Minsk sends a reciprocal goodwill gesture to the West
Belarusian authorities have used a relatively mild assessment of the parliamentary campaign by the OSCE observers to demonstrate their willingness to continue exchanging reciprocal concessions. But the major political prisoners remain in prison.
On September 26th and 27th political prisoners Sergei Kovalenko and Paul Syromolotov were released.
The release of two political prisoners is definitely a reaction to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission’s assessment of the parliamentary elections. This assessment was less harsh than the previous, and the authorities made a reciprocal good will gesture. Most likely, the new Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey coordinated this initiative - he personally met on September 24th with the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission Mr. Milososki.
Clearly the authorities were waiting for the West’s reaction to the elections, as both Kovalenko and Syromolotov had written pardon requests in June 2012 and as a rule such requests are considered within one month. Both former prisoners were not involved in the most resonant political case, i.e. the mass demonstrations on December 19th, 2010. Major political prisoners, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich, remain in prison.
As noted earlier, Minsk is not going to fulfill the conditions set by the West for the release (and rehabilitation) of political prisoners, but the authorities are considering the opportunities for a thaw in relations. The Belarusian authorities are pleased with the positive signal sent through the OSCE observation mission and they are prepared to respond, but they will continue fulfilling the conditions only in return for further concessions.
Most likely, the authorities’ next move will be an attempt to resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, in particular, against the backdrop of the deteriorating financial situation in the country. Previously the National Bank Chairman Mrs. Ermakova talked about it. Further releases of political prisoners will imply that the authorities have received a positive signal in terms of cooperation with the IMF.
The Labour and the Tax Ministries are considering the possibility to include persons engaged in some economic activity without forming a legal entity in the social security system. When the decree No 337 comes into effect, the number of private entrepreneurs is likely to reduce due to the possibility of reducing the tax burden when switching to a tax payment as an individual. 95% of self-employed, including PE, pay insurance premiums on the basis of the minimum wage. The number of self-employed citizens is expected to increase, the number of insurance contributions to the pension system from PE will decrease, the number of citizens who will pay a fee to finance government spending will decrease by several tens. Self-employed citizens have the alternative not to pay social security fees and save resources for future pensions, which, given the gradual restriction by the state of pension requirements could be a more long-sighted option.