Authoritarian moves under force majeure circumstances (“Hamlet-like’ dilemma of staying in power) may bring certain ‘attending’ results. I have a couple stories on this topic.
We constantly bring to mind the problem that there is no sociology de facto in Belarus, thus there is also no actual information about mood of people. If we rephrase a well-known saying of Lithuanian semiotic Algirdas Julius Greimas that socialism may be passed from the left and there is a ‘way’ to pass total blocking of information performed by the authoritarian regime. It turns out that virtual space and advanced technologies are particularly suitable for that.
On 23 October Ukrinform informed about a sociological study carried out by Chatman House, the British Royal Institute of International Relations, according to which the candidate of the opposition in presidential election in Belarus Sviatlana Cichanouskaja earned 52.2 percent and the acting president Alexander Lukashenko – 20.6 percent of votes. Over 70 percent of respondents told they considered the result of election fabricated.
Chatman House investigators came to the conclusion after they interviewed 899 citizens of Belarus online (the principle is called Computer Assisted Web Interview, the probability of a statistical errors does not reach 3.27 percent). By the way, 83.9 percent of participants of the current protests that participated in the study of Chatman House told that were not going to give up and would protest until their requirements are satisfied.
Another story unpleasant to the authoritarian of Belarus should be also related to information technologies (IT). Alexander Lukashenko quietly, jealously, scrupulously, involving Chinese investments was developing the sector of Belarusian IT and it was successfully developing. Establishment of Hi-Tech Park (HTP) in 2005 shall be considered as the initial impulse for additional acceleration of IT development in 2014 when residents of HTP get additional benefits from the state at the order of President of Belarus, for instance, they are relieved of all corporate taxes.
In 2019 over 1,000 companies have already been registered with the Park and have 58 thousand people working there. IT sector in 2019 made 6.2 percent and in 2020 – already 7.6 percent of gross domestic product of Belarus (GDP). Around 90 percent of the Belarusian export was travelling to the United States and United Kingdom (UK). The business weekly of the USA The Wall Street Journal called Belarus as ‘the Silicon Valley of Eastern Europe’.
However, after fabricated presidential election ‘unthankful’ IT representatives took the side of the massive protesting Belarusians, especially when the government even resorted terror against them: programmers created web sites designated for the help looking for imprisoned (the number of arrested people grew up to 20 thousand that are arrested for a longer or shorter time since the beginning of protests) or simply kidnapped by the government and to raise funds for those, who became victims of the regime, etc.
IT sector took over the initiative in the information field, too and the regime of Alexander Lukashenko had nothing else to do but announce the online information channel NEXTA-Live (the logotype NEXTA; in Belarusian this word means ‘something’) as the distributor of extremist information and announce prosecution of its team under the order of Minsk court of 20 October. The online news portal reacted immediately and the same day when the court order was announced it cancelled its registration and registered it as HEXTA. According to some sources, its auditorium reaches over 2 million. According to Stepan Putila, 22 years old founder of HEXTA, who resides in Warsaw, only one third of them live outside Belarus, the rest of them are compatriots. Law enforcement institutions of Belarus and Russia are in search of Stepan Putila (for encouragement of the massive riots). He has not been in his motherland since 2018.
It is logical that IT companies are particularly active in the protest movement. People working in this sector are actually representatives of the creative class and cannot stay away from (silently or not) taking the side of the society that demands democratic changes.
Minsk regime has nothing else to do but exert pressure and terrorism. In reply, IT companies also logically started to ‘vote by hands’. Thousands of employees from IT sector in August published an online open letter, where they blamed the Belarusian regime of escalation of the atmosphere of fear and violence and threatened to retreat from their motherland.
Here pragmatic neighbours saw their chance. In September the government of Poland offered Belarusian IT companies and specialists of this sector to move to Poland. To this end it activated the programme ‘Poland Business Harbour’, according to which it promised to help finding an office, assist in bringing their families and attract investments (grants from 1 to 4 million zloty are provided for that). In the interview of Monika Grzelak, a representative of Polish Investment and Trade Agency told to the online portal telix.pl that visas were issued to 790 IT specialists from Belarus. According to Monika Grzelak, the ones who moved, have already considered proposals of Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania, however they managed to attract them to Poland.
Actually, the public officer admitted that development of the programme ‘Poland Business Harbour’ was encumbered by a compulsory reduction of Polish diplomat staff in Belarus, however Poland still continues actively working in this field. This was the attempt of the reply of Alexander Lukashenko, as we know he also made Lithuania significantly reduce diplomatic staff.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed a special decree on 4 October on the matter of attracting IT specialists and tens of Belarusians from this sector moved to Ukraine according to the project ‘IT Relocate Belarusj’ that the Ministry of Digital Transformation is in charge of. Its Deputy Minister Oleksandr Borniakov told Deutsche Welle on 15 October that Ukraine persuaded 1.2 thousand of IT specialists of that country as of the beginning of protests in Belarus and is still negotiating with 15 Belarusian IT companies that decided to open their offices in his country.
The Deputy Minister boasted that he managed to persuade the company Wargaming that relocated one hundred employees to Ukraine. Wargaming is a company creating world-wide known online games such as ‘World of Tanks’ and ‘World of Warships и World of Warplanes’. Another known Belarusian IT company and particularly active supporter of protests PandaDoc opened an office in Kiev. According to its founder Mikita Mikado, Ukraine is digitalizing fast and is becoming the global IT centre (‘hub’), because it creates good conditions for development of this sector.
According to Director of Ukrainian Institute of Socio-Economic Transformations Ilya Neschodovskiy, one IT specialists create added value of around 100 thousand USD. Besides, their flow plays a positive role on the reputation of the country. It is logical that Alexander Lukashenko reacted quite painfully to the aforementioned changes and handed Kiev a note of protest.
In Lithuania the telecommunication company Bitė alongside the public institutions started the work of persuasion of Belarusian IT companies and promised to all companies of this sector that relocate their operations to our country to provide free of charge communication services for 3 months. According to the Executing director of Bitė Pranas Kuisis, at the time being our country lacks about 13 thousand IT specialists – bluster of the Minsk dictator is an excellent chance to add the market with skilled employees and increase competitiveness of the Lithuanian IT sector on the international scale.
Experts from the Estonian company RIA.com Marketplaces, who analyzed the labour market in IT sector established that currently over 26 thousand programmers that make the biggest part of IT sector, work in the Baltic States; in Belarus and Ukraine 70 thousand and almost 200 thousand correspondingly. It is likely that this ratio now is actively distributing.
According to the assessment of the daily Belorusskie novosti, Minsk will lose over 5 percent of the GDP as a result of shrinkage of technological companies. We should add that they are the important source of currency for the sick Belarusian economy. The government even in ‘quite times’ planned to grow the contribution of the digital economy in the structure of GDP of the country up to 15 percent until 2025. We should remind that the IT sector of Belarus already earns more than the agriculture of the country.
Actually, the number of Belarusian programmers escaping from their country almost immediately rose to such a number that was enough to hand a note of protest to Kiev, to ask Poland and Baltic States to drastically reduce the diplomatic embassies in Belarus (so they lacked capabilities to provide services to fugitives). It did not help.
“Business as Usual“– while the authoritarian of Belarus bangs his fist on the table, closes the borders, threatens neighbours to expropriate Belarusian cargos from the neighbour countries, etc. and so on, pragmatic neighbours already compete for its talented compatriots after surprisingly short-sighted politics. As a famous poet told ‘You will not dam the flow of the river...”