The first region was the Hrodna region, bordering Poland and Lithuania.
The new fee will begin to be collected from May 1, 2021, and all drivers crossing the border of Belarus by car through checkpoints in the Hrodna region will become payers. Each trip abroad will cost one base unit, which is 29 Belarusian rubles (approximately 9 euros in recalculation), dw.com reports.
Will the money go to fight COVID-19?
The updated Tax Code, which entered into force on January 1, 2021, allows the introduction of such a fee to local authorities in Belarus, regional councils of deputies. At the same time, the amount of the fee itself should not exceed three basic values - 87 Belarusian rubles (about 28 euros). You will have to pay when leaving Belarus for the EU countries and Ukraine: this type of tax does not apply to Russia.
Several categories of persons are exempt from payment of the fee, among them - participants and invalids of war, invalids of groups I and II, liquidators of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. In addition, the fee will not be paid by those traveling to the funeral of family members and close relatives, as well as those traveling to sanatoriums for treatment. All of them must have supporting documents with them.
It is officially announced that the funds raised will be used "to prevent and combat coronavirus infection." This is how the decision to introduce a local tax in the Hrodna Regional Council of Deputies was justified. It will be charged until January 1, 2023. As locals note with irony, it is now known exactly when Belarus will cope with the coronavirus.
In Brest, they decided to wait
In another region in the west of Belarus - in the Brest region - the local tax when traveling abroad has not yet been introduced. As the chairman of the regional council of "deputies" Yury Narkevich said: "This issue is still being studied, and we do not plan to make a decision in the near future."
Brest officials do not hide the fact that they would like to first assess how effective the tax introduced in the Hrodna region will be. It applies to drivers of vehicles with a maximum weight not exceeding 5 tonnes. In fact, all passenger cars fall under this standard. It is also worth mentioning that the Brest region borders not only with one of the EU countries (Poland) but also with Ukraine.
The Ukrainian direction is especially in demand in the summer season; before the pandemic, seaside vacations in Ukraine were considered budgetary for Belarusians and did not require Schengen visas. However, due to the epidemiological situation, it is hardly worth expecting that in 2021, like a year ago, the citizens of Belarus will go to Ukrainian resorts en masse in their own cars.
Call for no fee
Meanwhile, activists of the Brest public organization "For Your City" decided to collect signatures of local residents under an appeal to the "deputies" so that they would not introduce a fee when crossing the border by car.
The appeal says that throughout its thousand-year history, the current territory of the Brest region was part of Kievan Rus, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Commonwealth, the Russian Empire, in which there were no borders with neighboring regions of modern Poland and Ukraine. According to the authors of the initiative, the establishment of an additional tax will hinder the cultural and economic development of the Brest region, as well as restrict the inhabitants of the region in the exercise of the constitutional right to freely leave the country.
Hanna Kanius, head of the analytical center of the organization For My City, pointed out that “the Tax Code gives the regional council deputies the right to introduce a local fee for crossing the border, but does not oblige them to do so.” According to the activist, more than 3 thousand signatures have been collected under the appeal, and there is hope that the deputies will take into account the interests of citizens and the public opinion of the region's residents.
When the border is closed anyway
In the meantime, the situation on the border of Belarus testifies to the fact that a special replenishment of the treasury due to the new collection is not to be expected. Since December 21, 2020, the decision of the Belarusian government has been in effect, according to which a ban has been introduced for the citizens of the country to travel through ground checkpoints on the border with the EU countries and Ukraine. The official reason for such measures is also called the fight against the spread of coronavirus.
Thus, now only some categories of its citizens can leave Belarus by the non-air route. For example, this is possible for those who have a residence permit in another state, study or work abroad, and also go on a business trip, for medical treatment, or for a funeral of a close relative. All these grounds must be documented. The introduction of these restrictions on exit significantly reduced the number of international bus routes from the bus stations of Brest and Hrodna in the direction of Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine, and the railway communication with these countries was suspended back in March 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19.
At the same time, the decree of the government of Belarus termless: neither the border department nor the transport organizations know about its validity period. Although it would be logical to assume that the initiative of the local authorities to introduce a fee for crossing the border can only affect if all restrictions on the travel of Belarusians abroad are lifted.