1 March, 2017Protests against an unjust law that taxes people for unemployment and accuses them of being “social parasites” were held in five cities in Belarus.
On 26 February, about 1,000 people took part in protests in Vitebsk and Bobruisk, and about 200-300 in Baranovichi and Brest. Participants demanded the abolition of decree no.3 "On prevention of social dependency", which obliges citizens unemployed for more than six months to pay the state a tax of about US $240.
Among the protesters were not only unemployed but also employed workers, students, and women on maternity leave. The participants shouted, "No to the decree number three," "Women of Belarus are not parasites" and other slogans, and carried historic national Belarusian white-red-white flags, symbolizing opposition to the regime of President Lukashenko, as well as flags of independent trade unions.
Police did not intervene in the action, with the exception of a detention in Vitebsk, when Tatiana Seviarynets, one of the organizers, read a chapter from the constitution, written on paper, then tore the sheets of the notepad and threw them into the crowd. She was detained immediately after the rally for violation of the order of organization for holding mass events.
Earlier, on 17 February, the "march of the angry Belarusians" gathered about 3,000 participants in Minsk and became one of the largest rallies since 2010. The protesters adopted a resolution demanding the abolition of the decree, an end to the raising of the retirement age and the price of utilities, and a return to free and fair elections. They also urged the authorities to begin negotiations.
Activists of IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REPAM) organized a signature collection at the rally. According to the union, more than 46,000 signatures calling for the abolition of decree no. 3 have been collected manually and on the online platform zvarot.by.
Another IndustriALL affiliate Free Metalworkers' Union also collected signatures. Chair of the union Alexander Bukhvostov said:
”The action was spontaneous. However, we have collected 1,000 signatures against the decree. The protest has showed growing dissatisfaction with the authorities’ policy attacking workers' rights”.
The marchers gave the authorities until 17 March to respond to demands. If the authorities do not take action by then, the protests will continue.
Currently about 50,000 people have paid the tax, while notice has been sent to 470,000 citizens. Two Belarusians have filed a lawsuit against the tax office and insist on being excluded from the list of “parasites”.
Chair of REPAM Gennady Fedynich believes that active protests are necessary for the decree’s abolition:
“The government might abolish the decree if people do not remain silent and prepare new protests. No song, no supper”.
Video from Brest.
Video translation from the event.