How poverty spreads across Belarus

Perhaps one of Lukashenka’s greatest achievements in Belarusian society has been his fight against poverty. In the worst years of the 1990s, half of the population of Belarus was languishing below the poverty line. This figure is now 10 times smaller. 

However, poverty is once again on the rise. In some regions, the average worker earns just $100 per month, barely over the Belarusian poverty line (around $90).

The main reason people end up below the poverty line is loss of employment, as the state fails to provide any meaningful help for the unemployed. Belarusians on the dole are entitled to around $12 per month. Residents of neighbouring Poland, meanwhile, receive around $200.

It seems that poverty is doomed to continue spreading, as the authorities see no way out of the crisis other than shifting the country’s economic woes onto the backs of the poor. 

There and back again: Belarus’s road to poverty

Two decades ago, Belarus was an unambiguously poor country. In the 1990s, all over the region, wages dropped dramatically as a result of the collapse of the socialist economy. At that time, about half of the population of Belarus was below the poverty line.

Thus, it is no surprise that the campaign slogan of Aliaksandr Lukashenka in 1994 was ‘take people away from the abyss’. This message proved successful, and perhaps his fight against poverty is the reason Lukashenka has remained popular for so long. Belarusian economic growth most benefited the poorest segments of society, as director of the IPM Research Center Aliaksandr Chubrik told the author.

However, much has changed since the 1990s, and the current recession has drastically affected the poor. Despite claims of the authorities that the Belarusian economy is finally resuscitating, the crisis continues in the east of the country. According to official data, during the first half of 2017 the economies of Vitsiebsk Region shrunk by 3.2% and Mahiliou Region by 2.6%.

However, even if the economy grows, the poorest of the poor will not necessarily reap the benefits. In recent years, redistribution of resources is slowly tipping in favour of the wealthiest. If in 2010 20% of the richest Belarusians owned 36.7% of the total wealth, in 2016 this figure jumped to 38.8%, according to data from the Belarusian Statistical Committee.

This figure may in fact be misleading: inequality is probably rising even more sharply. Many rich people have bank accounts abroad and find legal ways to avoid paying taxes. For instance, while people working in the ‘old economy’ pay all taxes, IT companies are asking the Belarusian authorities to prolong already existing tax benefits for IT businesses and give them even more. Exacerbating the situation, anywhere from 10 to 25 per cent of the working population in Belarus operates in the shadow economy, according to the Solidarity with Belarus Information Office. The state is unable to redistribute wealth from this sector to those most in need.

In response to this crisis, foodsharing is gaining popularity in some parts of Belarusian society. People share posts on, the most popular social network in Belarus, offering food they want to give away. It usually only takes several minutes for someone to make a claim. Some people are even willing to go from one end of Minsk to another just for a meal. The largest foodsharing page on social media now has more than 8,000 followers.

Two causes of poverty

The World Bank sets out four important factors which contribute to poverty: younger age, living in the countryside, unemployment, and low education. In the case of Belarus, employment and region of residence seem to be the most important.

Unemployment certainly remains the deciding factor, as Belarus lacks a proper system of social protection for the unemployed and obscures the real unemployment rate. Welfare benefits for the unemployed range from $12 to $24, and ‘less than 10% of unemployed people actually receive them’, says economist Aliaksandr Chubrik. 

Thus, this winter’s social parasite protests should come as no surprise: people are simply not making enough money to live. Protestors in 12 Belarusian towns marched against a Belarusian tax on unemployment, gathering around 20,000 demonstrators. Many people linked the end of the protests to the fact that the weather improved and people went to their ‘dachas’ in the countryside. However, summer houses are not just a place to relax when it’s hot: an IPM Research Centre study shows that the share of income from part-time farming is growing everywhere in Belarus, even in Minsk.

Place of residence is another important factor influencing the poverty rate. Roughly speaking, the more one’s place of residence looks like Minsk, the less likely one is to be very poor. According to official data, in Minsk the poor comprise 1.4% of all households; in Homiel Region the figure is 5.9%.

In most countries, residents of the capital tend to be wealthier, but it seems that many Belarusian regions, especially villages, cannot free themselves of the cycle of poverty. Although the government aims to mitigate the standard of living discrepancy between the regions and the capital, in practice, the gap between Minsk and other parts of Belarus keeps widening

‘Let them find a second job’

Belarusian laws and the statements of officials suggest that the authorities have little empathy towards Belarusian poor people.

