Social tensions in the workforce have not decreased
On April 1st, workers at Vitebsk House-Building construction company refused to go to work due to wage delays.
Tensions in the workforce remain high and threaten with social unrest if wages are not paid in time. Workers confine to social protests and enterprises’ management endeavors to meet their demands in shortest time.
The social situation in the workforce in Belarus remains tense. The case in Vitebsk shows that the situation has not changed principally since 2011 crisis, when first strikes in labour collectives started in Belarus. Today and back then workers behave in the same way: if wages are delayed, they refuse going to work until the wages are paid.
Enterprises’ management behaviour is also typical. Trying to prevent unrests, directors quickly pay out wages in full or partially. In particular, Vitebsk House-Building pant management paid 50% salary to the workers and promised to pay the rest within a week. To resolve the conflict, representative of the Architecture and Construction Ministry specially visited the enterprise.
Thus, despite a 20% increase in real wages in 2012, the nature of social protests points to still low living standards of Belarusians, and to that the socio-economic situation has not principally changed since 2011. This trend is more visible in the regions: for instance, Vitebsk region was second from the bottom in the country by the average monthly wage in February 2013.
As in 2011, the local authorities take speedy actions to ‘pacify’ the labour collectives financially. However, there is no trust between workers, enterprises’ management and the local authorities, which implies that even short-term wage delays will immediately result in a surge of protests in the future. Such protests will have social, not political nature, because Belarus’ political forces do not take advantage of such strikes – neither in 2011, nor in 2013.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.