Belarus Fights Poppy Seed Addiction
On 14 January, Aliaksandar Lukashenka signed Decree No.1 “On some issues of state regulation of poppy seed circulation”. The decree provides a number of actions to establish control over the import of poppy seeds to Belarus.
Poppy seeds, or bubki in slang, remain a major cooking ingredient and also a leading opiate drug in Belarus. Until the decree came into force, anyone could sell bubki freely, with considerable profits being turned over in the small, but lucrative business. Today, the estimated number of addicts in Belarus reached 150,000 people, or 1.6% of the total population. This number has grown almost threefold since 2004.
The police are glad the decree has finally come into effect and hope to eliminate the bubki business in one year's time. More experienced addicts, however, do not think this is possible. The highly lucrative nature of the business and current minor penalties for violating the law will keep its trade alive for a long time to come.
Conflict of Interests over Anti-Poppy Bill
In October 2013, Belarusian Minister of Interior Ihar Šunievič addressed the parliament members, urging them to support the anti-drug bill. Its primary goal is to bring poppy seed dealing and their related products under control, while introducing stricter punishment for those who sell the products in violation of the law. According to Šunievič, the Ministry elaborated the bill a year ago already, but it lingered in the domain of prolonged consideration in some government bodies.
The bill demanded that the state control the import and assessed the quality of seeds first, and only afterwards would businessmen be able to sell them in legal enterprises such as bakeries. It also established large administrative fines and vehicle confiscation for unauthorised sales. Taking it even another step further, it seeks to confiscate all poppy seeds that a particular businessman had in his disposal if they are accused of violating the law.
All governmental bodies supported the bill except for the National Centre for Legislation and Legal Initiatives, a part of the Department of Law of the Presidential Administration. It rejected the part of the bill that would permit the authorities to confiscate all poppy seeds that a person possesses as well as their vehicle. This kind of behaviour by the Centre roused the suspicions of the Ministry of the Interior.
According to Mikalai Karpenkaŭ, Head of the Department of Drug Control and Combating Human Trafficking of the Ministry of Interior, there are 150 middle-level dealers and 19 “poppy magnates” in Belarus. Huge profits are made in their business and, naturally, these individuals have friends in the government who consult with them on how to keep their businesses alive.
Karpenkaŭ thinks that poppy magnates indeed have support in the government because many of the trials in which they are involved have them acting confident and without any real fear. Policemen, who participate in the trials, often eavesdropped on their conversations with one another. One of the accused spoke to another saying that "he already passed the money to some people and the process has already started". In the end, the court releases them and returns all their confiscated poppy. In this way, this is how the police officials demonstrate that there is a real battle going on inside the government to control the problem. There has even been publicly voiced suspicions of the involvement of certain institutions in this dirty business.
Addiction and Business
15 thousand officially registered drug-addicts live in Belarus according to the Ministry of Healthcare. UN experts think that this figure should be at least 10 times bigger, and police in fact accept these calculations too. It means that actually 150,000 addicts live among Belarusians, or 1.6% of the total population. Out of them, 80% use opiates cooked from poppy seeds, or bubki in slang.
Poppy products make up 60% of the Belarusian drug market, the rest being marijuana and "spices" (synthetic smoking mixes). This situation differs from other countries, where hard drugs such as heroin dominate in this niche.
Minsk alone has around 60 thousand addicts, police say, and 50 thousand of them use drugs derived from poppy seeds. The addicts in the capital alone need 10 tonnes of poppy seeds daily to satisfy their needs, which comes with a price tag of $1m.
Before Belarus created the Customs Union with Russia and a border regime existed, all poppy seed underwent state expertise inspection to prove its compliance with the established governmental standards. In effect, this meant that dirty seeds could not pass inspection, and the clean ones, used in bakeries etc., were of no interest for addicts. But as the economic union came into force, the uncontrolled import of poppy seed from Russia began.
The imported seeds are not those used in bakeries. These seeds are "dirty", meaning that they contain parts of the poppy plant's body which have high concentration of narcotic substances. The drug cooked from dirty poppy seeds is very poisonous – a person may die after only two years of regular consumption. Up until 14 January 2014, any Belarusian could buy the bubki openly and publicly.
