Economic Troubles Deepen and Regime Consolidates Before Elections - Polish Press Digest

The Polish press most frequently reported on the teddy bear affair over the last weeks. The newspapers follow the actions undertaken by the Belarusian authorities aimed at the investigation and punishment of those related to it. Other issues covered include the September parliamentary elections, the opposition, the regime’s internal games and the consequences of the Belarusian economic crisis.

The Teddy Bear issue was broadly covered by the Polish press.  Polska The Times reports on the repercussions aimed at the officials responsible for the air zone security. Two generals Ihar Rachkouski and Dzmitry Pakhmielkin have already been dismissed for the alleged failure of their duties which resulted in the light aircraft entering Belarusian territory from which the individuals on the plane threw out the teddy bears over the country.

The Parliamentary Elections

Gazeta Wyborcza reports that an "electoral war" is taking place in Belarus. According to the newspaper,  Lukashenka’s regime, through the repression of the opposition and intimidation of its own political apparatus, is about to mobilise its political apparatus. The newspaper suggests that these actions are accompanied by an intensified anti-corruption campaign aimed at the administration's employees to signal that the repression can touch anyone who is against the regime.

While the regime consolidates itself, the political opposition remains divided over whether boycott of the elections or participation in them would be the best. Gazeta Wyborcza reports also on the formation of the election committees and low number of opposition representatives, which is less than in the last parliamentary elections in 2008. It highlights the fact that according to political activists, opposition candidates are often not registered. 

Polska The Times informs that Alexandr Milinkievich, a leader of the For Freedom movement, announced his intention to take part in the parliamentary elections campaign. In the aftermath of his failure to win the 2006 elections, he did not take part in the following elections. The newspaper cites Milinkievich arguing that his decision to actively campaign in the September elections is due to the fact that the Belarusians should understand the necessity for change and have a sense of responsibility for the country. The newspaper also stated that there is no unity among the political opposition in Belarus in regard to their strategy for participation in the elections.

Gazeta Wyborcza informs that two other ex-candidates of the presidential elections will not take part in in the electoral campaign, Mykola Statkevich and Ales Michalevich. The chairman of the Central Election Commission of  Belarus, Lidia Yermoshina, explains that neither have created groups that could collect the necessary signatures for their lists.  With regards to Statkevich, she explains that the prisoner could not apply for  registration of such an initiative group. Michalevich, on the other hand, does not live in Belarus and has a standing international warrant from Belarus.

One Day in the Life of the Opposition

Gazeta Wyborcza reports that President Lukashenka signed the amnesty bill. Thank to this bill, over 2000 people will be released. However, the independent media suggests that no political prisoners will be set free. Among those who will be embraced by the amnesty might be people sentenced for small petty crimes, pregnant women,  and under some conditions also those sentenced for abuse of power and position as well as others. Elsewhere the newspaper reports on Lukashenka’s preparations for the upcoming elections.

Wprost suggests that the pressure upon independent activists in Belarus has increased over the last few months. The Belarusian courts charged Dzmitry Wus and Andrei Mouchan due to their anti – regime activities. It claims that imprisonment of the youth and political activists is on the rise as are bans on leaving Belarus.  The newspaper comments on the new wave of political prisoners, like Vasil Parfiankou, arrested for 6 months for breaking his terms of release.

Poles in Belarus

Newsweek deals with the issue of the imprisonment of Andrzej Poczobut, a chairman of the Governing Council of the Union of Poles in Belarus, unrecognised by official Minsk. He has been charged with the defamation of President Lukashenka.  It further reports the opinion shared by many independent media outlets that the authorities treat the issue as a bargaining chip in regard to relations with Poland and a signal to journalists to stay quiet leading up to the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Economy Spreads Panic

Rzeczpospolita takes a closer look at the recent mass purchase of foreign currency by Belarusians, despite the fact that authorities have established certain barriers against it. According to the newspaper, it will lead to the bankrupting of the economy, though potentially not as severe as last year's crisis. The purchase of foreign currency in banks increased in June to 20.6 per cent. An increase in inflation and other negative tendencies in the economy can spread even more panic among Belarusians.

Rzeczpospolita argues also that the Belarusian authorities falsify statistics on the Belarusian economy and hide the true level of unemployment in Belarus. By proving this statement using the data of the World Bank, the newspaper suggested that its level is even seven times higher than what the official data presents. According to the newspaper, there are more problems related to the low benefits payments and unemployment registration procedure, which discourage jobless people from searching for a job. Moreover, lack of interest in the privatisation, both by the heads of state–owned companies, but also by workers, are among the reasons why the Belarusian economy has lost its dynamism over recent years.

Wprost comments on the economic situation in Belarus. It reports that Minsk asked the Anti - Crisis Fund of the Eurasian Economic Union for the next tranche of its loan. It noted that the sum of the three previous tranches  is estimated at $1.68bn.  At the same time, the authorities also declared increases in the prices of  communal service (utilities) and transportation. Wprost also pointed out that in 2011, Belarus was credited for a $3bn loan from the EurAsEc.

Social Effects of the Crisis

Rzeczpospolita writes about the social effects of the economic crisis, calling it ‘Belarus' minor stabilisation'. It argues that the crisis has resulted in further economic and political dependence on Russia, and furthermore it has  also led to the impoverishment of society. The financial assistance from Moscow, particularly lower prices for gas, duty free oil and the purchase of Beltransgas by Gazprom, helped Minsk to manage inflation. At the same time, the current economic situation has led to Belarusians losing their political engagement and interest in the upcoming elections, which is the real factor that could eventually bring about significant changes.  

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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