Authorities test the economy’s mobilization
On November 30th, during a visit to Borisovdrev woodworks President Lukashenko urged to develop a regulation banning layoffs at the enterprise before the modernization was completed. Mr. Prokopovich was nominated Presidential Aide responsible for woodworking industry modernization.
The authorities’ desire to tighten labour discipline and rules is due to a significant workers’ outflow from the industry and jeopardized modernization programme. In addition, by taking strict measures, the president tests the social response for if the financial crisis of 2011 repeats.
Lukashenko’s statement prohibiting layoffs had a wide response the independent Belarusian media and was negatively assessed - as a “return to slavery”. In the meanwhile, the issue is about a draft decree, which probably will establish special labor terms at woodworking enterprises undergoing modernization. The state’s logic is that if an enterprise receives public money for modernization, it must achieve the projected output results, which is impossible with fewer employees.
These initiatives are explained by personnel and economic problems faced by the Belarusian government. It should be reiterated that during the currency crisis in 2011, Lukashenko was threatening to use harsh measures against Belarusian migrant workers in a very emotional manner (for instance, to make them pay 100% for utilities), but had not actualized his threats.
However, the government’s concerns about downsizing in the industry are well-founded. According to official data, the number of employed in the economy in January-October 2012 decreased by 2% compared with January-October 2011, and the highest rates of dismissals were registered in construction and industry. The difference in wages forces Belarusian workers to leave for jobs in Russia, or to change their main activity, for instance, to become “shuttle traders”, which is a particularly popular activity among the residents in the border areas. Therefore Lukashenko demands from the government officials to increase control over industries in the regions, threatening with dismissals.
In addition, the President started his field trips without Prime Minister Myasnikovich. He seems to keep PM away from the key economic policy issue – an industrial modernization programme – which implies that PM team’s influence continued weakening. The most likely successors of Myasnikovich in the short term are: former Lukashenko assistant for Economic Affairs Mr. Tkachev (who works for Amkodor machine-building holding), the recently appointed PA head Alexander Kobyakov or Mr. Prokopovich, who recently headed the National Council for Enterprise Development.
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.