The Belarusian authorities’ response to the economic crisis is to shift the burden on ordinary people. For example, instead of supporting the unemployed, Belarusian authorities tax them. Recently, Aliaksandr Lukashenka stated said that a new version of the decree on social parasitism would be ready by 1 October.

Moreover, this year the authorities started incrementally raising the retirement age, and the payment of utility tariffs increased by one-third in 2016, according to the Ministry of Economy. Although these measures may be wise economically, they are not driven by a belief in liberalism. Instead, they simply reorganise the social functions of the state to hit the poorest. It is unlikely that the Belarusian authorities will introduce real free-market reforms.

More evidence of the authorities’ lack of interest in helping people is statements by government officials. For example, according to Lukashenka: ‘only the lazy in Belarus cannot earn enough money’. Mariana Shchotkina, a former Minister of Labour and Social Protection, advised Belarusians to find a second job, as ‘93% of Belarusians have only one job.’

Such statements, of course, do nothing for the government’s image. However, as voting in Belarus is merely a formality, officials are unlikely to suffer any consequences.

Outlook for Inflation Improves, Reserves and Income Grow – Belarus Economy Digest

Price increases for regulated goods and services, as well as the abolition of price regulations on meat had a stimulating effect on inflation in Belarus.

In the first half of 2014 a gradual reduction of Belarus' foreign currency reserves occurred as a result of significant foreign debt service payments. But over the summer this year external and internal borrowing and foreign currency purchasing by the National Bank had a positive influence on the volume of foreign currency reserves.

Although the growth of real wages in the first half of 2014 slowed down, it remains in the green. Increases in real income helped to reduce the number of households with incomes below the national poverty line.

Exceeding Planned Growth

In accordance with the updated official forecast, price growth on consumer goods and services at the end of this year will hit 117.3 per cent. Originally, the inflation of consumer goods was anticipated to be 111 per cent, but this mark has already been surpassed over January-July 2014.

Mainly food products and services saw the most rapid price hikes. For example, prices for meat and poultry over an 8 month stretch rose by more than 32 per cent, while kindergarten schooling saw a 93 per cent increase.

On the one hand, as long as inflation continues to rise, the prices for regulated goods and services will also climb.

On the other hand, this has had a stimulatory effect on prices following an official decision to abolish price ceilings in this instance as it allows for meat to be sold on the open market without restrictions.

Due to higher costs, especially in regulated prices, the inflation rate for the poorest segments of the population grew at a faster pace than that for its wealthiest citizens. In the second half of this year the main drivers of prices continues to be forecasts of further devaluation, including the Belarusian ruble's rate of devaluation, as well as an increase in prices for goods whose prices are regulated by the state.

Taking into account these current trends, the expected inflation rate for 2014 will exceed the level seen in 2013. For example, consumer prices increased by 16.5 per cent by the end of 2013. According to a preliminary forecast for the end of 2015, analysts expect the growth in prices to slowdown, levelling out at 12.5 per cent.

Foreign currency reserve showing good signs

On 1 September, 2014 the foreign exchange reserves of Belarus were $ 6.3m. This volume covers about 1.9 months worth of imports (with a minimum appropriate level being 3 months). The negative impact on the nation's foreign currency reserves over the period assessed was mainly due to Belarus servicing its foreign debt.

In 2014 alone the state's payments on foreign obligations will exceed $3bn. At the same time, despite an increase in payments on its external public debt, Belarus has managed to increase the volume of its foreign exchange reserves in recent months. It achieved this through external and internal borrowing and purchasing foreign currency on its domestic market.

A $2bn​ loan from VTB Bank bolstered current reserves. Loans from International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Chinese government, and export credits from the Russian Federation for the construction of a nuclear power station, and other factors, also contributed to Belarus' maintenance of its reserves.

Additionally, the excess foreign currency supply, which sat above domestic market demand for both the population and economic entities, had a stimulating effect on the size of the available foreign exchange reserves in July and August.

The Ministry of Finance periodically sells government bonds denominated in a foreign currency to businesses and individuals. This tool allows it to attract foreign currency to transfer into its own foreign exchange reserves without increasing its foreign debt. This also leads, however, to an increase in domestic public debt.

