Heavy crackdown on protesters in Belarus over ‘Social parasite tax’
Over 400 were detained and some beaten last Saturday during protests in Belarus. Even more were detained on Sunday. The protests broke out in reaction to the newly introduced ‘social parasite tax’, targeting those not employed full-time for more than half a year. The underlining cause has not been lack of democracy, but poverty. Belarus is in recession since 2015, mainly due to economic decline in Russia, where many Belarusians work. These protests were largest in recent history and brought to the streets many people who so far remained silent – people from the provinces and even the elderly did not evade detention. Just a few months ago, not many would predict such massive protest as Lukashenko was turning to the West, abolishing visa for many countries including the US and denouncing Russian annexation of Crimea. But the ‘last European dictator’ now needs Russia to secure stability, possibly in the expense of reform.
Lukashenko and Putin joining powers (again) to counter dissent
Following the hard crackdown in Minsk, Lukashenko travelled to St Petersburg to meet with Russian president Putin. The meeting was largely overshadowed by a metro explosion in the city killing 11 and leaving many wounded. The leaders discussed mainly gas and finance. The two countries had a tough couple of months in mutual relations. Moreover, Russia has more than doubled the price it charges Belarus for gas, according to Minsk. From the meeting conclusion, it appears the two autocrats have ironed out most of their differences. But still it seems that Russia’s current economic situation does not allow it to solve its own problems, let alone to subsidize Belarus. So far Lukashenko might be playing both sides. Some Europeans now want to reintroduce sanctions against Belarus while others seek constructive relationship.
Russia: protests uncover the extent of Navalny’s network
Hundreds were detained in Russia as anti-corruption protests erupted last weekend. Prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was behind the protests, or American journalist Alec Luhn, were detained by the authorities. Perhaps the most surprising take-away from the demonstrations was that they broke out not just in the liberal-friendly big cities like St Petersburg or Moscow, but across the country as far as in Dagestan. That not only illustrates the reach of Navalny’s network, but also the extent of the discontent of ordinary Russians with endemic corruption and poor living standards. Most of the ire was directed at the now-PM Medvedev (who has spent the time skiing) and some now speculate whether Medvedev can be deposed, or he is simply too big to fail. Last time Putin felt threatened during the protests of 2011-2013 he smoothed the situation by lashing out at neighbouring Ukraine accompanied by nationalist propaganda. But the Russian street “does not want war… …it wants roads in Irkutsk”.
Pro-Russian parties secure overwhelming victories in Serbian and Armenian elections
Serbian PM Aleksandar Vučić claimed absolute victory in presidential election when he received more than 50 % of votes and was elected with no need for a second round. Vučić, who stood behind Slobodan Milošević in the 1990s, has now become the strongest leader in Serbia since then. The president elect and his Progressive Party now control the entire legislative and executive process. Vučić aims to balance pro-European direction and strong relations with the traditional ally Russia. But Russian influence in Serbia is unlikely to diminish, and it could also impact Serbia’s neighbours – from Kosovo to Republika Srpska.
In Armenia, the ruling Republican party of president Sargsyan, likewise, secured overwhelming victory in the historic parliamentary election. The country approved change of constitution from presidential to parliamentary democratic system in 2015. The change will become effective once current president Sargsyan’s term ends in 2018. The key question now is whether Sargsyan will aspire for the now most powerful PM seat, or will give way to someone else like the current PM, former Gazprom manager, Karapetyan. International observers highlighted frequent cases of vote-buying and analysts outline the overall political control over Armenia by the elites through widespread poverty.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a biweekly basis provides short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
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