphere
President Lukashenka is preparing public opinion for significant cuts in state’s pension obligations. The decision to reduce social protection with regard to pensions was likely made before the start of the presidential campaign. The authorities have planned substantial cuts in social protection for the near future due to languishing budget revenues.
Last week, the president discussed raising the retirement age with the government.
The state has long been preparing the population for the introduction of unpopular measures to increase the retirement age. For example, this issue has been voiced yet before the start of the 2015 presidential campaign, which suggests it was seriously considered. "My opinion on this matter is well known: if people do not want the retirement age to be raised, we tell them straight away - this is the retirement age, here is the pension fund, we divide it among all pensioners", the president then said. Most likely, the president was probing the approval of pension restrictions by his traditional electorate.
After all, this measure will affect primarily women, for whom the alignment of the retirement age with men’s will be a significant increase. The president proposed to make the retirement age the same for men and women: "Everything should be taken into account: the difference in life expectancy between men and women, the specifics of rural and urban areas, the working conditions and other factors”.
That said, the difference in life expectancy between men and women is still high in Belarus, albeit declining. For example, current gender-based mortality varies by 10-11 years, while before it was higher - 11-12 years.
Interestingly, Lukashenka’s campaigning team in the most recent elections consisted mainly of women. Among Lukashenka’s supporters, women prevailed in 2015 - 83/17.
Notably, the government has introduced some pension age limits in early 2016, but it was relatively unnoticed by the Belarusian society.
The president also proposed to align the retirement age for all groups of the population, including the security forces, "... representatives of the law enforcement, today, in principle, may retire at 45 years old. 90-something per cent may retire at 45. What kind of a pensioner is at 45?! I think it would be fair, if the issue of raising the retirement age affects everyone”.
However, despite the crisis of the current pension model, the government has no plans to change the system itself. It remains a common one, rather than funded, which is likely due to the government’s desire to demonstrate its care for the people and prevent people from assuming a responsibility for their retirement savings.
In addition, as requested by the president a while ago, the state will cut its social benefits for the population gradually, over a long time.
Overall, the retirement age is likely to be raised gradually over several years, in order to popularize the idea among Lukashenka’s electorate.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.