Spring has come to Minsk early. January turned out to be surprisingly warm in terms of weather, and rather hot in terms of political activity. On Jan. 21 individual businessman held a rally, protesting against new regulations, which make it almost impossible for them to remain on the market.
First of all, who are these people, protesting on the streets? They are owners of small businesses, officially called “individual entrepreneurs”. Most of them are merchants, who sell goods bought abroad on markets in Minsk. Each of them has a stall, sometimes two or three, and employs a handful of shop assistants. Of course, there are individual entrepreneus, who actually produce things, but most of them are involved in buying and selling imported goods.
In Belarus, where running a business is drastically complicated by the maze of bureaucratic procedures and heavy taxes, being an individual entrepreneur is the most easy way to be self-employed. Also, due to some tax privileges, individual entrepreneurs have been able to provide their goods and services at somewhat lower prices. Until now it has been much more usual in Belarus to go to a market in order to buy a fur coat or a DVD recorder on a market, rather than in a shopping mall.
Now this is about to change – the state and major retailers have joint their forces in driving numerous small merchants out of the market. The infamous presidential decree number 760 prohibited individual entrepreneurs from hiring anyone except their closest relatives. Thus, if your mom or son is not willing or able to sell goods at your market stall, you should either do it yourself or sign up at the unemployed placement service.
Desperate and outraged, individual businessmen have gone the streets. Most of them have abstained from active politics before. Seeing riot policemen dispersing and arresting their colleagues became a major shock for most of them.
The next protest action of individual businessmen is scheduled for Feb. 18, 2008.
Here some videos from today’s protest rally: