IMF Loan as a Prepayment for Political Prisoners?

Political prisoners in Belarus

The Belarusian government and the National Bank of Belarus recently applied for a stabilization loan from  the International Monetary Fund. Prime-Minister Miasnikovich noted on 1 June 2011 that Belarus expected to receive USD 3.5 – 8 billion from the IMF. The Minister of Finance Andrei Kharkaviets stated the program had been scheduled for three years in general.

The Belarusian authorities cherish quite well-grounded hopes to get the IMF credit in the long run. They believe the USA and the EU may become concerned about Lukashenka’s moves towards Russia and support the independence of Belarus.  Some share this opinion.

According to an article in Financial Times published on 2 June 2011 "the Lukashenka regime will not last forever, and Western countries have a long-term interest in supporting Belarus’s freedom. An IMF programme, properly designed and implemented, would contribute to this goal.” The authorities like the idea of getting an IMF loan as a payment for independence of Belarus.

The West failed to convince Lukashenka that he will not receive any money without liberation of political prisoners.  Therefore, the Belarusian authorities do not demonstrate any positive changes in their attitude towards opponents. There are plenty of examples of that.

A political prisoner Mikita Likhavid, sentenced to three years of imprisonment, was placed to a lock-up on June 9, 2011. It was done for the third time since the trial. Previously, he had spent 10 and 15 days in the punishment cell. The Panel of Judges of Minsk Economic Court rejected an appeal, submitted by the Belarusian Popular Front Party leadership against a decision to deprive the political party of its rented premises. Not only the oppositional political parties, but also all Minsk-located civil initiatives will lose the opportunity of holding their events at a quite convenient venue in the city center of Minsk.

At the same time, Lukashenka does not rule out the possibility of facing certain political pre-conditions for getting the IMF credit funds. It is quite evident to him that the credit extention will firstly depend on the liberation of political prisoners in the country. “We don’t nourish any illusions at all. We’ve done twice as much as the IMF wanted us to do. We’ve done all that. I don’t rule out the presence of some political component there. Actually, I fear the US and the European Union may block these loans. Let them do this! We will survive. I may take a decision to abandon other credits in July as well. Therefore, we will thank them very much if they help. If they don’t, it will be only due to the political component,” Lukashenka said on June 17, 2011.

Lukashenka delivers contradictory statements quite often nowadays. Thus, on June 17, 2011, he said there was no crisis in Belarus. At the same time, he was talking about the anti-crisis measures which the Government was preparing.  Having analyzed Lukashenka’s statements, one may come to a conclusion that he hints at liberation of political prisoners on receipt of credit funds from the International Monetary Fund.

Lukashenka stated repeatedly he might liberate the political prisoners: “We won’t keep them in this prison. It is too expensive. It is too much honor for them to sully the jails. Decent people serve their time there.”  In Lukashenka’s opinion, if he meets the West halfway and releases the political prisoners, it will look like a manifestation of his weakness and as a concession to the pressure from the West. Therefore, among other, Lukashenka is eager to see the West meeting him halfway and giving him money first. “Help us, but don’t make humiliating terms! “Hey, release the political prisoners!” they say. We don’t have them. If there appears a clemency plea, I will consider it indeed. We aren’t bloodthirsty,” Lukashenka emphasized.

It is obvious that Lukashenka regime makes use of political prisoners for bargaining. He keeps to the ‘money first’ principle and suggests the West should make a prepayment. 

Andrei Liakhovich

Andrei Liakhovich is a contributing author. He directs the Center for Political Education in Minsk.

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