Belarus Resorts to Soviet Tactics to Tackle Economic Crisis

The country is racking up severe debts. The economy is at a standstill. But Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has identified one of the key reasons for the crisis: it's all down to lack of discipline.

In order to bring the Belarusian economy back on track and to avoid bankruptcy, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is resorting to methods that once seemed consigned to the history books.

According to the country's leadership, the economic crisis is caused, in part, by a lack of discipline in the workplace. And so they've decided to take a hard line: those who slack must be punished.

At a gathering of top law enforcement authorities the president declared: "We have Soviet experiences from the Andropov era. Whether you like it or not, we have to force everyone to work just like back then."

Yuri Andropov was general secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union from November 1982 until his death 15 months later. During his short time in office he tried to save the ailing centrally planned economy - above all by improving order and discipline. His policy was designed to improve productivity through tightened controls and severe punishments.

Searching for the work shy

The Belarus economy is in bad shape

Just like in the 1980s, the Belarusian authorities have been given the task of searching for those who are avoiding work.

"Half the time people are just lazing around," Lukashenka said. "We are only achieving half of what we have to achieve, but everyone still wants to live in prosperity."

Those responsible for the crackdown are approaching the task with fervor. The country has been gripped by a wave of checks and controls. In the city of Brest on the border with Poland the investigators closed all the exits in the central shopping center ZUM and began to ask the customers why they were out shopping during working hours. Such "customer surveys" were also carried out in shops in other towns, including Hrodna and Homel.

The investigators don't even stop at the school gates. In the town of Vitebsk books appeared to record which teachers and which pupils entered and left the school building at what time. In the Brest schools computers were checked for data like games, photos and videos.

"The practice shows that we - and by that I mean the whole society - aren't yet ready to control ourselves. So the state has to step in," says one state representative.

The policy is part of a general crackdown

'The campaign is a farce'

Former Belarusian Employment Minister Alyaksandr Sasnou thinks the new campaign to step up discipline in the workplace is absurd. In order to motivate people to work better, he thinks they need economic and not administrative incentives.

Syarhei Balykin, head of the Federation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, thinks it's a farce that methods that were once used under the Soviet regime are being enforced in Belarus in 2011. He says most of those who have been subjected to the controls are simply unemployed.

Independent economist Michail Salesskij emphasizes that such methods are ineffective, adding that they didn't bring any positive effects to the Soviet economy at the time. In the end, he argues, they even contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.

Under Andropov, necessary social and economic change was truncated by administrative alterations. But the creeping political and economic structures remained, as ideological controls and the persecution of dissidents increased. In popular parlance, Andropov went down in history as the man who "wanted to create order, but couldn't manage it."
Deutsche Welle