Entrepreneurs Strike despite Attempts of Authorities to Disrupt the Action
Individual entrepreneurs of Belarus declared the nationwide warning strike against the enforcement of the new agreement between Russia and Belarus about the principles of indirect taxation during export and import of goods, work and services. The agreement obliges all subjects of the economy, including individual entrepreneurs to pay 18% VAT, whereas according to presidential decree #4 their activity was exempt from VAT and was subject only to single tax.
On the eve of the protest action the police detained the leader of the National public association “Perspective” Anatol Shumchanka because he had allegedly knocked down a pedestrian while driving. However, at the police station Shumchanka was accused in organization of unauthorized meeting by distribution f the information bulletin Kommersant at Zhdanovichy market (not far from Minsk) with the urges to take part in the unauthorized action on 10 February. As a result, Shumchanka was taken to the detention center in Akrestsin Street. The trial of Shumchanka was closed. Judge refused to summon any witnesses, even those who testified against the leader of entrepreneurs. Shumchanka was sentenced to 10 days of jail (which is the maximal punishment that could be given to him). Now he is kept in the same detention center. The decision of the court is final and can’t be set aside. However, Shumchanka is going to complain against it for
On 10 February the majority of the country’s markets were on strike, including the markets of Homel, Rechytsa, Barysaw, Lepel, Krupki, Biarezina, Hrodna etc.
-- We have assemblies at all meetings. Now we also demand from the authorities to release the leader of “Perspective” Anatol Shumchanka – said the member of the Board of “Perspective” Viktar Harbachow.
A spontaneous meeting of individual entrepreneurs took place in Minsk. More than 2 000 people gathered near the business department of the Ministry of Economy. They insisted on meeting with the ministry workers and demanded to liquidate the 18% VAT.
According to the economist Yaraslaw Ramanchuk, who also attended the meeting, individual entrepreneurs can’t work in the same transparent way as the firms for which the costs of Russian goods will be decreased to compensate the VAT loss. He called individual entrepreneurs victims of the taxation system.
-- Taxes must correspond to the real situation. About 80% of Russian markets are grey areas. In the conditions when Belarusian authorities demand from Belarusian entrepreneurs to act according to formal rules, the entrepreneurs lose the possibility to sell the goods at the same prices. Belarusians buy goods mostly at the wholesale markets of Moscow. The Russian entrepreneurs not always pay the VAT for the goods they sold to Belarusians to the Russian budget and now they don’t want to decrease the prices because Belarusians will have to pay it.
When the Ministry of Economy gave its written refusal to take part in the round table with the entrepreneurs, the people went to the governmental house in Savetskaya Street, 9. Then the vice-prime minister Andrey Kabiakow spoke to the meeting participants and stated that it was impossible to liquidate VAT for individual entrepreneurs:
-- It is an international agreement and therefore it has priority before every internal law. You pay the import VAT which Russian entrepreneurs pay as well.
After this speech eight representatives of the entrepreneurs were invited for negotiations with the ministry. The negotiations lasted for three hours. As a result it was decided to establish the working group that would decide the problem by 20 February. The working group will consist of representatives of the government and members of the public association “Perspective”.
More than 10 000 entrepreneurs supported the strike in Homel region and many of them signed the appeal to the authorities with the demands to liquidate VAT. According to Homel entrepreneurs, in the beginning of the year about 20% of individual entrepreneurs had to give up because of the cost of the licenses and other payments:
-- This time 80% of entrepreneurs will leave the markets. If the state can give us work at state structures, we can agree, because we receive no profit at the markets anyway, -- said the entrepreneur Nadzeya Komava in her interview to RFE/RL.
In Hrodna more than 4 000 of entrepreneurs took part in the action of protest. According to Pahonia newspaper, the democratic movement “Hrodna Choice” urged people to gather in Zhyliber Park at 11 a.m. on 10 February. At 10.30 a.m. riot squads stood there with the vice-head of the board of internal affairs of Hrodna Regional Executive Committee Yury Chabanaw at the head. The police called the people to disperse and not to violate the law of the Republic of Belarus. The action participants moved to the central square of the city. The road was overlapped by internal military forces and riot squads, but the demonstrators managed to break through the cordons and in several minutes united with the column of the entrepreneurs who didn’t manage to get to the park because of the police. When the demonstration arrived to the central square, the head of Hrodna Regional Executive Committee Aliaksandr Antonenka spoke to the people. He said the executive committee had no powers to liquidate the VAT, but the deputies of the city deputy soviet would lobby this question. The entrepreneurs were also interested to find about the fate of the leader of the democratic movement “Hrodna Choice” Zmitser Ivanowski whom the police tried to detain on 9 February. Antonenka said the city’s administration wouldn’t do anything against the law. In 1,5 hours the meeting was over. When people started to disperse, persons in plain clothes tried to detain the most active participants of the action.
In Vitsebsk entrepreneurs took their appeals for abolishment of VAT to all three borough administrations of Vitsebsk.
-- All three borough administrations were actually blocked by entrepreneurs for several hours. The officials were shocked. More than thousand entrepreneurs took part in the action, -- said to Pahonia the deputy of Vitsebsk City Deputy Soviet Volha Karach.
Policemen with rifles arrived to the administrations. Being asked whether he would fire, one of them said he wouldn’t do it without orders.