Belarusians protest in Minsk against "social parasite" law

What is commonly known as the "social parasite" law stipulates that Belarusians working less than 183 days per year have to pay a $250 tax in compensation for lost taxes.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Around 2,000 people gathered in the Belarusian capital Minsk to protest against the tax.

About 2,000 Belarusians staged one of the country's largest protests in recent years on Friday to voice their opposition to a law that imposes a tax on those not in full-time employment.

Popularly known as the "law against social parasites," it requires those who work less than 183 days per year to pay the government $250 in compensation for lost taxes.

The legislation came into effect in 2015 and has gone down badly with the Belarusian public at a time when many are struggling to make ends meet after more than two years of economic recession.

Protests of this size are rare in the former Soviet republic, run since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has described himself as the "last dictator in Europe."

"I'm not going to pay (the tax). It's absurd, a return to the feudal system," said Mikhail Gutuyev, who has been unemployed since losing his job as a sales agent.

Protesters gathered in the main square in the capital Minsk and carried posters with slogans such as: "The president is the main parasite."

Seeking to improve ties with the EU and lessen Belarus's dependence on Russia, Lukashenko has over the past year heeded calls from the West to show greater lenience towards political opposition.

A Reuters witness at the protest said the police presence was minimal and that there was no sign the authorities wanted to prevent the demonstration from taking place.

Belarusian opposition leader Nikolai Statkevich delivers a speech during the protest.

The country has been in recession since 2015 due to a slump in oil prices and contagion from an economic crisis in neighbouring Russia, with which its economy is closely tied and where many Belarusians work in order to send money home.

In Belarus, those who are officially registered as unemployed are exempt from the law. But those not registered have to pay the annual tax to the government.

Freelancers, housewives or husbands, and those working abroad also have to pay the tax.

Those who officially register as unemployed must do community service for $10 per month, so most people do not.

According to the last tax inspection, 470,000 people should have paid the fee, but less than 10 percent have done so, generating just $6 million in extra revenue for the government.

The dissatisfaction among Belarusians with the decree is also part of a general dissatisfaction with the economic situation in their country.

TRTWorld, Reuters