20 April 2019, Saturday, 10:24
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Jauhen Afnahel: Power in Belarus Begins to Fuss

Jauhen Afnahel

Something like this happened in the 1980s, on the eve of the collapse of the USSR.

Accrual of 100% of utility charges for "parasites", which was planned for January 1, 2019, is postponed for a month. Higher utility bills will be sent out to the unemployed not in February, but in March.

Why has Belarus decided to postpone the amended "parasite" decree? The coordinator of the European Belarus civil campaign and one of the leaders of the Belarusian National Congress Jauhen Afnahel answers questions of Charter97.org.

- As usual, the authorities have failed to explain their actions. Perhaps, they simply did not have time to prepare a database of "parasites" within the prescribed time limits. After all, despite the fact that it should have been created at the end of last year, information about inclusion of new categories of citizens appeared even in January.

Please pay attention to the fact that only the total number of "parasites" is announced - about 500 thousand. We don't know how many of them are in each region, or a big city. I suspect that the authorities still do not have exact figures.

Another reason is that officials who adequately assess the situation in the country realize that new "parasite" protests are unavoidable, and higher utility bills combined with unemployment and rising prices may trigger them. None of them want to squeeze it, and furthermore, to be responsible for squeezing it and to be a scapegoat if the situation gets out of control.

- As one of the BNC leaders, you contact with people from different regions and social groups. What is the most disturbing thing for the Belarusians now?

- Problems are growing like a snowball, and people have too many complaints against the government. During my trips to the regions and meetings in Minsk, I mentioned the general growth of distrust in those who represent the current government. During spontaneous protests no longer one problem or a mistake of the authorities is singled out: people have realized that the entire system is Pandora's box.

For example, Brest residents, who relied on negotiations with the Minister of Environment Andrei Khudyk, realized soon that the Minister does not decide anything, he's a part of the system acting in one direction - to deceive citizens, take away their money, land, health, or anything else.

People do not perceive Lukashenka and his officials, who have turned into some "evil center" for the Belarusians. Something of the kind - a sweeping rejection of the authorities which became a cartoon - occurred in the late 80s, on the eve of the great collapse of the Soviet nomenklatura and the collapse of the USSR. It's obvious that the consciousness of most Belarusians has already changed. Water under ice is moving, and we are about to witness revolutionary events - a slight touch on the trigger, our authorities are so afraid of, will boost changes for inconsistent and contradictory authorities. Analyzing their recent actions - the delay of the "parasite" decree, the demonstrative abolition of the decree on "pseudo-entrepreneurs", which is actually adopted in the form of new provisions of the Tax Code, the personnel reshuffling at the highest level, and ridiculous projects, such as the "Orsha Offshore" - one phrase comes to mind: Lukashenka has begun to fuss.

People feel it and increasingly express their discontent, and the number of reasons to do it is increasing.

Of course, the first place belongs to price growth, especially noticeable after the New Year holidays, and lack of decent earnings. There are also regional peculiarities. Residents of Brest and Svetlahorsk are concerned about the impending environmental disaster; the problem of unemployment is particularly acute in the eastern regions - thousands of Hrodna and Lida residents lost their earnings because of new rules for transport of goods across the border.

The increasing gap between incomes of ordinary people and officials is a separate topic. The authorities may lie about their "achievements" - a common citizen finds it difficult to verify. But everyone can compare his or her standard of living with that of a dictator's inner circle. People see luxurious houses near every major city and know who lives there. If earlier officials and oligarchs tried not to stand out, today there is no trace of past "modesty". Knowing that tomorrow one can easily find oneself in prison, how can one not boast of an expensive foreign car or a vacation in exotic countries?

And these very officials later gather in commissions, which have been humiliating and interrogating their fellow citizens for several months. How do you think people react to this? My experience shows that Belarusians now have a very acute sense of injustice and illegality of things happening.

- Last year and at the beginning of this year, the world witnessed another collapse of dictatorial regimes. In 2018 old dictator Robert Mugabe was removed from power in Zimbabwe. This year it may be the turn of Chavez's successor and Lukashenka's friend Nicholas Maduro. What do Belarusians think about events in Venezuela?

- The news from Venezuela is probably the most popular in Belarus today, despite silence of an official media. They, first of all, have a huge emotional charge. It is important for Belarusians to see how street fighting and peaceful resistance can defeat the dictator who has brought his people to the edge. Changes that have recently occurred in Armenia and are now occurring in Venezuela boost the morale of our people and restore sense of purpose.

I am convinced that Lukashenka is also closely following them, trying on the fate of his friends-losers. He is aware of a simple fact: the number of places on Earth where he could escape from rebellious people is rapidly declining.

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