On 7 November 2013, EuroRadio correspondent Jaŭhien Valošyn published his investigation, which received a broad response from the public. He filmed the process of buying bubki in the centre of Minsk with a hidden camera, showing that every citizen can legally buy the key ingredient to create the narcotic. Also, he found addicts who agreed to let him into a flat where they openly cooked the drug.
The journalist filmed the process and some of the opinions of addicts on the drug situation without showing their faces. Later in December, he published another video demonstrating the work of a drug taxi – an automobile service that can provide you with bubki and other ingredients for cooking drug 24/7.
Police Hopes for Fast Results
On 14 January, Aliaksandar Lukashenka signed the Decree No.1 “On some issues of state regulation of poppy seed circulation”. The decree provides a means to introduce a number of specific actions to establish control over the import of poppy seeds to Belarus. According to it, the state will have a monopoly on the wholesale trade of the seeds. It sets the strict rules for storage, transportation and selling of the product.
Violation of these rules brings with them administrative responsibility, which can result in a fine or vehicle confiscation. For example, the illegal transportation of a poppy product can result in a $3500-4000 fine. Thus, Lukashenka rejected to the objections of the National Centre for Legislation and Legal Initiatives, which means the police won in the conflict over the bill.
On 21 January, Mikalai Karpenkaŭ, the Head of Department of Drug Control, claimed that the decree No.1 will help the police to considerably reduce the spread of drugs in Belarus as quickly as in one year. “We are very glad the decree is signed finally. It contains all the measures we expected”, he said.
The police hope that the channels of dirty seed traffic in to Belarus will quickly evaporate. The addicts, who will not be able to find the drug, will have to go into rehabilitation centres and receive treatment, while the money which keep this business afloat will dissipate.
Addicts Sceptical on the Decree
However, former addicts whom the Eurobelarus journalists interviewed are sceptical that the decree will bring any results in the near future. “The confiscation of cars will hardly help here. They will be just be driving cheap cars. They earn more than the price of a car in a single day, so there is nothing to be afraid of. As long as only administrative responsibility remains for seed trade, the business will go on," according to one addict.
The coming year will show who wins in this game: the police, who now have legal grounds for poppy business regulation or the poppy magnates, who have the money, connections and a vast clientele which has been constantly growing over the recent years.
Alyaksandr Myazhuyeu – Fresh Faces Come to the Government?
On 5th December, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed Alyaksandr Myazhuyeu the State Secretary of the Security Council.
Prior to that Myazhuyeu served as Chairman of the parliamentary Permanent Commission on National Security. This position in the Security Council previously always belonged to somebody from Lukashenka's old guard like Sheiman or battle-proven officials like Maltsau. The new secretary, however, definitely does not fit into either of these categories.
As the Belarusian leadership taps into new cadre reserves, it increasingly relies on people with pragmatic views and ideological flexibility like Myazhuyeu and Makey. It proves once more that the Belarusian regime long ago has become anything but radical.
Lukashenka's new general is associated with a recovery after a hurricane and receptions for foreign delegations. In stark contrast to such close associates of Belarusian leader as veteran Viktar Sheiman, Myazhuyeu made it to the top of power by hard, yet peaceful work.
Romantic Start and Philistine Continuation
Alyaksandr Myazhuyeu was born in 1959 in Lyakhavichy of Brest province. He got out of this backwater South Belarusian town and went on to become a Soviet officer. His path to the top began when Myazhuyeu entered one of the oldest Soviet military schools – the Kyiv High Joint Commander School. This educational institution has trained tactical intelligence specialists since the late 1960s.
After such a romantic start, Myazhuyeu managed to have astonishingly calm career. Although he joined the army in early 1980s, he did not participate in the Afghanistan war. Doubtless, this military campaign was a crucial life experience for tens of thousands of Belarusians who took part in it and gave rise to veterans' solidarity beyond the battlefield, but also in business and politics. This point is important as it demonstrates the fact that Myazhuyeu failed to share this experience with his military brethren, which characterises him as a more pragmatic rather than an ideology-driven person.
According to his official biography, he simply rose through the ranks starting as a platoon commander in the Soviet army and finishing as head of Western operative command in Belarusian army. During the first years of the country's independence, Myazhuyeu graduated from the Russian General Staff's Academy – an ordinary experience for high-ranking Belarusian military officers.
