The Administration of the President: Between Scylla of the socially oriented economy and Charybdis of the “wild” oligarchy

Nikolai Burov

Summary

For the Administration of the President (AP) the year 2012 became a year of uneasy search for a new idea which would legitimize the country’s currently occurring transition to full-fledged state-oligarchic capitalism which is supposed to replace the socially oriented economy. During this year the AP and the Government managed to stabilize the social and economic situation in the country and remove from the agenda the question of immediate radical reforms of a neoliberal nature.

Alongside with these measures the AP initiated a number of activities in order to reduce government expenditures on the social sphere including expenditures on favorable terms of housing credit program and on the public administration apparatus. Also, the AP suggested to increase the prices of the communal and health protection services and made certain steps to reform the pension system. Simultaneously certain measures were arranged to prevent a “specialists’ drain” from Belarus.

The concept of modernization was proposed by the AP in order to justify the social responsibilities of the state. Nevertheless, this concept did not acquire any specific content. During the whole year due to the actual redistribution of resources in favor of bureaucratic circles the AP did not decide on changing economic policy and starting political reforms.

Trends:
Searching for a new image of the country

To a large extent the AP’s activities in 2012 were defined by the consequences of the year 2011 which were catastrophic for the Belarusian model of development. Due to the unprecedented economic support by Russia the AP and the Government managed to stabilize the social and economic situation in the country and remove from the agenda the question of the immediate radical reforms of a neoliberal nature. Nevertheless, the AP understands perfectly that the state is not able to conduct large-scale social policy any more. To an increasing degree the expenditures on education, health care, and communal services are being transferred to ordinary people.

Contrary to the previous year, in the year 2012 the AP itself took an active part in this process. For example, on January, 6, 2012 the decree No.13 On certain issues of providing citizens with state support for construction (reconstruction) or acquisition of housing units was signed. Actually, this decree abolished the extremely favorable terms and conditions of the housing credit program which was subject of special pride for the Belarusian authorities. After a certain period of time the employees of the security and military forces had been excluded from the Decree, which emphasized the nature of the new policy in Belarus.

There were attempts to reform the pension system in order to reduce government expenditures and increase the actual pension age. The AP was an initiator of these innovations. A course for gradual increasing the prices in the spheres of health care and communal services was set which is supposed to be implemented fully in the years 2013–2014.

The AP understands perfectly that the price increases should be compensated with a growth in incomes of ordinary people. Also, the AP digested perfectly the lesson of the year 2011. During the whole year 2012 Mr. Lukashenko at least once a month held a special meeting either with the Head of the National Bank Nadzeya Yermakova or with the Head of the Government Mikhail Myasnikovich on the situation in the foreign exchange market. It should be emphasized that the AP paid such a careful attention to a possible devaluation of the national currency in spite of the fact that the year 2012 was extremely favorable for Belarusian foreign trade.

The AP also understands perfectly that gradual reducing the socially oriented policy with the simultaneous intensification of the integration process in the post-Soviet space will unavoidably cause a serious “specialists drain” from Belarus which can dramatically threaten the country’s infrastructure. In contrast to the previous years which can be characterized with the motto “if you don’t like anything in your job – resign,” nowadays the AP takes serious measures in order to reduce the rate of the “specialists drain.” Besides such traditional measures as growth of the average salary to the notorious 500 USD and intensifying work on the people applications (since January 22, 2012 the new law On the work over the applications of citizens and legal entities, which simplifies significantly the procedure of submitting applications) a new, completely unexpected for the country, mechanism was added: an actual prohibition to resign from certain job positions (the decree No.9 of December, 7, 2012 On certain measures on woodworking industry development).

The AP understands completely the insufficiency of the taken measures. The refusal from the socially oriented model should be compensated with a new motto or idea which would hide the real meaning of the occurring processes of the transition to full-fledged state-oligarchic capitalism.

Deus ex machina: modernization

The idea of the country’s modernization became this very idea which is promoted actively by the head of state. Certainly, this term had previously been used by high-ranking Belarusian officials, but it is the year 2012 when the term was used to define the policy which the AP tries to conduct. Modernization is supposed to embrace both the political and economic spheres and, according to the statements of the Belarusian leader, has to become a kind of deus ex machina which will solve all problems of the country’s development at once.

Nevertheless, the AP’s idea on modernization is rather vague. For example, different experts pointed out that the Belarusian authorities considered modernization as simple re-equipment and rehabilitation of enterprises while in many cases this process transforms into illegal application of public funds and increasing pressure on enterprises’ employees. Gradual transfer of social expenditures from the state budget to ordinary people and preservation of the generally ineffective economic administration system can be added to this short list.

The idea of political modernization is not less vague. The discussions about a political reform were initiated by the AP in 2011 but have not lead to any significant results.

