Authorities continue showing “guts” to the West
Last week, the number of Belarusian citizens, who have been denied permission to travel abroad increased. On March 17 Mr. Kovalev, one of the convicts in the case of the terrorist attack in the Minsk metro was executed.
The increased number of individuals, who are banned from leaving Belarus, is a continuation of the Belarusian authorities’ response to the EU visa “black list” and a confirmation of their unwillingness to make concessions. The Belarusian “ban” list has not yet been disclosed and no governmental agency has yet assumed responsibility for it, on the contrary, officials deny its existence.
To date, empirically collected data suggests that this list includes leaders of opposition parties (United Civic Party, “Fair World” party) and non-governmental organizations and campaigns (Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, “For Fair Elections” campaign), as well as journalists of the independent media.
It is likely that president Lukashenko and his surrounding circles thereby challenge the EU and simultaneously take a preemptive measure against potential extension of visa ban list or introduction of economic sanctions on the eve of a meeting of EU Council on 22-23 March. Such a response is quite traditional of the Belarusian authorities, who perceive foreign policy through a narrow agonal optics of “attack – counter-attack”.
At the same time the authorities broadcast signals of their readiness to release political prisoners. In particular, Mr. Statkevich for the first time in the past seven months of imprisonment was allowed to phone home. There are reports the consideration of Mr. Sannikov’s appeal is delayed.
The death sentence could not be unambiguously interpreted as a proof that Minsk is not interested in a dialogue with the Council of Europe on the issue of a moratorium on the death penalty. On the contrary, after rejecting a pardon within a fundamentally important for the authorities case and the execution that followed, Minsk could get back to a discussion of a moratorium on the death penalty. The paradoxical logic of the regime suggests, after drawing a line under the terrorist attack case it has been “liberated” to continue a dialogue on the issue of the death penalty.
The country's leadership has instructed the local authorities to raise minimum wages at enterprises by the end of 2019 to BYN 1,000, which would lead to an increase in the average wage in the economy as a whole to BYN 1 500. The pace of wage growth in 2017 is insufficient to ensure payroll at BYN 1000 by late 2017 without manipulating statistical indicators. In order to fulfil the president’s order, the government would have to increase budgetary expenditures on wages in healthcare and education, enterprises – to carry out further layoffs and expand the practice of taking loans to pay wages and restrict investment in modernisation of fixed assets. In 2010, the artificial increase in wages led to a threefold devaluation in 2011, an increase in the average salary to BYN 1500 will not match the capabilities of the economy and would lead to yet another devaluation.