A tax on “social parasites” is stirring up public angst in Belarus, according to reports. A classic revolutionary situation may be unfolding in Europe’s last dictatorship, notes analyst Leon Aron:
…a long-time dictator, Alyaksandr Lukashenka (below), in power since 1994, a seemingly endless recession, and a deeply resented new “loafers” tax causing mass protests. Moreover, in the successful effort to end EU economic sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenka has attempted a very tentative and controlled liberalization, disregarding Tocqueville’s dictum about the onset of reforms being the most dangerous time for a bad government. Wiley and ruthless though he is, Europe’s longest-surviving dictator may indeed be approaching the end of the road.
The recent protests in four regional cities, which included an estimated 1,000-strong rally in the eastern city of Vitebsk, are a rare sign of dissent in the authoritarian former Soviet nation.
Something has clearly been brewing in Belarus, says analyst Andrei Yeliseyeu. The anger over a tax on the unemployed and other supposed freeloaders can be justified through the absurdity of the law itself, he writes for Transitions Online.
“Over the past two months, as the tax has come due, resistance to the decree has grown from small critiques and online chatter, to public discussions organized by the democratic political opposition and the authorities, to public protests in Minsk and the regions,” Belarus Digest adds. “This resistance appears genuinely broad based and domestic in nature.”
One year ago, the EU lifted sanctions against Belarus, notes Civil Rights Defenders:
The sanctions were imposed in response to human rights violations perpetrated by the Belarusian regime, but were lifted without any improvements to the human rights situation. On the one year anniversary, Civil Rights Defenders releases a report entitled: Dictatorship No More? EU Sanctions Lifted at the Expense of Civil and Political Rights in Belarus. Local human rights activists are disappointed by the EU’s decision to lift the sanctions. The overall perception is that the EU’s lack of consistency will encourage the government to clamp down on civil society and regime critics.
“The EU seems to have turned a blind eye when it comes to human rights abuses in Belarus and the EU’s lifting of the sanctions seem to be solely motivated by geo-political concerns,” said Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director for Eurasia Department at Civil Rights Defenders. “The EU must immediately change course: include civil society in its dialogue with the regime and keep the few remaining sanctions against the country in place.”