In August, foreign exchange reserves increased by $78m, which is largely due in part to purchases of currency on the domestic market by the National Bank, but is also due to the placement of foreign currency bonds. According to official forecasts, foreign exchange reserves for Belarus will increase by $0.2-0.5bn by year end.

Reducing poverty

Belarus saw its wages continue to climb in both nominal and real terms in January-July 2014. The average salary in July amounted to BYR 6.5m (US$629). At the same time we can see a gap in the average wages when looking at regional dynamics. While the Vitebsk region's average nominal salary was BYR 5.7 m (US$557), in Minsk this figure was BYR 8.3m (US$809).

The differences noted above are natural enough, as traditionally metropolitan areas costs of living are much higher than in small towns and rural areas. As was previously true, the highest salaries in Belarus remains in economic zones that contain airports or companies from the petrochemical, financial or IT sector.

According to a sample survey of households in the first half of 2014, the number of low-income families in Belarus has decreased. In the period studied, the share of households with disposable incomes below the subsistence minimum was 3.5 per cent over all, while in the first half of 2013 it was 4.2 per cent. This gradual income growth helped to support higher growth levels for retail turnover.

In accordance with the official forecast, income growth in real terms will grow 3 per cent throughout 2014. In order to increase the efficiency of the economy, the increased labour productivity needs to be similar to that of the growth in real wages.

Anastasiya Luzgina, Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre

This article is a part of a joint project between Belarus Digest and the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Centre (BEROC)

Lessons from the 2011 Belarusian Devaluation

Belarusians in their modern history saw two major economic crises. The first followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s and the second was in 2011 when many thought the Belarusian economy would crumble. The 2011 currency crisis and inflation dramatically changed well-being of Belarusians. Consumer prices went up 108 percent within a few months.

Although the effects of 1990s devaluation have been properly examined in the literature, the effect of the 2011 deserves more attention. A recent study of Kateryna Bornukova of the Belarusian Research and Outreach Cente 'The Impact of the 2011 Devaluation on Real Income of Belarusians' fills this gap. 

The paper shows that a fall in income and spending of all social groups in Belarus rapidly decreased the level of well-being of the Belarusian society. The state tried to cushion the crisis effects but their policies had a very limited effect.

Mechanism of index of prices appeared to protect the poorest social groups in Belarus from the currency crisis effects. However, the group of pensioners seemed to be the most harmed by the politics of the state.

Life was More Expensive

Inflation hit the poorest Belarusians harder than most other groups. In the first quarter of the year 2011, the prices went up by 3.9 percent. Inflation of 2011 was very irregular. Prices for some goods increased even three times, whereas for others has not changed at all.

Such asymmetrical reaction of the market was due to the increased prices for the imported goods, which reflected the fall of the Belarusian currency. On the other hand, Belarus has a system of state regulation of prices and the state tried to control the prices of certain goods and public services of social importance.

The galloping inflation also caused the increase in the food prices. For example, there was  a 72 percent increase in prices of diaryproducts and  155 percent increase in the prices of meat and paultry. This increase harshly affected the poor class of the society. However, after the stabilization period, official Minsk increased the prices for the public services, such as transportation.

In order to manage the inflation, the state authorities introduced indexation of the minimal income and minimal pension. In practice, it meant adjustment of the part of income payments by a price index.

Lost in Devaluation

Apparently, only the poorest Belarusians saw their real incomes increase in 2011, whereas the most well-off population groups suffered from consumer inflation and rouble depreciation the most. The real incomes of those in the top-10 by the amount of incomes in the first quarter of 2011 had decreased by 30 percent by the end of the fourth quarter. This should be attributed primarily to the social policy pursued by the Belarusian government.

Minimum wages were growing faster than inflation, enabling a growth in real incomes of households with minimum earnings. At the same time the groups with wages well above the minimum prior to the crisis saw their incomes grow only slightly as a result of wage indexing, meaning that their real incomes were falling.

Furthermore, the poorest Belarusians, as a rule, tend to rely on inflation-proof income sources, such as incomes in kind, privileges, welfare assistance and sale of produce more than any other population group.

