A series of protests are underway in Belarus these days. The people are protesting against decree “on parasites” that looks to impose additional tax on citizens who do not work anywhere officially. Besides Minsk, the Decree sparked large-scale protests in Gomel. Belarusian political analyst, a local resident, Jean Chubukov told EADaily about the social and economic background of the ongoing protests.
Gomel is the second largest city in Belarus. Most of the employed population in Gomel like in Minsk work on industrial enterprises. At the instigation of the local authorities, large state enterprises of Belarus refused to join the Belarusian-Russian holdings and faced stiff competition with the Russian industry in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) market. In addition, Belarusian bureaucrats have misappropriated the funds allocated for technological modernization of the state enterprises. Meantime, Russian enterprises have been successfully modernized and stared gradually ousting the low technological production of Belarus from the EAEU market. The authorities in Belarus have no funds to maintain the outdated industrial giants. It caused mass layoffs and business interruption, erosion of purchasing power, and gradually shrinking trade and services sectors. People see no way out: they have neither money nor jobs. Instead, everyone has a family and needs to make ends meet. The crude decree taxing the people who are left jobless and without livelihood made the cup run over. The vast majority of the protesters in Gomel are ordinary workers and their discontent is of social and economic nature.
In addition, local nationalists are very likely to lead the protests. There is no other force in the country for frustrated workers to rely on. The state-controlled trade unions do nothing, puppet parties of government officials and appointed parliamentarians do not communicate with the people and fail to fulfill their obligations. Without leaders, the workers fail to unite. Trying to avoid poverty and despair, they are ready to support any force that will try to protect their interests, even if it is nationalists. In Gomel, many of the protesters say Belarus needs to join the Russian Federation to put an end to that outrage. The people openly and harshly criticize the top leadership for flirting with the West and delivering “independence and sovereignty” speeches that has spoiled the relations with Russia and caused the current economic crisis in the region. In fact, the people advocate for integration, but there are no forces able to lead pro-Russian rallies in Belarus. That is why the people will have to follow nationalists. No one else cares for them.
Forecasts of further developments are extremely negative. Regional authorities lack communication with the public, lack money to normalize the economic situation and the state propaganda is extremely inefficient. Nor they can use force against ordinary people, workers, as it is very dangerous. Local authorities will not dare to make any serious decisions without consent of the Minsk authorities that behave less and less adequately. The Gomel authorities do not want to make any serious decisions. They do not want to go to prison. They want to “retire” peacefully. Much depends on the law-enforcement. If they prove unreasonable and start fining ordinary citizens for participating in protests or, God forbid, if they use force against workers and pensioners, it will trigger a wave that will wash away the local authorities. Unfortunately, it is a stalemate.