Accessibility links

Breaking News

'Social Parasite' Fights Back In Belarus

Vital Yurchanka initiated a signature drive for the abolition of legislation to punish "social parasitism."
Vital Yurchanka initiated a signature drive for the abolition of legislation to punish "social parasitism."

Vital Yurchanka once ran a successful business selling shoes in his hometown of Homel, in southeastern Belarus.

The deepening economic crisis in his country recently forced him to close up shop.

Under a new law, Yurchanka is now a "social parasite" and will have to pay $245 a year -- a substantial sum in Belarus -- as a penalty for being unemployed.

The legislation has sparked dismay in Belarus, where many are already struggling to make ends meet.

Yurchanka says the decree smacks of Soviet times, when "parasitism" was a criminal offense known as "tuneyadstvo" and targeted not only those working in underground private ventures but also political dissidents.

"This is like 1937. Go and work or we will force you to," he tells RFE/RL. "I think people will try to express their outrage and they will be right. We must defend our interests."

The new rules, signed into law by Belarus's authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashanka earlier this month, aim to "stimulate able-bodied citizens to engage in labor activity and fulfill their constitutional obligation to participate in financing state expenditures."

Adults who have not paid income tax covering at least 183 days of employment per year will be fined.

Failure to pay the fines will be punishable by additional fines and ultimately by detention followed by community service.

According to the decree, certain categories of citizens are exempt, including students, parents caring for three or more children, minors, and people over the retirement age.

Yurchanka has launched an online petition on the popular U.S.-based website demanding that the controversial new law be scratched.

The petition says the fines violate the constitution, which protects the economic interests of citizens and bans the enforcement of community work without a court decision.

Yurchanka says the constitution also stipulates the government's responsibility to create jobs for all citizens and provide for those who are unemployed.

"A huge number of people work for the government, they receive salaries," he says. "They must come up with a mechanism, this is their job, that's what they are paid for."

The petition has already been signed by more than 25,000 people, many of whom are using the platform to vent their anger.

"So a woman who has three children is good, but a woman who has two children and who brings them up and takes care of the house is now a social parasite?" rages one signatory under the name of Natalya Kazak.

"How can such a decree be passed when there are no jobs in the city?" asks another signatory, Danil Polyakov from the city of Hrodno.

Critics are also poking fun at the law.

A hashtag, #придумайналогдлябеларуси has been created on Twitter inviting users to think up their own, mock tax initiatives for Belarus.

This user suggests imposing a tax on stargazing. "Look at the sky...It's free but not in Belarus."

This one proposes a tax on reading. "You read, you pay. Clever people are proliferating, the country needs workers."

Delivering babies, too, should be taxed in Belarus, quips another user. "Congratulations! You have given birth to another taxpayer! 3200! The cashier is on the first floor!"

Claire Bigg contributed to this report from Prague
  • 16x9 Image

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.