No IMF Loan for Belarus Because Political Prisoners Do Not Want to Be Free?
If Russia does not increase the amount of subsidies to Belarus, Lukashenka will have to accept the proposals of the Ministry of Economy and the National Bank: to privatize (or rather, to carry out the nomenklatura privatization of) one third of the state-owned enterprises and to cut government expenditure significantly. This would mean a reduction in the scope of state regulation of the economy. If the official information about the significant increases in Belarusian exports in EU countries turns out to be true, the IMF loan is not a must-have for Lukashenka's regime.
The economic changes (if they occur) on their own will not change the vital characteristics of the political regime in Belarus in the long-term. Lukashenka has no intention of releasing political prisoners. The authorities intend to hold the parliamentary elections no later than September 2012 in accordance with the existing scenario of total falsification: none of the opposition activists will get elected to the parliament.
Fundamentally, Lukashenka is satisfied with the model of relations which is now de-facto proposed by the West: restricted political contacts alongside an increase in the Belarusian exports. The Belarusian ruler wants to show to the West that he is here for the long-term, and that they should deal with him as he is now.
No IMF Loan Because Political Prisoners Do Not Want to Be Free?
On October 17, the IMF mission completed its work in Belarus. Head of the mission Chris Jarvis said that the IMF was not yet ready to negotiate the allocation of a new loan with the Belarusian authorities. "Before program negotiations can begin, the authorities must demonstrate a clear commitment to stability and reform and reflect this commitment in their actions".
Mr. Jarvis named economic reforms among such actions. In particular, the Belarusian authorities should liberalize pricing, carry out the transformation of enterprises, privatization and reforms of the banking sector.
Chairperson of the National Bank Nadziezhda Yermakova said that she did not count on receiving the IMF loan. According to her, Belarus met the economic conditions for the allocation of the loan; however, the key demand of the IMF Board of Directors is the release of political prisoners.
Yermakova said that the main problem is that those whom the West calls political prisoners (in particular, former presidential candidates Andrej Sannikau and Mikalaj Statkievich, coordinatioor of the civil organization "Charter-97" Zmicier Bandarenka, and co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Paval Sieviaryniec) do not want to leave prison.
After December 19 2010, Lukashenka said repeatedly that the political prisoners would be released. He said: "They'll give a number of answers to a number of questions, and they'll be free". On October 7, in an interview with Russian journalists, Lukashenka said that Sannikau, Statkievich and others did not want to be released because they wanted to be heroes.
It follows from Lukashenka's statements that he sees the agreement of the political prisoners not to behave as heroes as a condition of their release. He wants them to go to pieces, and to discredit themselves with statements which are demanded from them.
According to some information, political prisoners have been tortured. Andrej Sannikau's wife, journalist Iryna Khalip, said a few days ago that criminals were used to put pressure on him in prison.
Trade Growth with the EU Countries
Lukashenka has reason to believe that no matter how hard he is criticized by the West, the West will not put real pressure on him because it is afraid of pushing him towards Russia. Besides, several companies from EU countries have interests in Belarus.
On October 16, the National Statistical Committee published data on Belarus' foreign trade. In January – August 2011, turnover with the EU countries increased by 76.4% and amounted to USD 15,498,100,000.
Of the total volume of Belarusian exports, the EU countries' share amounted to 38.1%, Russia's share to 35.3%, and other CIS countries' share to 14.1%.
The Netherlands, which criticizes Lukashenka harshly, kept their position as the main trade partner of Belarus among the EU countries. Belarus exported to the Netherlands goods worth USD 3,629,800,000 (2.3 times more that in January – August 2010) and imported from the Netherlands goods worth USD 273,100,000 (up 66.4%).
Like the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, which also heard a lot from Lukashenka to their address, have significantly increased imports of Belarusian petroleum products.
Belarus exported to Germany goods worth USD 1,211,100,000 (4 times more) and imported from them goods worth USD 1,633,700,000 (up 16.9%). Exports to Poland amounted to USD 433,800,000 (up 36.5%), and imports from Poland amounted to USD 1,374,900,000 (up 46.8%).
In fact, the actual conduct of the EU countries differs from their declarations that the Belarusian regime should be punished for violations of human rights in Belarus.
Andrei Liakhovich is a contributing author. He directs the Center for Political Education in Minsk.