The year 2012 began with Mr. Lukashenko’s statements about his readiness to modernize the Belarusian political system (for example, in an interview with Chinese media on January 17, 2012). Then, similar statements were made by the president regularly and became an integral part of all his public speeches. The discussions about a political reform became especially important in connection with the parliamentary elections in 2012 and attempts to restart the dialogue with the West after the events of December 19, 2011. However, an analysis of the president’s speeches reveals that substantial ideas about political modernization are hard to find. The numerous speculations about a possibility to introduce a party list electoral system were not implemented and the head of state himself emphasized repeatedly that such system was premature for Belarus. Moreover, there is no significant progress in the dialogue with the political opponents.

The parliamentary elections in September, 2012 became the most prominent evidence of the authorities’ desire to preserve the status-quo. As well as the previous elections to the National Assembly they were organized under the AP’s full control and their scenario was traditional for Belarus: the future MPs were previously approved, the president’s desire on 30% of women presentation in the Parliament was implemented, the most experienced and reliable MPs saved their mandates etc.

Nevertheless, in public Belarusian high-ranking officials do not deny the possibility of introducing a party list electoral system in the distant future. Certainly, the discussions on this problem will become more active simultaneously with progress in the relationship with the West. In this connection it is necessary to note the serious personnel change in the AP which was expected by a lot of experts: the head of the AP Uladzimir Makei was discharged from the office and appointed as the Minister of foreign affairs. In the system of the Belarusian public administration hierarchy it is considered to be an abasement but from the point of view of the “pendulous” foreign policy which was being conducted by the AP till the end of 2010, it is certainly a wise step. It is not a secret that the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an actual subdivision of the AP. That is why the personality of the new ministry is supposed to demonstrate to the European partners the desire of the official Minsk to strengthen the Western vector in its foreign policy.

Simultaneously it was managed to prevent the appointment of a clearly pro-Russian candidate as the head of the AP. It seems that AndreiKobiakov symbolizes the transitional moment in the development of the country’s policy: from the socially oriented economy to the state-oligarchic capitalism.

In 2012 contrary to the illusive party reform the AP announced the real reform of the state apparatus. Its essence is to reduce the number of public officials on 25–30% and with the saved money increase salaries of those officials who will continue to work. It is planned to reduce primarily the desktop administrators (“more at the top, less at the bottom” as Mr. Lukashenko explained) as well as to decrease the number of the public agencies’ functions. A special committee headed by Andrei Kobiakov and Natalia Petkevich was created for reform preparation. Nevertheless, there is a lack of necessary and accurate information about these reforms. It can be suggested that the reforms will be replaced by a new stage of the struggle between different administrative and economic groups.

What is to be done?

The traditional scenario of the parliamentary elections, the attempts to restart the “pendulous” foreign policy, the limitation of the public administration system reforms, the reversion to the motto “500 USD for everybody,” the image of the president as the “severe and sound steward” from the 1990s are evidence of the serious stagnation at the AP. Three the most vivid manifestations of this stagnation can be detached in the year 2012 which should also become a serious signal for the authorities.

First of all, Lukashenko’s rating is a relatively low – about 30%, in spite of the significant income growth of the population in 2012. Almost all sociologists believe that it is impossible to return to the “social contract” in Belarus. Moreover, it is also believed at the AP. However, the attempts to create a new image of the president failed.

This is illustrated remarkably with the second vivid event which proves clearly the growth of the crisis in the administration system: on December, 17 during his visit to the OJSC Kamvol Mr. Lukashenko ranted at the officials and fired the enterprise’s director. Literally after several days the former director became the technical director at Kamvol. Certainly, this fact does not prove the crisis of power itself but it is a clear signal about the inefficiency of the former methods of administration and about the final formation of the bureaucratic-clientele structure of the Belarusian society.

The latter circumstance is related to the third vivid event: the appointment of the former head of the National Bank Pyotr Prakapovich as the President’s assistant (August) and the actual restoration of Viktor Sheiman’s positions (autumn–winter 2012). It proves not only the serous personnel problems but also the increasing of the AP’s inability to affect the internal struggle among Belarusian elite groups. There is certain evidence of bureaucratic privatization even contrary to AP’s position.

The following conclusion can be made with a certain measure of caution: it seems that the year 2012 became the first year of the beginning of the gradual isolation of the AP in the Belarusian political field. The people want changes, the elites want the changes, and business circles want changes. But only the AP even realizing the necessity of these changes banks stubbornly on the pressure and traditional administration methods of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Conclusion

As well as in 2011, the Administration of the President did not succeed in preparing any suitable plan of reforming the failed socially oriented state. The announced reforms and modernization do not have any actual content and are primarily the consequences of the struggle between the Belarusian elites. Unfortunately, they cannot be considered as attempts to lead the country to a new stage of development. The “cleaning up” of the Belarusian political field which was carried out in 2011 as well as toughening control over the elites have weakened paradoxically the AP itself. Nowadays, it has to cope with those elite groups which form the main support for the current president.