In independent Belarus, a state servant has many more opportunities to ascend to the top of state power serving in the presidential security service or at least state security organs. Still more remarkable is the fact that Major General Myazhuyeu managed to do it through a career in the military.
The decisive role apparently which would elevate him further was his appointment in 2010 as the director of the Chief Military Inspectorate of the Armed Forces. In 2012, Myazhuyeu was elected to the Belarusian parliament from several rural districts near Hrodna – a sinecure granted in Belarus as a temporary reward or honorary retirement. In parliament he predictably specialised on national security matters.
Last autumn, Myazhuyeu became chairman of the Belarusian Officers' Union which unites more than 24 thousand active and retired officers. That is one of very few public associations which have any role in the Belarusian political system. The Union members collect signatures in support of Lukashenka's policies, working as members of territorial election commissions.
He Makes No War
Major General Myazhuyeu is decorated with two dozen medals. He comments on them as a “result of hard work.” He especially likes to tell journalists about the medal for a recovery operation after the 1997 hurricane in Brest region, and an Orthodox Sergii Radonezhskii order medal for helping to restore a church.
The new Security Council secretary avoids fierce militant rhetoric. He openly expressed scepticism concerning the military threats to the country in his interview with the state-owned Narodnaya Hazeta. “Of course, there is now no military menace as such, though NATO's activity in neighbouring states causes some concern.”
Myazhuyeu sees danger elsewhere. “Without the destabilisation of political and social situation within the country, to launch an armed conflict in it is all but impossible.” According to him, among the main tasks of the Belarusian parliament members is to, “resolve together with local authorities the social problems in the constituencies which elected them,” especially housing and amenities issues, housing construction and employment generation.
On the other hand, Myazhuyeu criticised the idea to reduce military service from 18 to 12 months as in Russia. For him, the army shall apparently function more as a social cohesion institution, a “must-do” life experience for every citizen rather than the iron fist of the government. Meanwhile, he became famous for praising women, “I would say so – a woman is the best soldier. She does not violate military discipline, carefully executes her service duties, you do not need to repeat anything to her twice.”
No Zealots For Lukashenka Anymore
A prominent oppositional politician Major General Valery Fralou very positively characterises his former subordinate, the new Security Council secretary in professional terms. But when recounting Myazhuyeu's merits, Fralou chose to tell Nasha Niva weekly about Myazhuyeu's warm reception of a American delegation, not about any heroic battle deeds of his.
Naviny.by, a web-site of the Belapan news agency, commented on the new appointment by pointing out that Lukashenka apparently still has fresh cadres to renew the state bureaucracy. It also called it remarkable that the sixth secretary of Security Council did not only not come from among Lukashenka's close associates, but not even from among the friends of his associates.
Indeed, all predecessors of Myazhuyeu's either belonged to the initial “old fighters” retinue of Lukashenka from 1994 (Viktar Sheiman and Ural Latypau), or served in the presidential security service (Henadz' Nyavyhlas and Yury Zhadobin) or served previously at very senior positions (like Defence Minister Leanid Maltsau).
Myazhuyeu is a new face, but definitely no outsider to the ruling elites. Firstly, he belongs to the generation of provincial mavericks which came to power with and through Lukashenka. Secondly, he worked hand-in-hand with the former head of the Hrodna province Syamyon Shapira, and they became friends. They came to Minsk together, as well. Myazhuyeu got elected to Parliament, Shapira – appointed to run the Minsk province.
Lukashenka's newest appointee demonstrates the evolution of the Belarusian regime. In its beginnings, it was populated with people like Afghan war veteran Sheiman or youth radical Usievalad Yancheuski who did not hide his inspiration from French extremist urban guerrilla group Action Directe. Other Lukashenka zealots, like Viktar Kuchynski, swore to defend their leader “even with an RPG in [his] hands” and tinkered with the Pan-Slavic and Soviet restoration plans.
The president's new man, Myazhuyeu, is talking about housing and boasts of achievements like retaining a provincial military hospital or opening a military branch in a university in Hrodna. The radicalism and missionary visions of Belarusian regime passed away silently years ago. Belarusian officials display little ideological affiliations but the aspiration to continue business as usual or as they once learned.