Targeted repressions demonstrate threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations
On August 21st - 22nd, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the Presidential Administration newspaper, published two pieces about the convicted youth activist Andrei Gaidukov.
Law enforcement agencies specifically demonstrate the imminent threat of punishment for illegal cooperation with foreign organizations to different social groups. Such actions by law enforcers hamper the Foreign Ministry’s political maneuvers in the West.
The publication of evidence in Gaidukov’s case by Sovetskaya Belorussiya continues the tradition started after December 19th, 2010, when the same newspaper published confidential financial and programmatic documents seized from defendants in the mass riots case. This time, the newspaper published extracts from correspondence, allegedly between Gaidukov and the CIA European Office, regarding potential collaboration.
According to the prosecution, the Belarusian KGB was communicating with Gaidukov on behalf of the CIA, thus dragging the 20-year-old young man into an investigative experiment which resulted in Gaidukov’s criminal prosecution. On July 1st, Andrei Gaidukov, leader of the unregistered organization “Young Intellectuals Union”, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on charges of attempting to establish cooperation with foreign special services.
Another case, which entailed punishment for attempting to cooperate with foreign states, occurred in June with Tatyana Zelko, chairman of “Our Generation”, an unregistered pensioners organization. The woman was fined for receiving foreign aid to conduct political and mass agitation activities. During the trial the detention details were disclosed: Mrs Zelko was arrested by the KGB Department for Financial Investigations officers as she walked out of the Slovak Embassy in Minsk with 1,453 Euro in cash. Zelko was awarded a 50 basic units fine (BYR 5,000,000 or circa USD 560) and 1,453 Euro were confiscated.
These developments point to a coordinated targeted repressions strategy against members of specific social groups. In particular, seniors are one of the target groups in the EU programme “Dialogue on Modernization with Belarusian Society”. Previously, a massive information attack was organized against independent experts participating in the programme. Finally, youth movements have traditionally been a major focus of the Belarusian special services, and the KGB in particular. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Sovetskaya Belorussiya has launched its series of publications just before the school year starts, in early September.
In addition, the State Control Committee’s Financial Investigation Department (FID) is actively counteracting illegal foreign funding of non-governmental organizations in Belarus. The most notorious case led by the FID was the examination of “Viasna” human rights Centre’s financial activities, which eventually resulted in a 4.5 years prison term for its leader Ales Bialiatski.
Objectively, such actions by the Belarusian security forces hamper the Foreign Ministry’s attempts to normalize Belarus’ Western foreign policy. Foreign governments and international organizations reacted predictably negatively to the Gaidukov case. And the Foreign Ministry’s position in negotiations with the EU and the U.S. has weakened, since Belarus not only failed to fulfill the demand to release political prisoners, but also - in the eyes of the West - enhanced repressions.
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.