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Social parasite tax postponed, round table on Kurapaty, Uralkali – Belarus state press digest

The government will postpone the ‘social parasite’ decree but not rescind it. The Minister of the Interior claims that the opposition is waging an information war against his ministry. A round table with Belarus Segodnia discusses whether Kurapaty should...

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Round table with Belarus Segodnia on Kurapaty. Photo: sb.by

The government will postpone the ‘social parasite’ decree but not rescind it. The Minister of the Interior claims that the opposition is waging an information war against his ministry. A round table with Belarus Segodnia discusses whether Kurapaty should become a National Mourning Memorial.

The Belarusian government reveals a Russian official's vested interest in banning Belarusian imports. The Belarusian president hosts his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili in Minsk.

Minsk may restore cooperation with the Russian company Uralkali. This and more in the new edition of Belarus state press digest.

Domestic politics

The government will postpone the ‘social parasite’ decree, but not rescind it. Zaria reports on Alexander Lukashenka’s decision regarding the notorious decree on taxing ‘social parasites’. He has officially postponed it until 2018 and ordered that the list of freeloaders be double-checked. Those who have already paid the fee will not have to pay it next year even if they are still unemployed, and they will be remunerated if they have found a job by then. Lukashenka ordered all unemployed people to find a job by 1 May.

'We need to determine where these people can work, set up brigades, groups that will plant forests, build fences, paint, clean up the streets, dig, carry things, and so on. And we will employ all people', the head of state said. Lukashenka also demanded that the authorities create a space for a civilised dialogue between the authorities and society, including large-scale events. 'People should have places where they can express their opinions, as in developed countries in the West. But all attempts to create disorder or violence should be stopped immediately,' he underlined.

Opposition stages information war against the Interior Ministry. In a long interview to Belarus Segodnia, Interior Minister Ihar Šunievič argued that no post-Soviet country has successfully reformed its police by merely copying Western uniform and smiles. Likewise, Belarus will not make a radical break with its policing system but rather pursue incremental reform. He also denied a widespread rumour regarding the amount of police in Belarus: there are a mere 405 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants, and not the alleged 1,500.

The minister argued that the political opposition is waging an information war against the police force to weaken it and change the political system of Belarus. He also noted that crime remains inside the police ranks and the ministry combats it successfully. Šunievič also commented on the controversial NKVD uniform that he wears during military parades. He made the uniform in order to honour to security servicemen that worked during the difficult war and post-war times.

Round table with Belarus Segodnia: Kurapaty should become a National Mourning Memorial. Belarus Segodnia held a round table on the future of Kurapaty – the site of mass executions during the Stalin regime in the 1920s-1950s. Prominent figures including chief editor Paviel Jakubovič, First Deputy KGB Chairman Ihar Siarhejenka, and Commissioner for Religious Affairs and Nationalities Leanid Huliaka. A number of historians also took part in the discussion. The participants argued that local authorities' disregard for the place and the lack of commemoration activities has led to a vacuum which was filled by political forces trying to privatise Kurapaty.

The resolution of the round table recommended the founding of a National Mourning Memorial in Kurapaty supported by all Belarusians regardless of their religion or political affiliation. The nation needs to confront anything which divides Belarusians, causes confrontation, or weakens the country in Belarus's public and spiritual life.

Foreign policy

The Belarusian government reveals Russian official's vested interest in banning Belarusian imports. Narodnaja Hazieta quotes Russian Transparency International, which revealed that Sergei Dankvert, head of the Russian agricultural control agency, owns a network of companies in Kaluga Region affiliated with a large agricultural enterprises which Dankvert was a manager of in 1995-2000. He thus has vested interest in the sphere which he regulates as a government official.

His incumbency brought restrictions on exports of numerous Belarusian agricultural companies to the Russian market, resulting in huge losses during 2016-2017. The newspaper also quotes Belarusian expert Aliaksandr Špakoŭski, who argues that Belarusian companies are excluded from the Russian market because they do not offer kickbacks to Russian officials. Earlier, Alexander Lukashenka publicly accused Dankvert of personal interest in banning Belarusian food imports.

Belarus increases cooperation with Georgia. The Belarusian president hosted his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili in Minsk on 1-2 March. Earlier, the sides had aimed to reach $200m in bilateral trade; they are currently half-way there. Georgia stands to benefit from Belarusian experience in agricultural technologies, since 50% of its population works in agriculture but makes up only 9% of the GDP.

Belarus also assists Georgia in modernisation of elevators in houses, building a sports arena and biathlon infrastructure, as well as supply of communal service machines and other areas. Lukashenka noted during the meeting that the two countries are not developing relations in order to oppose some third party, but rather to act according to their own national interests.

Economy

Minsk may restore cooperation with Uralkali. Lukashenka met with the leaders of the Belarusian potash industry to discuss the possibility of restoring cooperation with the Russian company Uralkali. After a conflict and eventual breakup in 2013, the current owners of Uralkali continuously signal to Minsk that they are eager to restore relations. Belarus appears to be thinking it over.

According to Lukashenka, the interests of Belarus should be met by 200 per cent if a joint venture is to take place again. The company should work on the territory of Belarus and the sides should honestly agree on all issues. ‘If the deal harms Belarusian interests, we are out', he said

Belarusian project Kino-mo among the 'top 10 best gadgets of the world' according to USA Today. Belarusian IT startup entrepreneurs Arciom Stavienka and Kiryl Čykiejuk triumphed at the annual CES 2017 exhibition in Las Vegas with their hologram technology Kino mo. The gadget produces 2D and 3D images in the air and is becoming increasingly popular in the advertising industry.

In 2016, the projects was also included in the New Europe 100 rating of Financial Times – a list of the brightest people and organisations from Central and Eastern Europe who are changing the region’s social, political, or business environments. The project has already established links with several prominent billionaires, including Richard Branson and Mark Cube.

The state press digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

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