Entrepreneurial strike: benefits and risks for the government

April 22, 2016 18:33

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.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.