The above trends can also explain why the currency crisis hit the most well-educated Belarusians. Real incomes of people with higher education fell 19 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 from the first quarter, while real incomes of Belarusians with general secondary education or general basic education fell only by 9 percent.

However, the pensioners became the biggest victims of the crisis: their real incomes fell by 16.7 percent on average. Since their incomes were not high originally, such a decrease is remarkable and put the pensioners in a group of high social risk.

More Money to Spend

The authorities attempted to soften the results of the crisis for the poorest, in particular those with low-paid jobs. However, it has not opened the protective umbrella over the pensioners.

Due to the crisis, Belarusians were less prone to spend money. In fact, level of spending in 2011 proves the panic atmosphere of crisis within the society.

Compared to 2010, the second quarter of 2011 proves that spending was higher than income due to the panic on the market. Because of the crisis the structure of the spending has also seriously changed. Belarusians needed to spend more money on the food, although their real incomes had decreased.

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the share of spending on food reached level of 35.4 percent, the highest since 2005. To put it into context, in developed countries the share is usually between 15-20 percent. 

One of the main consequences of the reduction in real incomes was the increase of poverty. Number of people with incomes below the official minimum subsistence level more than doubled  (from 4.7 to 10.1 percent)  in 2011. At the same time, number of those who claimed that are dissatisfied with their incomes has also substantially increased from 14.75 percent in the first quarter of 2011 to 22.08 percent in the fourth quarter.

The currency crisis has not only decreased the real income of Belarusians, but also played a redistributive role. The paper shows that the crisis actually decreased inequality among the Belarusians, because it seriously hit the richest in Belarus. It affected at most people with high income. Therefore, those who earned more prior to the crisis suffered more from it. In the aftermath, the level of inequality decreased. 

This review was prepared on the basis of Policy Brief Impact of Devaluation-2011 on Belarusians’ Living Standards. The study was conducted by Belarus Public Policy Fund as a part of a program jointly carried out by Pontis Foundation (Slovakia) and Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies. 

Non-Formal Education, Minsk Brand, Gender Conference – Belarus Civil Society Digest

Festival of non-formal education, National Gender Platform approval, discussion of Minsk brand and human rights defenders of the year were among the most notable civil society events in Belarus last week. 

Festival of Non-Formal Education. On 7-9 December, the 4th Festival of Non-Formal Education took place in Minsk. The Festival was attended by about 250 participants – teachers, trainers and other people sharing the values of life-long learning and non-formal education. The Festival format included various activities: a panel talk, more than 60 master classes and presentations, exhibition boxes, discussions, contests, etc.

The largest number of awards went to the Grodno-based NGO Third Sector, including the top prize for the best educational website Golden Age University. For the Festival, The Association Life Long Education released a special issue of Adukatar magazine.

Minsk brand discussion. The past week was marked by hot public discussion around a new symbol of Minsk "Think Minsk", which turned out to be very similar to a London one. Alexander Zimovsky, former chief of state propaganda in Belarus, dismissed it as flawed. TUT.BY hosted a large talk show among various advertising and creative groups to discuss the brand. A group of Belarusian marketing professionals announced that they are going to create an alternative original brand.

Human rights defenders marked anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On 10 December, human rights defenders and representatives of civil society celebrated the date in different ways in different parts of the country, mostly going out onto the streets and handing out brochures with the text of the Declaration and other human rights publications.

Human Rights Defenders of the Year. On 10 December, representatives of human rights organisations announced the winners of the Belarusian human rights prize of 2012. This year the lawyers of the year were Alina Shostak and Alvira Drygo, human rights defender of the year was Liubou Kavaliova, and journalist of the year was Andrei Poczobut.

Intellectual conference in Minsk. On 14-15 December, The Flying University held a conference titled "Intellectual situation in Belarus: the circumstances and self-determination of thinking." The purpose of the conference was a joint discussion of the contemporary intellectual situation in Belarus. The conference was attended by Valentin Akudovich, Vladimir Matskevich, Mikhal Anempadystav, Valeria Kastsyugova, Alexei Pikulik, and other researchers, intellectuals and cultural figures.

Statement of the National Platform. On 12 December, members of the National Platform of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership adopted a statement expressing deep concern regarding the repressive actions of the Belarusian authorities. In particular, the statement condemns the confiscation of the Viasna premises, the practice of criminal prosecution of journalists, independent media and youth organisations, and the denial of visas for foreign partners of Belarusian organizations.

