Belarusian ideological workers are preparing for presidential campaign
Ahead of the elections, the Belarusian authorities have stepped-up ideological activity, which gains importance amid the lack of funds to buy the loyalty of the electorate with income growth. However, the lack of a clear national idea is likely to have a disintegrating effect on the ideological apparatus. Ideology is unlikely to play an important role in boosting the president’s ratings if people’s living standards deteriorate or the Kremlin rumps up pressure in the information field.
Last week, Minsk hosted a republican forum-seminar ‘The Ideological Work in the Context of the Key Messages of the President’s Address to the Belarusian People and the National Assembly of Belarus”. Almost 300 ideology workers participated in the seminar, including from the Presidential Administration, Minsk City Executive Committee, Deputy Chairmen of Regional Executive Committees, Rayon Executive Committees, and District Administrations.
In Belarus, all public enterprises and organizations have ideology workers, whose number across the country totals circa 10,000 people. The ideologues ensure that people are aware about the actions of authorities and state policies; workers receive thematic publications and subscribe to state-run media outlets.
In addition, the ideological apparatus functions as an additional bureaucratic superstructure, which coordinates and monitors cultural, sportive and entertainment activities, oversees relations with the state trade unions, the Belarusian Republican Youth Union and major pro-government NGOs.
Following the president’s initiative, ideological structures became a part of the Belarusian state apparatus in 2003. Despite multiple attempts, the Belarusian authorities, so far, have been unable to formulate a national idea, which was noted by the president in 2014: "Some ten years ago I have set a task: we are a nation, but what is out national idea? It was clear what ideas we had when we were ‘soviet’. And what’s now? We have brainstormed this issue with the whole of society, including me, and to what was suggested, I said ‘no’.”
The lack of the national idea formulated at the highest level disintegrates ideological apparatus. Most ideologues are unable to formulate the basic theses of the Belarusian state ideology, which rests upon loyalty to the president. In addition, salaries of ideologues correspond to salaries of low and mid-level public officials and range between BYR 2.5 mln and 7 mln (USD 165 – USD 450). Such modest salaries could also explain the lack of professionalism and enthusiasm of ideologues in promoting national ideology among the population.
The Belarusian ideological apparatus has been unable to resist the Russian propaganda and shape public opinion in Belarus in relation to the events in Ukraine, which would correspond to President Lukashenka’s theses. According to independent pollsters, most population in Belarus has supported the annexation of Crimea by Russia and accepted Russian media interpretations of the conflict in Ukraine. In addition, state ideologues loose the Internet battle to the independent media, despite the disparate available funding and the newly imposed restrictions on the Internet Media in Belarus (introduced in late 2014).
In the fight for the president’s popularity ratings ahead of the presidential elections, the authorities are prepared to mobilise all available means, however, if all their efforts fail, they might block sources of alternative information during the presidential campaign.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.