A European nation that was formerly part of the Soviet Union plans to reduce poverty by introducing a “social parasites” tax on the unemployed.
Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, has said that the $223 tax—approximately a month’s wages in the country—will “instill discipline in the work-shy.”
According to the BBC, about 400 people were arrested in the capital city of Minsk last weekend during an unlawful protest against the new tax that included “petrol bombs and arms-laden cars.”
Presidential Decree number 3, familiarly known as the “spongers” or “freeloaders” tax, was first signed into law in 2015 and proposed fining people who had not worked for six months.
At the time, Lukashenko contended that the fine would “stimulate able-bodied citizens to engage in labor activity and fulfill their constitutional obligation to participate in financing state expenditures.”
Failure to pay the tax, or take on low-paying menial work, could ultimately result in jail time for non-compliant Belarussians.
The law aims to fight the similar criminal offense of “social parasitism” that was a statute during the Soviet era to punish people who “intentionally don’t work.”
In a country of 9.5 million people, approximately 500,000 are thought to be out of work in an economy that is largely centrally planned and dependent on government intervention.
One of the arrested protesters, Yevgeny Radkevich, a 19-year-old unemployed repairman, was recently freed from a seven-day jail stay and told the AP, “We have to go out and speak of our dissatisfaction so that the government doesn’t consider us to be slaves.”
The protests are against more than the tax. Many people in Belarus have had enough of Lukashenko who has ruled for 23 years and been called Europe’s “last dictator.”
Dissent is usually not tolerated in Belarus. However, in an apparent effort to please the West and reduce Minsk’s reliance on Moscow, the government had allowed prior protests to occur without arrests. In an effort to stop the protests, Lukashenko agreed to delay the initiation of the “freeloaders tax” but refused to rescind the measure, which did little to pacify demonstrators.
The weekend’s arrests indicate that the government’s tolerance has now ceased.
H/T: Heat Street
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