Gender conference in Minsk. On 8 December, in Minsk, participants of the conference “Women’s movement in Belarus: challenges, achievements and perspectives” approved the National Gender Platform (NGP) and adopted an appeal to the National Gender Council under the Council of Ministers of Belarus. NGP suggests introducing basic provisions guaranteeing gender equality in Belarus, as well as hope for equitable cooperation of civil society with state structures. The conference initiated by the Women’s Independent Democratic Movement was timed to the 20th anniversary of the women’s movement in Belarus.

Legal Transformation Center (Lawtrend) issued invitations to the press conference "Non-freedom of associations in Belarus after December 19, 2010: Facts, trends, and recommendations". The event is to take place on 17 December in Minsk. The press conference speakers will present two unique publications on administrative and criminal proceedings on the events of December 19, 2010, as well as an analytical report of the monitoring group Lawtrend on administrative cases in 2012. 

Presentation on Poverty and Social Inclusion in Belarus. IPM Research Center and the Center for European Transformation invite to the presentation of the study Poverty and Social Inclusion in Belarus. The presentation will be held on 17 December in the Minsk IBB. The survey's text is available on the IPM website.

Monitoring of barrier-free environment. On 7 December, the members of the "Accessibility" coalition went on to conduct regular tests to study the availability of architectural objects and buildings. This time the research was conducted at newly opened Minsk underground station Petrovschina and the Berestye cinema. The project titled Monitoring of barrier-free environment initiated by the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities aims to create a barrier-free environment monitoring tool and its pilot implementation.

Essay competition on Accessibility and DisabilityThe Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities has announced the essay competition, Accessibility and Disability, aimed at increasing knowledge about the issues of disability rights in Belarus, the promotion of the ideas of equal participation, etc. The winner will be awarded with a laptop.

New website to help in cases of domestic violence. A New website has been launched to help people – both victims and aggressors – in situations of domestic violence. Online consultations are conducted by experts of 19 CSOs dealing with domestic violence. The website is coordinated by the Belarusian Association of Young Christian Women.

Belarus Press Photo Multimedia Winners. The awarding ceremony of the Belarus Press Photo – Multimedia contest took place on 9 December, in Minsk's Zнята photo studio. First place went to a clip dedicated to the presidential elections in 2010; second place to the Food not Bombs project; and third place to Andrei Liankevich for a multimedia-clip called Paganstva.

Meetings in Washington. BAJ Chairperson Zhanna Litvina, wife of political prisoner Ales Bialiatski Natalya Pinchuk and activist Tatiana Revyaka are visiting Washington DC, where they have a number of meetings at the Senate, the State Department and the US Security Council. The main topic of the visit is the freedom of speech and the situation of political prisoners in Belarus. The Belarusian guests took part in the event with Congressman Christopher Smith dedicated to the 2nd anniversary of the events of December 19, 2010.

Belarusian photo-exhibition in Brussels. On 18 December, the Office for a Democratic Belarus and the Secretariat of the Steering Committee of the EaP CSF will host the opening of theDiscovering Belarus: Images of Today and Beyond exhibition by the Belarusian photographer Siarhei Balay, which will be followed by an informal presentation of the EaP CSF Secretariat and a Christmas cocktail reception.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.

Why Belarusian Diplomats Leave Foreign Service

In the last month the issue of diplomacy was the focus of the Belarusian authorities several times.

On 20 August Alexander Lukashenka appointed a new foreign minister, Uladzimir Makey, and on 1 September he inaugurated the brand new building of the Faculty of International Relations of the Belarusian State University. Although the building looks glamorous, the president spoke with great concern about the human resources situation in the Belarusian diplomatic service.

What worries Lukashenka is that today, unlike in the previous decades, fewer and fewer talented young people want to pursue diplomatic careers in Belarus. Moreover, more and more qualified and experienced diplomats eagerly leave their posts in the foreign ministry for more rewarding jobs elsewhere.

This situation is a natural result of Minsk’s self-isolating foreign policy and the tiny salaries that Belarusian diplomats receive. And there is hardly anything that can be done to seriously improve the situation.

