The term ‘welfare queen,’ popularized in the US by fiscal conservatives who bristle at public assistance for the poor, now has an equivalent in Belarus: social parasite. In Belarus, the term isn’t just used in political banter; it’s the basis of a harsh new law aimed at penalizing the unemployed. The new legislation, signed into law by the country’s autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko earlier in April, fines adults who have not payed income tax for 183 days a penalty for being unemployed.
The law states that its objective is to ”stimulate able-bodied citizens to engage in labor activity and fulfill their constitutional obligation to participate in financing state expenditures.”
Radio Free Europe describes a harsher reality: Vitali Yurchanka, a once successful small business owner, had to close his business due to the economic crisis in the country. Now deemed a “social parasite,” he has been fined $245, no small sum in a country under economic duress. Comparing the law to Soviet rules that criminalized “parasitism,” he is fighting back in an internet campaign, including a Change.org petition that has been signed by more than 28,000 people.
“This is like 1937. Go and work or we will force you to…I think people will try to express their outrage and they will be right. We must defend our interests.”
The law comes as Belarus’s economy is projected to shrink in 2015, hit hard by the conflict in Ukraine and the decline of the Russian ruble.