Belarusian authorities put financial pressure on political opponents amid growing budget deficit

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August 07, 2017 12:20
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Last week, the Belarusian authorities launched a criminal investigation against the leaders of the independent trade union REP allegedly in order to prevent social revolt, which could become a threat amid the plans to introduce paid healthcare, communal services, education and so on. The fact that the authorities have resumed their old-style management approach does not imply that they would abandon relatively new and inclusive approaches.

The Belarusian authorities have stepped up financial pressure on the democratic camp. Last week, they hit on the independent trade union REP, who were among the organizers of protests against Decree No. 3 in February-March 2017. Based on charges brought against the leaders of the trade union, the State Control Committee must have used the information provided by the Lithuanian banks back in 2011, when Ales Belyatsky, the head of the human rights organization Viasna, was arrested on tax evasion charges. The authorities argue that the charges of tax evasion against the trade union leaders are not politically motivated, however, the Belarusian legislative framework for civil society and the opposition outlaws almost any public and, especially, political activity, enabling arbitrary prosecution at any moment. Unlike in 2011, the authorities are unlikely to imprison trade union leaders (and freeze the ongoing dialogue with the EU), their likely aim is to divorce trade unions from street protests and Nikolai Statkevich.

With the crack-down on independent trade unions and independent media the authorities aim to facilitate the shaping of public opinion in the view of plans to introduce fees for public social services, such as health care, education, municipal services, etc. Currently, the draft amendments to Decree No 3 propose to introduce fees on public social services for non-payers of taxes, which would be in line with the persisting trend to reduce state social guarantees. The authorities have prioritised the support for large labour groups which could be easily mobilised either for protests or loyalty demonstrations. Accordingly, the state could spend the dwindling state resources to support enterprises and organizations with numerous staff (even if they are unable to absorb the funds), and cut all other government spending.

The resumption of repressions against political opponents correlates with the authorities’ desire to retain the main pillars of the socio-economic model and resume soviet-style state administration forms, such as conference calls, when the president tells off not only ministers but also heads of the parliament chambers. That said, the authorities are unlikely to resume the micro management style like in 2012 so as they have neither will nor money for that.

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President ensures continuity of state administration with young middle-level personnel
October 02, 2017 12:08
Image: BRSM.BY

President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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