UN Founding Member without a Real MFA

The present-day Belarusian diplomatic service traces its origins back to 1945. The leadership of the Soviet Union wanted to have as many votes as possible during discussions at the United Nations. Therefore, the USSR insisted on including both the Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics as independent founding Member States of the UN.

since the very inception of the UN in 1940s, Belarus has had its own diplomatic representation there

Thus, since the very inception of the UN in 1940s, Belarus has had its own diplomatic representation there. Of course, it only performed decorative functions and all the decisions were really made in Moscow. But at least the Soviet rulers had to raise the perception of independent foreign policy making in the BSSR and established a separate foreign ministry in Minsk. They appointed Kuzma Kiselev (a doctor by education) as the first Belarusian minister of foreign affairs.

As the task of the Belarusian diplomatic mission during the Soviet era was just to vote the way the Kremlin decided, the ministry in Minsk was very small. Its staff did not exceed 20 people. Nonetheless, some diplomatic traditions began to take root even under those conditions.

The Newly Sovereign State in Search for its Foreign Policy Elite

When Belarus gained independence it already had a small foreign ministry and some diplomats with experience in international affairs. But, of course, the new situation required a fully-functional ministry. And the government started to look everywhere for people who could handle the difficult task of promoting Belarusian interests in the international arena. They even placed job adverts on national radio.

The main requirement for new diplomats was a knowledge of foreign languages. Belarus did not have an undergraduate or graduate school that taught international relations. So the majority of newcomers were graduates of Minsk State Linguistic University (then known as Minsk Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages).

Diplomacy started to attract the most talented and ambitious young people who wanted to pursue beautiful lucrative careers. Like in the Soviet Union, male candidates had far greater employment opportunities than female. As a result, today there is huge gender imbalance in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Gradually the MFA became a sanctuary for the children of top officials. Walking along the corridors of the ministry, one would see innumerable door signs with easily recognisable surnames. At some point it became almost impossible for a young man without proper connections (blat) to get a job in the ministry no matter how qualified he was.

Poor Relations with Academia

Apart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the newly sovereign Belarus needed its own diplomatic school. In 1995 the leading university – Belarusian State University – established the Faculty of International Relations. Its primary purpose was to prepare cadres for the MFA.

In the beginning almost all the graduates of the Faculty automatically got into the ministry. It is likely due to this fact that it became one of the most popular and prestigious schools in the country. Enrolment competition skyrocketed. For example, in 2004 about 400 applicants competed for twenty tuition-free places in the field of International Relations.

But as acceptance to the MFA began to depend not only on merit but on proper connections, the role of the Faculty of International Relations started to diminish. It turned into a school that prepares specialists that the Belarusian labour market has no demand for.

Moreover, the Faculty of International Relations and MFA did not manage to establish good cooperation. Scholars from the faculty are never invited to contribute to strategic thinking in the ministry. And MFA representatives rarely participate in academic discussions at the university. As a result, all sides lose. The scholarly work has become detached from the realities on the ground, and the ministerial foreign policy strategies less carefully thought through.

From Elitism to Defection

The past couple of years have seen a serious decline in the prestige of diplomatic careers in Belarus. Several devaluations of the Belarusian rouble have made the salaries in the MFA unbelievably low. For example, an attaché who is just starting his career gets roughly $300 per month. The head of a department with the rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary earns around $1000. Of course, during foreign placements diplomats get considerably more. But given the huge workload that they have this is almost peanuts.

an attaché who is just starting his career gets roughly $300 per month

Jobs in the private sector can offer many times over this salary. And there one does not have to feel embarrassed because of the self-isolating and freakish behaviour of the Belarusian government. Many diplomats disagree with the regime's policies but have to defend them as a part of their work. It is no wonder then why so many young professionals often prefer careers in business to the diplomatic service. Good evidence of this is the fact that fewer and fewer top officials try to ensure a place for their children in the MFA.

Thus, Lukashenka's worries are not in vain. The current state of the economy will not enable the state to raise diplomats' salaries to a competitive level. Like those working for other government institutions, the same old officials migrate from one position into another or abandon government jobs altogether. The foreign ministry is losing talent who defect from the prospects of humiliating pay for an extremely difficult job where they are representing the most repressive government in Europe.