Hundreds protest in Belarus in support of small businessmen

MINSK, Belarus – More than 500 people marched through the capital of Belarus on Sunday to demand that the government scrap new requirements for small private businesses that they say impose an unfair burden.

The demonstration in Minsk was the largest protest in recent years in the former Soviet republic, where the authoritarian government has shown little tolerance for dissent. Police, however, did not interfere and the march ended peacefully.

The Belarusian government this year began requiring small private businesses to obtain certificates guaranteeing the quality of their products. Business owners say the certificates are far too expensive and take weeks to obtain.

“We’re not against the certification. But why do these certificates cost 5 euros in Europe and in Belarus we need to pay $200 or $100 and spend 20 days to get them?” said Minsk businessman Ales Makayev.

The measure appears to be part of government efforts to increase budget revenues amid an economic crisis in the nation of 10 million.

“This protest may become the first in a chain of unconnected economic protests, which could become a much more serious challenge to the government than the protests by the traditional opposition,” political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky said.

The Belarusian economy contracted 4 per cent last year and the currency has fallen 40 per cent since the beginning of 2015. The government has asked the International Monetary Fund for a loan of $3 billion.