In the cities of Belarus, people are already queueing for foreign currency.
Viktar Harbachou, a businessman and blogger from Barysau, commented to Charter97.org on the latest news about the "manual management" of the Belarusian economy, and its immediate consequences.
- The Council of Ministers has banned the export of wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, buckwheat, and other cereals. Why are there problems with these products in Belarus?
- Any restrictive measures by the authorities in relation to something, regardless of whether it is food or industrial products, always have a reason. It is clear that not everything is so good in Belarus, therefore all these restrictive measures have something to do with the economic situation in our country. Currently, we see that the government is trying to somehow restrain the economic collapse, which hits from all directions.
I assume that we will not starve, the warehouses are not so empty. Most likely, this ban is associated with higher purchase prices from Russia and Ukraine. Our neighbors have purchase prices for these products from 30 to 40%, which is higher than ours. I think that the authorities are trying to stop the outflow of our products, because it is more profitable to sell in Russia or Ukraine than domestically. Perhaps they feel a shortage of these products, so they are trying to stop the outflow with restrictions.
At the same time, I want to note that prices are still being held, but people slowly began to buy products of lower quality, as it was a year ago at the beginning of the pandemic. Food entrepreneurs told me that sales of cheaper products such as oatmeal, barley, and cereals increased. This speaks of the poverty of the people, there is no money supply, which hits the pocket and makes people buy cheaper products.
I cannot say that our warehouses are empty, I have not been there and have not seen it, but this ban is a bad sign that indicates economic problems. Perhaps this is an attempt to sell the domestic product, so to speak, to unload domestic warehouses.
- The authorities are trying to artificially regulate food prices to stop inflation, but many experts say that it will only shoot even harder. What do you think about it?
- Definitely, any forceful price containment will lead to inflation, if not today, then tomorrow. Adjusting the cost of some products by two or three kapeykas a month can lead to a collapse of 100-200% in a year, and the goods can disappear from the shelves altogether. All these restrictions only worsen the situation, and intensify the sharp jump in the future. Nothing good about that. A free market is called free because it needs to be allowed to float. If not, then economic problems occur. The same is when they try to keep the dollar exchange rate, they hold it back today, and the next morning you wake up - and then there is devaluation and denomination.
- In many Telegram channels there were reports that recently there have been problems with cashing money in ATMs and banks. Why so?
- I saw this not only in Telegram channels, but also myself. My friends also confirm that somewhere the cash register does not work, you start to buy some products, and they tell you that the card does not work, only cash. In the past two weeks, there have been widespread failures in banking systems, both in stores and in terminals.
I don't know how it is in Minsk, but queues for currency began to appear in small towns. I saw how a person who tried to buy foreign currency was told that there was only 50 dollars, but he needed 300. He ran to the neighboring exchange offices, looked for where to buy this currency, then shouted: "What's going on, why can't I buy the whole sum at once?" Perhaps this is even being done on purpose, because this is where such abrupt failures come from. Most likely, they are carried out with the aim of retaining funds of the population in banks.
I would also like to note that March turned out to be such an indicative month for the population to withdraw money from cards. This has not happened in the last 2-3 years. This shows that there is distrust in banking systems. People are waiting for some kind of collapse, steps from the authorities, as a result of which they will lose money. As soon as the people receive a salary, they either release it into production, or buy foreign currency.
The protest, which has been ongoing since August, has grown from a political to an economic one. If we do not see people in the squares, it means that they have switched to an economic struggle against the regime. Withdrawing salaries from bank cards, buying some goods, investing in foreign currency and withdrawing their money into something else, just not in our Belarusian rubles - all this proves the fact of the economic struggle.
If there are 100 thousand people on the square, then, according to the logic of the authorities, they should be dispersed, but the economic protest is incomprehensible to them. As a result, restrictive measures arise. The authorities are beginning to probe how to stop the people, to keep the currency, to force them to buy only domestic products, not imported ones. But I believe that all further restrictions will only hit the authorities even harder.
- The National Bank has halved the quota that can be removed from accounts without falling under suspicion. Is it possible to say that the authorities are afraid of a new economic protest "ATM - exchanger - bank"? Could there be even greater restrictions on currency turnover and cash transactions?
- I think so. They do not show us the numbers, how much is withdrawn at the box office, what is the outflow of deposits. Recently I went to the savings bank, and in my presence an elderly lady withdrew a fairly large amount of money, and they persuaded her, they said, let the money lie here peacefully. People withdraw their deposits, they do not need interest, just give the money back. They told her: "If you wait until the New Year, you will have interest" - she only asked to give the money.
The authorities sit in their bunkers and think about how to stop the money outflow. Some restrictions, interest increases, and so on. Look, they are introducing new tax controls on all residents of the country, literally from the phone to the expenses in the store. When a dictatorship rules, there is nothing good about restrictive measures. They only hold on to their power temporarily. Their actions will lead to the fact that all this will go off in 4-5 months. It will be very difficult for the population, but for them everything will be fine.
Chief of the National Bank Kallaur said that he keeps his deposits in Belarusian rubles, so the domestic currency should be trusted. It is clear that he will withdraw his deposit on time, and the next day there will be a denomination or devaluation. This has already happened, Prakapovich once said, that you should not be afraid of any denomination or devaluation, why are you withdrawing. After 3 days there was a collapse. You can't trust then, that's it, we have such power. If they say one thing, then the people must turn their words 360 degrees.
My relatives and friends from Baranavichy told me that some kind of madhouse was going on. Elderly people take out cereals during lunch break. The excitement has begun, so to speak, people are going to feed the moth. Today stores give one price, and tomorrow another. The same gasoline, already 10 times raised by a kapeyka, seems to be nothing, but it's still a pretty solid amount in the old money. For 27 years, the authorities have shown that they can only wave their fists, so I do not expect anything good.
- The internal national debt of Belarus is breaking records. The authorities continue to pour money into businesses that do not generate income. What can we expect if this trend continues?
- It was rightly noted that our internal debt is the highest in the entire history of the existence of independent Belarus. We are very grateful to Comrade Lukashenka that we are in such a debt. Our future generation is indebted to everyone. The population says that "I didn’t take it, I won’t give it back," but it will certainly affect the people, whether they want it or not. How will it be repaid? A decrease in wages or an increase in food prices is another matter, but this debt has brought us into bondage.
Russia has a very good feeling for what is happening with its neighbors, they are monitoring it. Mishustin did not come just like that before the sanctions against Belarus and Russia. Our friend asks for money, but they do not give him. He is put before the conditions that he repay debts by enterprises that are still breathing somehow.
Moreover, the authorities continue to invest in enterprises that do not bring any profit, which only further aggravates the situation with unemployment. Sooner or later these factories will be of no use to anyone, and will be closed.
The situation with debt is very difficult, as they say, if it exceeds GDP by 40-50%, then, in principle, you can already declare denomination, devaluation, defaults and whatever you want. And who will be blamed? Enemies who are inside the country, abroad, but not the power.
People see everything. Today, elderly people have become so literate that they understand that they cannot trust banking systems. Many construction projects in our country are slowly being frozen. In the same Barysau, it was planned to build another ice hockey palace this year. But no, they postponed it for a year due to the lack of funds.
The political struggle continues, yes, the visual part of the protest has changed. But these hundreds of thousands of protesters did not go anywhere, they stayed. Now people have heard the call that we are going into an economic protest: we will not buy these products, will not invest money there, will withdraw money from banks, invest in foreign currency. There was an economic blow to the authorities, so in response, our banks do not work normally. The people will win economically.