Nationwide Strike of Businessmen
According to RFE/RL
On 1 March the nationwide strike of businessmen took place. The main aim of the action is to express the protest of small business against the introduction of the 18% VAT for the goods that are imported from Russia. This tax has been introduced according to the agreement that of Belarus and Russia concerning the change of the order of the VAT payment. At first Belarusian authorities asserted that as a result of the agreement Russian businessmen will make their goods 18% cheaper for Belarusian importers. However, it didn’t happen. As a result, this 18% tax can liquidate all financial profits of the Belarusian businessmen who import goods from Russia.
Naturally, businessmen hoped that the authorities would thoroughly analyze the consequences of this invention and would either refuse from it or find some effective compensatory mechanisms. It didn’t happen either. On the eve of the strike the vice-minister of dues and taxes Vasil Kamenka once again urged the businessmen to accept the rules proposed by the government.
On 1 March about five thousand of businessmen from different cities of Belarus gathered in Kastrychnitskaya Square of Minsk. They held a meeting on the stairs of the House of Republic. Some of the action participants held posters “Down with VAT!”. The leader of Perspective association Anatol Shumchanka took the floor and called all people present to behave well and not cry out any political slogans. The meeting lasted for more than three hours. The police authorities stood near, but didn’t demand from the people present to disperse despite the fact that the action was unauthorized.
After all who wanted to speak to the people took the floor the businessmen decided to move to the Presidential Administration and pass their demands to president. However, at the stairs near the House of Officers, the riot squad overlapped the way. The police started to push people out of Yanka Kupala Square. Several women fell in snow. After this the demonstrators changed their mood. They decided to return to the square and stand there till the authorities negotiate with them. The entrepreneurs asked the police to inform Lukashenka in person that they were used to hard conditions of work and could bear the frost for a long time.
In Homel region the nationwide strike was supported by businessmen from Homel, Rechytsa, Svetlahorsk, Zhlobin, Rahachou and other cities. In Homel about 95% of businessmen of Tsentralny and Prudkouski markets didn’t work. Davydauski market and a number of automobile markets didn’t work at all. In the afternoon dozens of businessmen from different markets of the city picketed Homel Regional Executive Committee. The police didn’t interfere. However, in Rechytsa the police disrupted the departure of the bus with about fifty small entrepreneurs to Minsk for participation in the action of protest.
In Minsk region the nationwide strike was supported by the businessmen of Barysaw, Zhodzina, Salihorsk, Slutsk, Maladechna and other towns and cities. A part of businessmen from Barysaw picketed Barysaw City Executive Committee, another part, with Viktar Harbachou, the leader of the local branch of Perspective association, went to Minsk. However, on the way Harbashou was detained by the police.
Almost all small businessmen of Polatsk district didn’t work. The police stopped the microbus with Navapolatsk businessmen who wanted to get to the protest action in Minsk. As a result the trade union activists had to hitchhike to the capital. A part of the businessmen of Polatsk and Navapolatsk gathered at 10 p.m. near city executive committees despite the frosty weather. In Navapolatsk the authorities ignored the action, whereas in Polatsk the head of the executive committee Uladzimir Tachyla personally talked to the protesters. They were even invited to the committee to get warm.
On 1 March the majority of the private entrepreneurs of Brest region stopped working. The local authorities made the vendors of consumer societies and state shops to sell goods at markets instead of them. Almost all entrepreneurs in the towns of Belaaziorski, Ivanava and Stolin supported the strike as well.
In Vitsebsk the strike was supported by 90% of entrepreneurs. In the afternoon several hundred of entrepreneurs gathered at the entrance of Vitsebsk Regional Executive Committee. The duty policemen decided that mass violations could happen and called for support. The police pushed people down from the stairs and ordered not to approach the regional administration. Only four delegates were allowed to enter it. They passed their statement to the head of the executive committee Uladzimir Andreichanka. They didn’t even manage to meet with him and had to wait for the answer for several answers, the outside temperature being 12C below zero. Infuriated with it, the entrepreneurs moved forward, but the police warned they would call for the riot squad that would disperse the demonstration. The only official who came out to talk with the protestors was Valiantsin Tsviatkou, the chair of the Board of Trade of the executive committee. He managed to convince them they would receive the answers to their questions at 2 p.m. on 2 March.
The private entrepreneurs of Mahiliou supported the nationwide strike. The majority of markets and trade centers and even some private shops stopped working. About 700 entrepreneurs came to the central square of Mahiliou to protest. They composed a statement to the city’s authorities that they had to stop working because they weren’t able to pay for public utilities. Local leaders of democratic parties and public organizations came to the square as well, to support the protest. The entrepreneurs think their economical problems are connected to politics. Mahiliou Regional Executive Committee accepted the delegation of entrepreneurs but said they couldn’t do anything at the local level. The entrepreneurs didn’t agree to it and stated they would gather everyday at the central square of Mahiliou till the abolishment of the VAT.
In Hrodna about three or four thousand people took part in the action of protest. The entrepreneurs started gathering at about 12 a.m. in Zhyliber Park, near the monument to Soviet soldiers and partisans. When they felt there were many of them, they crossed the street and occupied Lenin Square in front of Hrodna City Executive Committee. Their leaders were absent, because on the eve of the action one of them, Zmitser Ivanouski, was sentenced to 15 days of jail for participation in the previous unauthorized meeting of entrepreneurs, held on 10 February. The action participants chanted “Let Us Work!”. The head of Hrodna City Executive Committee Aliaksandr Antonenka and the vice-head of Hrodna Regional Executive Committee Aliaksandr Radzevich came out and stood near the monument to Lenin. The entrepreneurs surrounded them and had a long fruitless talk. Then people started to disperse. The action lasted for two hours, but none of its participants were detained after it.