Since 1995, the UN marks December 19 as the Day of Helping the Poor. Is poverty topical to us? Gennady Fedynich and Igor Komlik talk about poverty in Belarus.
The "Belstat" (National Statistics Committee of Belarus) states that 6% of Belarusians live below the poverty line. According to the studies that use other assessment methods, one million in our country live below the poverty line (over 10%). Is it time to talk about poverty as a state-level problem? Questions of the praca-by.info are answered by Gennady Fedynich, the Chairman of the REP Trade Union, and Igor Komlik, the Chairman of the REP's Minsk City Branch and the Chief Accountant of the REP Trade Union.
Gennady Fedynich believes that the problem of poverty in Belarus is not raised because of the feeling of false shame.
"Is the poverty problem topical for Belarus? It seems that they don't speak of it both at the official and at the everyday level..."
"The Belarusians' mentality is that they are ashamed to confess that they are poor. A national programme to combat poverty in Belarus is a long-standing must. In needs not so much huge financial resources, but analysis of the situation: not from bureaucrats' offices, but from travels across localities and talks with people."
"What could be suggested right now to help those living in poverty?"
"There are many ways to combat poverty. Of course, local authorities may offer people to apply for financial help; however, if all those in need apply for it, no budget will be enough. Therefore, we need other approaches. For example, not to tax the profits of those companies, which are engaged in charity, and helping people. Targeted help can be rendered; but how we do it here: on New Year eve officials come, give candies to children, and make a broad TV footage; then, these children and families are just forgotten. Broad public can be involved: raising money and collecting things on a permanent basis. People shouldn't be ashamed of their poverty! It's topical for Belarus; and it must be dealt with."
"Why do they drive pensioners out of metro crossings, where they try selling their homemade cans, greenery and dried mushrooms? Of course, from the hygienic viewpoint it's not very good, but, after all, pensioners have no other choice. I appeal to all Mayors: allocate some roofed warm places for retired people to trade! Don't take money from them for that! It's not for entertainment that old ladies are forced to stand outdoors in nasty weather trying to sell their knitted mittens and socks!"
"Is it reasonable to combat poverty itself instead of its reasons?"
"What I've listed above are just a few examples of how public can help in fighting poverty. But the government should strive to ensure that the so-called 'first-category tariff' (the basis for calculating all social allowances and benefits) is equal to the minimum consumer budget. There is no sense in economy, if a person comes to work and only thinks about how to survive, how to pay communal bills and buy some food. Of course, without restructuring the economy, the poverty problem cannot be solved."
"Sooner or later, people's discontent will burst out, because such poverty gives rise to hopelessness. Yes, people are embarrassed to say openly that they are poor; but it's not their fault. Don't they want to work? This system throws them into poverty."
"Judging by such legal acts like Ordinance No. 3, officials are not at all interested in reducing the number of poor people in Belarus..."
"I admit, with a high degree of probability, that many officials don't fully understand what is happening in Belarus today. Today, the system works like this: if there is not enough money in the budget, it needs to be filled in by any means! They send out demands to endure salaries of 1000 roubles - it's no longer causing laughter, it's sad. The problem is that people see no desire and wiliness of those in power to help them. More and more people are not living – they're surviving. Bureaucrats have only one way out: to work out a roadmap aiming to save people from poverty: the workers who earn shamefully little; and those who are in a difficult situation."
Igor Komlik, the Chairman of the Minsk City Organization and Accountant of the REP Trade Union, believes that the problem of poverty, in particular, of humiliatingly low salaries at large profitable enterprises, originates from the fact that Belarus is not a legal state.
"A well-known truth: a person living in a society can not be free from this society. If we look at economically developed countries, a rich there is inclined to grant patronage – to the culture, or to poor people; the wealthy people are creating charity funds, and so on."
"Why is it not the case in Belarus?"
"Unfortunately, Belarus is not a legal state: businesses are not allowed to develop here; and the head of state says: 'It doesn't matter whether it's legal or illegal, the main point that it's fair,' without specifying where this 'fairness' is directed. In such conditions, people's attitude to capital and prosperity is negative. Owners of large businesses – I admit – either seek the ways to circumvent the law aiming to replenish their wallets, or hide the earnings, so that they couldn't be taken away by our laws, which are built in such a way as to take away what was honestly earned."
"That is, the political system as such prevents businesses from developing, doesn't it?"
"Yes, and this is the source of such businessmen's attitude to their hired employees. Since businessmen have to strain their efforts in the areas away from the production as such, they believe that all the money they have earned belong only to them. For some reason, they don't believe that the money is earned by those very people they've hired. And any attempts to talk with them about decent pay to their workers – not about taking anything away from owners – just about fair remuneration for people's work, alas, are not perceived by them. Those, who run major businesses, have a feeling that they are being robbed; that's why they keep exploiting their workers."
"What do we need to change the situation? Only political will, or is there some potential within the society capable of changing the balance of forces?"
"The society itself is changing; and the new generation won't agree to such working conditions. Changes in Belarusian society are also noticeable in the work of the REP Trade Union: more and more people are now ready to join the trade union. This indicates the people's desire to defend their rights."