Belarusian official state symbols only dominate when ensured by authorities
The Belarusian authorities ensured that the official state symbols prevailed at public events to mark Victory Day and the World Ice Hockey Championships opening. Outside formal events, however, the national symbols of Minsk’s guests – Russians in particular – were more visible, mainly because Belarusians are not emotionally attached to the state official symbols while historical symbols are banned.
Using the state symbols during the celebrations to mark Victory Day and the opening of the World Ice-Hockey Championships on May 9th, as well as on May 11th, the National Flag and Coat of Arms’ Day – was a concerted attempt by the Belarusian authorities to demonstrate Belarus’ independence. Amid Belarus’ deeper involvement in the Eurasian integration project and Russia’s actions in Ukraine, threats to Belarus’ independence have increased.
Prior to the Victory Day celebrations on May 9th, the Belarusian authorities directly and indirectly restricted the use of ‘St. George’s ribbons’, which were originally introduced by Russia in 2005 as a symbol of Soviet victory in the Great Patriotic War, and are now extensively used by the ‘separatists’ in Ukraine. Instead, the Belarusian authorities have used administrative resources and quasi-NGOs to disseminate red-and-green ribbons (in the state flag colours) at all public events.
In addition, the authorities have made efforts to limit the activity and ‘visibility’ of Russian fans during the World Ice-Hockey Championships held in Belarus on May 9th – 25th. Public actions by the Russian fans have been banned, such as public demonstrations, as well as organised marches towards grandstands. While covering the Championships’ opening ceremony, the state media ensured a balanced picture as regards a variety of international fans’ national symbols, despite the fact that the Russian fans outnumbered the rest.
On May 11th, Belarus celebrated State Symbol Day, which is marked on the second Sunday of May. By using the state symbols on a mass-scale, the authorities attempted to boost the patriotic moods of Belarusians. As a result, during various celebrations and public events held in May in Belarus, Russia’s visible presence was minimised. Interestingly, outside public events, Belarusians did not use their national symbols, and, as a result, Russian flags were most visible.
By promoting Belarus’ state symbols during the May celebrations, the Belarusian authorities intended to demonstrate Belarus’ commitment to strengthening her independence and sovereignty. Nevertheless, Belarus’ national symbols (slightly modified from Soviet times), which were introduced via the 1995 Referendum, bear no emotional value for Belarusians. They are rarely used outside official public events. Belarusians are more emotionally attached to the country’s historical symbols – the white-red-white flag and ‘Pahonia’ Coat of Arms, which are perceived by the authorities as a threat and are consequently banned.
The recent celebrations have once again demonstrated that Belarusians lack official national symbols to which they can emotionally relate and use to wilfully express support for their country.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.