Last May, Roman Kuzmenkov, a member of the REP Trade Union, went out to the monument to Lenin in the city of Orsha, Vitebsk Region, with a self-made poster "There is no USD 500 here!" In Belarus, "USD 500" is a meme. President Lukashenko promised the average salary of USD 500 per month to his citizens back in 2005. However, the reality is such that even half of this amount in Belarusian province remains a dream, the DW writes.
For his unsanctioned protest, Roman Kuzmenkov, was kept in jail for 24 hours, taken to a psychiatric examination, and finally fined. At the same time, authorities tried to find a job for him, but, within six months, failed to find a decent one for him; and Roman has again warned the authorities about his upcoming picket.
The magic figure of BYN 400
"All vacancies in Orsha, as enchanted, revolve around the figure of BYN 400," says Roman Kuzmenkov. "But at today's exchange rate it's only USD 187 (or just over 12,000 Russian roubles)." During the seven months elapsed since his first picket, at least ten times he visited the city administration, the employment centre and the so-called "parasite commissions", intended to help "those not employed in the country's economy" to avoid paying "fat" utility bills under Ordinance No. 1. In words, he was offered very attractive employment options, recalls Kuzmenkov, but they all turned out to be a hoax.
For example, the commission offered him the highest paid vacancy "up to BYN 800." But when he came to the employment centre, it turned out that it was in fact worth BYN 600 roubles, and the workplace itself was in Minsk, where he had to travel to a construction site on the rotation basis. Other vacancies, which promised BYN 600, turned out to be "salary, depending on sales"; and people, who work there, said that they in fact receive less than BYN 400. Thus, during six months, he did not dare to get employed anywhere.
At first glance, Roman admits, his demand for the salary of USD 500, promised by the president, looks like a freak. But when we look into his expenses our opinion will change. For a long time, he worked for BYN 300 per month, of which a third he had to pay for utilities in winter. The remaining BYN 200, when divided by 30 days, made BYN 6.66 (currently, EUR 2.73) per day for survival. Minus one rouble for public transport to get to the workplace and back, and it's obvious that three meals a day are impossible.
How to survive?
Besides, Roman Kuzmenkov continues, over the past year prices have scaled up sharply in Belarus. In 2019, surviving for BYN 400 a month will be harder than for BYN 300 roubles last year. In Russia, the "trick" with selling nine eggs instead of ten for the same price caused a nationwide outrage; while in Belarus, a pack of butter of 160 grams instead of 200 for the same money, a 0.9 litre of milk and 0.85 litre of sunflower oil for the earlier cost of one litre is a long-standing norm.
His picket was a step of despair, Roman explains. While his grandmother was alive, her pension was added to the family budget; and she also cultivated a small garden, where she grew vegetables. Thanks to this, the family survived, but after her death, the man fell into a hopeless despair. On the eve of the New Year, he had to sell his computer to pay the utility bills.
Vasily Beresnyov, an activist of the Orsha branch of the REP Trade Union, believes that a jobless person won't be able to find a vacancy of above BYN 400 per month, because there are just no such vacancies in Orsha.
After the 2017 "Marches of Non-Parasites", the Orsha branch of the REP Trade Union, where Roman Kuzmenkov is now a member, grew from almost zero to more than a hundred members. And the authorities, Mr Beresnyov has noted, listen to activists and agree to dialogue, "but the city leadership itself is in a hopeless situation."
Once, the local employment centre was recognized as one of the best in the country in working with population, Vasily continued, and, at the trade union's suggestion, even publishes vacancies in a local newspaper. But up to 80 percent of these vacancies turn out to be fakes! Union activists held a specific monitoring and made inquiries to personnel departments, whose employees confessed that there were actually no announced vacancies.
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