Entrepreneurial strike: benefits and risks for the government
On June 27th, a nationwide strike of entrepreneurs against pre-certification of goods’ sales in the Custom Union space was held in Belarus.
Entrepreneurs’ strike against the Customs Union rules provides the authorities with an additional argument in bargaining with Russia on economic preferences within the Eurasian integration. Simultaneously, independent and pro-active behaviour of entrepreneurs create a threat to the authorities, entailing harsh retaliatory sanctions against the protests’ organizers.
Belarusian entrepreneurs believe that the new quality certificate procedure for light industry goods sold in the Customs Union space is too expensive and unnecessarily increases their costs. In response, the Belarusian authorities have promised to delay by one year the introduction of certification, but they failed in settling the issue entirely. Following the strike, the protesters applied for a permission to hold a rally on July 15th in Minsk against the certification procedure.
In the authorities’ view, the situation has both positive and negative sides. The protest against the Customs Union rules and threats to exit the CU (entrepreneurs have already announced that they had started collecting signatures for Belarus’ exit from the CU) will definitely be used by the authorities in couloirs negotiations with Russia on broader economic and trade preferences for Belarus in the Eurasian integration (energy, industrial goods).
However, overly independent entrepreneurial activity - especially the street protests - is a threat to the authorities. In addition, the ruling group is not interested in additional players interfering with the negotiations with the Kremlin (entrepreneurs have already addressed the Eurasian Economic Commission to resolve the certification issue).
Potentially, the authorities will use the protesters’ arguments, and especially the threat to quit the CU while Moscow negotiations. However, public solidarity between authorities and entrepreneurs should not be anticipated because of the ruling group desire to maintain bargaining monopoly in the Eurasian Economic Commission.
Therefore, during the strike the authorities acted quite typical. After the protests they detained a number of independent media journalists who covered the event, as well as the strike’s organizer business association "Perspective" Chairman Anatoly Shumchanka, who was sentenced to five days in jail for holding an unsanctioned event.
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.