Belarus closes the border for the domestic opposition
On March 7, Belarusian border guards did not allow the Chairman of the United Civil Party Anatoly Liabedzka to leave Belarus en route to Lithuania. On the same day, the wife of Liabedzka became a subject to extended examination at the same border while traveling from Lithuania to Belarus. Also, Mr. Dobrovolski, Deputy Chairman of the UCP, was taken off the train en route to Lithuania.
The ban on leaving Belarus for the Head of the UCP Mr. Liabedzka without any explanation implies the Belarusian authorities had to improvise and had no clear action plan against the politician. Otherwise, the authorities would have referred to a formal pretext, for instance, a “criminal” case initiated against him.
Actions against Messrs Liabedzka and Dobrovolsky could represent a “symmetrical response” to the visa restrictions, imposed by the EU against Belarusian officials. However, unlike the ban on entry to the EU of foreign nationals, a ban on leaving the country for the citizens of the country is a more complicated task: it contradicts the Belarusian legislation in the first place.
These recent developments at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border confirm that the Belarusian authorities have not yet decided on the tactics in response to the demands and actions of the EU. They adhere to the tactics of passive retention of the status quo: political prisoners are not released, the CEC threatens not to invite OSCE observers to the parliamentary elections in the autumn, and in response to the visa sanctions against Belarusian officials the authorities introduced vague travel bans on opposition politicians.
These passive measures only meant to restrict the leadership of opposition parties (the UCP in this particular case) from maintaining their international contacts. It is worth mentioning that some governmental officials advocated for a “pro-active” response, i.e. to introduce penalties against those who call for sanctions against Belarus (it has been recently discussed in the Prosecutor’s Office). However, such pro-active response fits in badly with the existing trend towards “passive response” and therefore unlikely to be implemented.
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.