Since late 2016, Belarusian tax authorities have started sending out notifications to all unemployed Belarusians forcing them to reimburse the government for 'state expenditures.'
In other words, the Belarusian state automatically assumes that all people not reported as working are freeloaders, taking advantage of the social system without contributing to it.
For some Belarusians, the infamous tax became the straw that broke the camel's back, pushing them towards suicide. In January 2017, president Lukashenka modified the 'parasite law,' exempting the most vulnerable groups. Nevertheless, he left the notorious policy in place.How the authorities see the tax
On 15 January Belarusian president Aliaksandr Lukashenka set off for official visits to Egypt and Sudan, where he conducted negotiations with the leaders of the two countries.
Belarus is trying to broaden its economic relations with developing countries. However, its seems that the main reason behind Egypt and Sudan's growing interest in Belarus lies not in the high quality of Belarusian goods but because other nations do not want to cooperate with them.
A newcomer to the top Belarusian football league, FC Krumkachy (or Ravens), from Minsk became the most discussed phenomenon of Belarusian sport in the media in 2016.
The story of the club plays out like a Hollywood movie. A group of enthusiasts founded the club just five years ago, and after three years in minor leagues their dreams came true. Krumkachy earned the right to debut in the country's major professional league.
On 28 December 2016, a former employee of the Presidential Administration received a five-year sentence for paedophilia. The news led to a widespread outcry among both citizens and human rights defenders.
Belarusian courts continue to measure out harsh punishments for drug-related and non-violent crimes. Minor crimes, such as inappropriate social media posts, lead to lengthy incarceration, while murder and paedophilia can result in relatively trivial sentences.
On 20 January, Alexander Lukashenka described the reactions of Russian officials to the introduction of the new five-day visa-free regime in Belarus as 'groans and wails.'
Recently, rhetoric surrounding Russian-Belarusian relations has become so sharp that some journalists and analysts believe the Kremlin plans to overthrow Aliaksandr Lukashenka or occupy Belarus.
However, off and on conflict remains a fixture of Belarusian-Russian relations. Despite belligerent grumbling, Lukashenka mostly upholds the Kremlin's interests, promoting cooperation between the two countries.
Paper on business education, the 2016 Journal of Belarusian Studies, Belarus-Lithuania - Ostrogorski Centre digest
In January, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed Belarus’s new oil war with Russia, the dynamics of Lithuanian investments in Belarus, and the initial impact of visa-free regulations on Hrodna Region.
The Ostrogorski Centre released the analytical paper ‘Belarusian business education: from a command economy to the market’, which resulted from the Fourth Annual Dutch-Belarusian-Polish conference on education.
The Centre also published the 2016 issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies.
The Belarusian authorities have recently shown interest in developing business education; evidence of this can be found in the Concept adopted by the Belarusian government in 2015. However, the Ministry of Education has not yet done much to adjust state regulations to match the situation on the ground.
Three key problems exist today. Representatives of the government, the international community, and business educators would do well to focus on them: state regulations, poor integration into the international educational space and lack of affordable business education in the regions of Belarus.
Migration centres, relations with Sudan, Paliessie cruises, beaver sausages – Belarus state press digest
The EU provides €7m to finance the construction of migrant facilities in Belarus to combat irregular migration. Aliaksandr Lukashenka visits Sudan with a delegation of Belarusian officials to discuss bilateral economic potential.
Belarus launches a 550-km-long cruise route in the Paliessie region. In 2016, Minsk breaks its record for housing sales. Belarusian food industries plan to produce sausages and canned meat from beavers.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.
On 22 December 2016, three Belarusian street artists sued an investigative committee for unfounded accusations of hooliganism. On 13 January, the court rejected the claim, pointing to the absence of any violations of the artists' rights.
Street art has became a new form of political expression. The disproportionate reaction of authorities to street art is reflected in administrative punishments, harsh beatings, and regular KGB checks.
Starting 12 February, citizens of 80 states, including 39 European countries, will be able to enter Belarus visa-free through the Minsk National Airport. But unlike Kazakhstan, which allows foreigners to stay in the country for up to 30 days, Belarus introduced a much more tricky visa free regime.
Foreign travellers should be prepared for strict penalties should they fail to understand or abide by the rules. The current practise of registering people with Belarusian visas staying for longer than five days sometimes creates an impression that Belarusian migration authorities view tourists as cash cows.
Belarus’s diplomatic activities slowed down before the holidays in December. The country’s diplomacy focused mostly on a multilateral agenda in preparation for its chairmanship of the Central European Initiative, as well as manoeuvring at the United Nations.
Foreign minister Vladimir Makei’s statement at an OSCE meeting was perhaps meant to be a programme declaration, but in reality it amounted to little more than bragging about Belarus’s arguable achievements and ambitious plans.
The year 2016 left Belarus with a serious economic problem: its unresolved dispute with Russia over energy.
On 9 January 2017, the Russian daily Kommersant revealed that Moscow will reduce oil supplies to Belarus from 4.5 to 4m tonnes in the first quarter of 2017. In doing so, Russia is pressing Belarus to pay its $425m gas debt.
Simultaneously, Belarus announced the discovery of a new oil field on its territory. Unfortunately, its own oil reserves allow for 1.6m tonnes worth of production annually, while Belarus needs around 25m for its refineries.
On 15 December President Aliaksandr Lukashenka appointed vice-mayor of Minsk Ihar Karpenka as Minister of Education. However, two important facts about the latter have caused serious discussion within the Belarusian expert community.
First, at the moment of his appointment, Ihar Karpenka was the Head of the Communist Party in Belarus. Second, the dismissal of the previous Minister, Dr. Mikhail Zhuraukou, contained an element of disgrace: he was sacked during his annual leave while he was outside the country. Moreover, after his dismissal, Zhuraukou was demoted and is now simply a head of department at the Belarusian State University.
Belarusians in the Forbes rating, no autonomy for the Belarus Orthodox Church - Belarus state press digest
Minsk views a normalisation of relations with the EU as being in its national interest. The Russian World cannot be a political factor in Belarus, according to the Metropolitan of the Belarusian Orthodox Church.
The economic recession has reached its lowest point, and in 2018 the Belarusian economy will once a gain experience growth. Russian economic policies towards Belarus are creating obstacles for Eurasian integration. Several Belarusian IT entrepreneurs appeared in the '30 under 30' Forbes rating.
The city of Hrodna sees a rise in the tourism sector as a result of the new visa-free regime. The government reduces the cost of visas to Belarus.
Diplomacy between Belarus and Georgia has taken on new life. On 20 December 2016 Belarus finally opened its embassy in Tbilisi. This decision, long and complicated for both sides, has proved their intention to renew bilateral dialogue. This step could also indicate a new Georgia–Belarus strategy towards Russia.
Belarus and Georgia have never been strategic partners. The countries’ diplomacy suffered numerous crises due to the Russia-Georgia conflict and the strong ties between Belarus and Russia. Furthermore, the economic side of the partnership is at an extreme low as well. In 2016 Belarus – Georgia trade came to only $63m, making Georgia only the 57th most important trade partner for Belarus.
While the governments of Belarus and Lithuania continue to clash over the construction of the Astraviec nuclear power plant, Lithuanian investors in Belarus are continuing to operate normally. Lithuanian businessmen became the largest foreign investors in Belarus, adding more than €80 mln to the Belarusian economy in 2015.
Investments remain at a high level, although several Lithuanian companies have abandoned their projects because of the Belarusian economic crisis. Moreover, the poor political reputation of the Belarusian authorities still discourages Western businessmen from investing.