Helping Belarus Activists Stay, not Leave
Following the recent presidential elections, many people in Belarus lost their jobs or were expelled from universities. It is important to take measures which would help those people stay in Belarus and remain politically active rather than seek political asylum abroad.
Belarusian legislation makes it easy to dismiss dissidents from work. The Belarus economy is very inefficient and there is a double digit real unemployment rate, which is concealed by the official statistics. Unlike their counterparts in other European countries, most employees in Belarus are employed on the basis of short term contract and not protected against unfair dismissal. These contracts have been introduced by administrative measures, which was relatively easy because the government controls most of the economy.
After a period of one year there is usually a procedure for reviewing an employee’s performance. The employer may decide not to renew a short term contract without any justification. Political loyalty plays an important role in such decisions which in a fact mean discrimination on the basis of political opinion. Because in Belarus most of the economy is state-owned, a conflict with the state security apparatus deprives the employees from virtually any other employment opportunities.
Belarus authorities do not prevent opposition activists from leaving the country for good. Lukashenka on a number of occastions expressed his joy that dissidents leave the country voluntarily. In fact, Belarus is one of few countries of the former Soviet Union which does not have two types of passport – one for domestic use and one for foreign travel. That makes leaving the country and seeking political asylum easy. Belarus authorities like when people go into exile voluntarily. They do not need to jail them or take other repressive measures because outside of the country they cause little harm to the regime.
This is why it is important to make sure that democratic activists remain in Belarus. It is right to accept true political refugees, but it also important to give them an opportunity to stay at home. The main reason why people leave Belarus are economic – it is very difficult to find a job in general and even more difficult for opposition activists. The vast majority of activists would be happy to stay in Belarus with their families and friends. Many are determined to continue their work as long as they can make ends meet. It is crucial to establish grant programs and temporary job opportunities abroad to enable the repressed to remain socially and politically engaged in Belarus.
The poll organized by Belarus Digest shows than easing visa and work restrictions for Belarusians is the most popular choice. It should be noted, that reducing visa fees is not enough. Because most opposition activists are left without any official employment in Belarus their visa applications are usually denied because of suspicion that they will try to work abroad illegally. At that point it does not matter how high the visa fee is. There are not so many people in Belarus. If Europe lets them work without restrictions in the European Union – that would help civil society activists in Belarus more than anything else.