Saturday, January 11, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Lukashenka’s Bargain with the Belarusian People in Trouble

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – Spending by the Belarusian government on social programs this year has been either flat or declining, a trend one analyst suggests threatens Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s bargain with the Belarusian people in which he provides social supports in turn for their deference to his authoritarianism and one that could be “a real problem” for his regime.

            A close analysis of Mensk’s budgetary policy this year shows, Aleksey Medvetsky says, that Lukashenka’s regime is unwittingly putting itself at risk by reducing the funds available for education, health and welfare while increasing the funds to the force structures and building organizations which have more powerful lobbies (

            In the short term, he argues, that may shore up his regime, but “sooner or later,” such an approach will “strike at the interests” of both these lobbies and the regime itself because all of them rely on the educational and health care systems and won’t be able to if those sectors are starved for resources.

            More immediately, Medvetsky argues, Mensk’s failure to spend money in the social sector will make it more difficult for Lukashenka to “’buy votes’” in 2015 as he has in the past and thus increase the likelihood that he will have to rely on force alone to remain in office rather than on what has been his base in the population.

            At the end of December, Lukashenka said that in 2014 there shouldn’t be “excessive” spending on health and education. Translated into normal language, the analyst says, “this means” that some of those employed in those sectors will lose their jobs and that spending in them will remain flat or even decline.

            Not surprisingly, this has angered those whose positions may be at risk. Those in the medical sector even circulated a petition calling on the government to increase pay and cut workloads rather than the reverse ( The situation in education is no better, but to date, there has not been a similar effort by teachers.

            That could soon change, Medvetsky say, because Lukashenka’s words have called attention to the fact that he is “changing the structure of state expenditures” away from “the social state” that he and the country’s constitution call for into something else, one in which the population will get less and the force structures more.

            If that pattern continues in 2014 and there is every reason to believe it will, the analyst argues, that shift will not only lead to “a reduction in the quality and accessibility of Belarusian medicine and education but also deepen the dangerous and already marked division of Belarusian society.”

            That introduces a new element in Belarusian politics, one that could allow the Belarusian opposition to garner more support even if, as seems nearly certain, Lukashenka responds with more repression. At the very least, this division means Belarusian political life is likely to become more lively, thanks to budget changes few have paid much attention to until now.


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