Protests broke out in Belarus on February 17 against a proposed tax on unemployed citizens, leading to a year-long suspension. Reuters said that over 2,000 Belarusians participated in early demonstrations; more joined the protests towards the end of the month. Though activists scored a temporary victory when President Alexander Lukashenko announced he would not enforce the law this year, they stated that they will continue to put pressure on the government until Lukashenko repeals the law.
According to The Washington Post, the law requires Belarusians who work less than 183 days a year to pay a fine. Activists further contend that this represents “economic coercion,” arguing that it penalizes Belarusians for leaving state-owned industries.
State ownership of the economy is entrenched in Belarus, which retains many Soviet economic and political structures. However, a recession has brought citizens into a growing informal economy, where some private enterprise is possible. Workers in these industries are officially unemployed, so the law is viewed as an attempt to incentivize their return to the state sector. Protesters claim that such measures limit their economic freedom and economic security.
In Belarus, where the government heavily suppresses dissent, such arguments rarely have persuasive power. Yet the sustained action of thousands of protesters led Lukashenko to suspend the law for 2016. Those who have not paid the tax will not pay this year, The Washington Post said. Those who did pay will receive a rebate.
Despite the suspension, demonstrations continue. Protesters in cities like Minsk have even called for Lukashenko, who has held power since 1994, to step down. Whether these demands will be met with concessions or further repression is not yet known—and the situation that some are calling the “next Ukraine” is still developing.