Changes in the housing ownership rules: political opportunities for opposition and President
On May 17th, Housing Minister Andrei Shorets reported to MPs about a new decree on housing ownership reform to be signed in the near future.
The news about the revision of housing ownership rules create a clear economic discomfort for residents who have not yet privatized their apartments. Simultaneously, the reform creates favourable conditions for some political actors who may improve their popularity while fighting against such threat.
According to the Minister, the new rules will introduce lease payments for the use of non-privatized apartments, where residents lived on lease agreements yet since the Soviet era. Such residents will have two options: either to pay the rent, or to privatize their property in the course of a year, alternatively, the apartments will become social housing without the privatization right.
If adopted, this decree may affect the interests of about 392,000 owners of non-privatized apartments, or about 14% of the Belarus’ total housing volume or about 6% of the electorate without taking into account close relatives. Experts estimate, that the privatization costs will be USD 300-400 per square meter.
Whether passed or not, the information about his decree creates favorable conditions for the political players – for the opposition and the government - to protect the interests of the citizens affected by the project. In particular, in the beginning of April, the Party of Freedom and Progress organizing committee came up with an initiative with a number of proposals to the government. However, it should be recognized that this draft decree has not yet attracted significant attention of the opposition.
Paradoxically, President Lukashenko might also criticize this Decree. Protection of the social rights of voters, duet to anti-liberal considerations, is his conventional tactics and is particularly relevant in light of the upcoming elections. In particular, previously Lukashenko sharply criticized some ‘liberal’ initiatives of Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik aiming at eliminating shadow employment.
Therefore, the probability is high that the Ministry of Housing and Public Utilities will be criticized for the ‘anti-people attitude’, simultaneously allowing the President to reconsider staffing policy at this public body.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.