Protests against "parasite" tax staged in regional capitals

Hundreds of people took to the streets in four regional capitals in Belarus on Sunday to protest Alyaksandr Lukashenka's April 2015 decree that imposed the so-called "social parasite" tax on people with no formal source of income.

The largest protest was reported in Homyel, where an estimated 2,000 people gathered in Uprising Square and walked in a procession along central Savetskaya Street to Lenin Square, where the march ended with a rally.

Up to 1,000 people demonstrated in downtown Mahilyow. Addressing the crowd, Uladzimir Shantsaw, leader of the Mahilyow regional chapter of the United Civic Party (UCP), called for signing a petition demanding the recall of House of Representatives member Alyaksandr Staravoytaw for supporting the controversial tax. UCP Chairperson Anatol Lyabedzka, who had traveled to Mahilyow from Minsk, urged the participants to attend a March 15 demonstration against the tax in the Belarusian capital.

In Vitsyebsk, around 200 people gathered in Victory Square, discussing the decree and the tax.

The smallest crowd was reported in Brest, where roughly 100 people walked in a procession from Adam Mickiewicz Street to Lenin Square to express protest against the tax. The event lasted just about 30 minutes.

The protests were attended by young and elderly people alike, as well as parents with children. Some were seen holding up signs that read, "I am not a parasite!" Many expressed anger that the tax had been introduced amid rising unemployment and falling incomes. Condemning the government, some participants said that it was Alyaksandr Lukashenka and top government officials who were the "biggest parasites."

Observed by plainclothesmen, all of the protests appeared to pass off without incident. No arrests were reported, although none of the demonstrations had been authorized by local authorities.

The demonstrations took place two days after up to 3,000 people marched through central Minsk in what was called the March of Angry Belarusians and became the largest anti-government street protest in five years.

On April 2, 2015, Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed Decree No. 3 titled "On Preventing Social Parasitism" for the declared purpose of "prompting able-bodied people to work and ensuring that they carry out their constitutional duty of participating in financing public expenses."

Under the decree, people who officially worked for less than 183 calendar days in the year of assessment must pay an annual tax equal to up to 20 times the Base Rate, or some $240 at present.

People may be fined two to four times the Base Rate or jailed for failure to pay the tax.