Friedrich Ebert Foundation forced to leave Belarus
Belarusian authorities refused to continue cooperation with a well-known global non-governmental organization from Germany. After the 2010 presidential election, the authorities deliberately narrow the range of alternative organizations inside the country that work closely with Western partners.
In December the Foreign Ministry of Belarus refused to renew the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Belarus “because the foundation’s activities did not fully meet the criteria for constructive cooperation with governmental agencies of Belarus”. In 2012 Minsk office of the Fund will cease its operation.
There is a reason to believe that such a move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a reaction to the resolution of the Conference of the OSCE Civil Society in Vilnius on December 6. The resolution calls upon the international community to cease all cooperation with the Belarusian authorities that provides for financial assistance to them. FES in Minsk was an active mediator between the government and non-governmental organizations of Belarus therefore Foreign Ministry’s decision meant to demonstrate to the international community their readiness to purge the entire field of active NGOs in Belarus.
In the broader context the non-renewal of the accreditation of the representation of FES is a logical continuation of the policy of freezing of relations between Belarus and its Western partners, which were the most active partners in the program of liberalization of Belarus in 2008-2010, and in particular, during the campaign of legitimation of the 4th term of President Lukashenko in autumn 2010.
In particular it concerned Poland and Germany, as their foreign ministers visited Minsk in November 2010. It is obvious, the suspension of the lease agreement for the Polish Embassy premises building in 2012 and the non-renewal of the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for 2012 are links in one chain.
By restricting cooperation, Belarus narrows the range of non-governmental organizations that receive support from the West considered by the Belarusian authorities as agents of influence. In turn, the scope of international organizations which have the ability to directly influence the situation in Belarus is restricted simultaneously. Finally, the authorities start implementing the new legislation, which significantly tightens the rules of the game for theBelarusian civil society organizations with foreign funding.
The Labour and the Tax Ministries are considering the possibility to include persons engaged in some economic activity without forming a legal entity in the social security system. When the decree No 337 comes into effect, the number of private entrepreneurs is likely to reduce due to the possibility of reducing the tax burden when switching to a tax payment as an individual. 95% of self-employed, including PE, pay insurance premiums on the basis of the minimum wage. The number of self-employed citizens is expected to increase, the number of insurance contributions to the pension system from PE will decrease, the number of citizens who will pay a fee to finance government spending will decrease by several tens. Self-employed citizens have the alternative not to pay social security fees and save resources for future pensions, which, given the gradual restriction by the state of pension requirements could be a more long-sighted option.