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Business as Usual in Belarus: The Alternance Dance

It is tough being a strongman dictator. One must always remain unflappable in order to maintain your iron grip on absolute power, while still playing the domestic and international game accordingly. No single misstep is allowed. Thus, “Europe’s last dictator” Alexander Lukashenko, has had his plate full. Lately, he had to deal with a bout of demonstrations against taxation.

Introduced in April 2015, “the parasite tax” imposes a $240 fine on anybody who remains unemployed more than six months at a stretch. Much like the Obamacare penalty for the uninsured, the tax is intended to raise funds for health and social insurance costs. Its implementation in February 2017 prompted a mass protest in a dozen places from Mołodeczno, Brest, and Pinsk through Minsk to Orsha and Babruisk. There was even a concurrent sit-in at Kuropaty, a mass graveyard of Stalin’s victims near Minsk, to object to its threatened desecration by developers with ties to the regime. But mostly people objected to the new taxes for economic reasons.

The measure targeted in particular Belarusians working abroad and those employed in temporary jobs or small private businesses. Also, the “parasite tax” seems to have been the final straw reflecting the abysmal state of the economy of Belarus and widespread penury of the population. The 1990s social contract of “a vodka shot and a bacon bite” (чарка і шкварка) in exchange for stability and order would no longer do.

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