Belarus adopts Soviet labor tactics to fix financial crisis
Belarus faces a desperate financial situation that is only likely to get worse. President Alexander Lukashenko thinks he knows why: his people don't work hard enough. He's using some old-fashioned ways of fixing that.
To avoid state bankruptcy and to put the economy back in motion, President Alexander Lukashenko has adopted tactics that come straight out of the history book.
To deal with economic problems, the Belarusian government has decided on a solution that seems reminiscent of the days when Belarus formed just a small part of the Soviet Union: encourage the people's work ethic by punishing those who work badly.
At a meeting with senior law enforcement officials, the president made his feelings clear. "We have our experience from the Soviet Union at the time of Andropov," he said. "Whether one likes it or not, it is roughly the same now as it was before. We must compel everyone to work."
And so Lukashenko has declared a war on laziness. "Most of our time is spent lounging around. We only accomplish half of what we must do - and yet we want to live in prosperity," he declared.
Hunting the work-shy
It was back at the end of 1982 that Yuri Andropov became the leader of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union, a position he held until the beginning of 1984. During that short time in office, he aimed to save Russia's ailing command economy - mainly through order and discipline. His plan was to impose tighter controls and tougher penalties to boost labor productivity.
Now, just as then, law enforcement authorities in Belarus are tasked with searching out those who are evading work. A wave of spot-checks is being introduced across all levels of society whose aim is to bringing to light the lazy people who the government believes are responsible for the country's woes.
Conducting "store surveys"
In the city of Brest, for example, investigators closed the exits to the department store ZUM and began to ask the customers why they were there during ordinary working hours. Similar "customer surveys" were carried out in other cities, such as Grodno and Gomel.
Even schools do not escape the investigators. In the city of Vitebsk, record books have been introduced in which a permanent record is kept of which teachers are in the building on a given day at a particular time.
Computers at schools in Brest were even checked for files such as games, videos and photographs. "Practice shows us that we, and by that I mean the whole society, are still not mature enough to exert control over ourselves. And so the state must do that for us," said one official.
Move condemned as farce
The former Belarusian labor minister Alexander Sosnov thinks the new campaign is senseless. To encourage people to work better, he told Deutsche Welle, it's better to introduce economic incentives rather than officially-administered penalties. The chairman of the country's Federation of Small and Medium-sized Businesses, Sergei Balykin, claims that it is a farce for Belarus to employ the same tactics in 2011 as were employed in the Soviet Union.
"The notion of a law to punish those who refuse to work, as existed during Andropov's time, is no longer valid," says Balykin. In addition, he claims, most of those who would be subject to these tests and controls would quite simply be unable to find work.
"The motives for reviving such decades-old legislation remained difficult to judge," said Balykin, adding that they were perhaps as easily explained by a psychologist as an economist.
Independent economic expert Mikhail Salesski underlined that, even at the time of their inception, such methods brought no positive results for the Soviet Union. On the contrary, they even contributed to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, said Salesski.
Under Andropov, social and economic transformation was dictated purely by administrative measures and the strengthening of work discipline.
But in practice this meant that the existing political and economic structures remained in place while ideological control and the persecution of dissenters were punished.
In the popular memory of those from the former Soviet Union, Salesski concludes that Andropov has gone down in history as "he who wished to create order, but who could not." It's a fate that could await Lukashenko too.