Belarus. In January, the regime decided to abolish the visa requirement for Belarus for 80 nationals, including all EU countries and the United States. The freedom of visa is valid for five days for tourists and business people, but not for official travel. Since Belarus and the Russian Federation abolished checks at their common border, the Belarusian visa freedom meant that foreign travelers could enter the Russian Federation as well. Moscow therefore introduced passport control on flights from Minsk and the security service FSB established a security zone along the border, which upset Belarus.
In February, street protests broke out in Minsk against a 2015 decree on a so-called law against social parasites. Anyone who works less than 183 days a year must replace the state with lost tax revenue equivalent to about SEK 2,200 a year. Now it was also suggested that mothers with children under seven would pay the tax if the children go to kindergarten. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians had been required to pay the tax with threats of fines, arrests, forced labor, revoked travel permits or driver’s licenses. In a society where many people lack jobs and struggle to survive, most had no opportunity to pay the tax. Instead, a couple of thousand Belarusians went out in protest of the law, a demonstration larger than in several years.
According to Countryaah.com, the Constitutional Court ruled the decree unlawful, and President Aljaksandr Lukashenka halted the collection of the parasite tax, but the protests continued and spread to several cities. General dissatisfaction with freedom, poor finances and unemployment was alleviated. The country’s economy has been declining for a couple of years, not least because of political and economic conflicts with Moscow. The police took action and arrested over a hundred people, including journalists. In March, about 3,000 people went to Minsk demanding Lukashenka’s departure. In the run-up to the opposition, 17 people were arrested, among them activist Zmitser Dasjkevich. They were accused of preparing an armed action. By the end of March, about 200 people had been arrested, and Amnesty International criticized the regime’s strike. For the first time in a long time, protests were going on all over the country. The police fought to prevent a planned protest and arrested hundreds of people. It affected several NGOs, such as the human rights body Vjasna. Among the arrested were journalists, foreign observers and opposition politician Vladimir Nekliyev who would have spoken at the protest meeting. Spontaneous demonstrations were formed, but police raids were massive and all protests were turned down and protesters were beaten. Roads to Minsk were blocked off. but the police raid was massive and all protests were turned down and protesters were beaten. Roads to Minsk were blocked off. but the police raid was massive and all protests were turned down and protesters were beaten. Roads to Minsk were blocked off.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), many of the hundreds were arrested by police. Of those arrested, 177 were sentenced to fines or imprisonment according to HRW. The UN Human Rights Reporter noted that respect for human rights has drastically decreased in Belarus. According to the reporter, 900 people were arrested in March in actions against protesters.
In October, a couple of hundred people in Minsk demonstrated and demanded the departure of President Lukashenka. They also demanded better conditions in the army, where many conscripts took their lives because of penalism. A couple of regime critics were sentenced to short prison sentences for protests.
Ahead of the EU summit in November on the so-called Eastern Partnership, President Lukashenka was invited to Brussels. It would have been the first time since 1995 that he visited the EU headquarters, but Lukashenka instead sent his Foreign Minister.