Conflict between individual entrepreneurs and Belarusian authority over the conditions of trade caused various evaluations of the positions of conflicting sides and of the role played by individual entrepreneurs in the national economy. In particular, one of the expressed opinions said that in the past, in the nineties, individual entrepreneurs actually played the key role in filling up consumer goods market with cheap goods, but now trading networks squeeze them out and there is no need for their work.

However, results of March 2016 survey invalidates this theory. As you can see from Table 1, entrepreneurs’ strike affected more than half of population and made them buy goods for a price higher than they used to.

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “Since the beginning of 2016 many individual entrepreneurs selling clothes on consumer goods markets stopped their work. Does it influence your well-being?”

Variant of answer %
Yes, I used to buy goods from them, because they were more expensive in other places 54.2
No, I didn’t buy anything from them 19.5
No, I used to buy goods from them, but now I do it in other places 22.4
DA/NA 3.9

Table 2 results demonstrate which parties’ financial well-being was mostly affected by the conflict.

Table 2. Relation between the influence of strike of individual entrepreneurs on people’s lives, financial well-being, and place of residence, %*

Variant of answer Since the beginning of 2016 many individual entrepreneurs selling clothes on consumer goods markets stopped their work. Does it influence your well-being?
Yes, I used to buy goods from them, because they were more expensive in other places No, I didn’t buy anything from them No, I used to buy goods from them, but now I do it in other places
Average per capita income:
Below minimal wage budget (below 1.7 million rubles) 72.5 11.0 12.0
Between minimal wage budget and minimal consumer budget (between 1.7 and 2.7 million rubles) 58.2 19.1 19.4
Between minimal consumer budget and two minimal consumer budgets (between 2.7 and 5.7 million rubles) 46.6 22.4 27.5
Over two minimal consumer budgets (over 5.4 million rubles) 43.0 23.0 26.0
Settlement type:
Capital (Minsk) 52.9 15.7 28.3
Regional center 48.6 17.5 29.5
City (over 50 thousand inhabitants) 51.2 22.4 19.9
Town (below 50 thousand inhabitants) 58.0 18.7 21.0
Village 59.0 22.3 15.1

* The table is read across

It’s not difficult to see that entrepreneurs’ strike affected not only the relatively well-to-do entrepreneurs’ themselves, but also the poorest Belarusians and people living in out-of-the-way places. Minsk citizens and citizens of regional centers have an alternative to customer goods markets, but smaller towns don’t. The state’s war against individual entrepreneurs turned out to be a sensitive blow to the budget of three quarters of the neediest part of population.

It is possible, that the power’s desire to establish order and protect people from production of doubtful provenance was sincere. It is also possible, that it was affected by the relics of home-brewed Marxist education of the adepts of Belarusian “economic miracle” – the wish to “bring the bourgeoisie to the heel” and protect “working class”.

The results turned out to be opposite the people-loving rhetoric of the power: it affected the poorest and the least protected people, the poor majority.

Apparently, this is the reason why in this conflict of the power with its opponents (in this case socio-economic opponents) relative majority of Belarusians support the latter (Table 3).

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “Individual entrepreneurs, selling goods on consumer goods markets, are conflicting with the power over the conditions of work since the beginning of 2016. What is your position in this conflict?”

Variant of answer %
I share the position of individual entrepreneurs 45.0
I share the position of the authority 16.2
I don’t understand the reasons behind this conflict 19.3
I don’t care about this conflict 15.9
DA/NA 3.6

People, supporting individual entrepreneurs in this conflict, are not inveterate oppositionists, at least, not only. According to the survey, only 18% of respondents are in opposition to the current power. The share of people supporting individual entrepreneurs is 2.5 times as high, almost every second respondent.

During the conflict the President harshly spoke against the position of individual entrepreneurs, wording it quite strongly. But he had also mentioned a relation, which is quite grounded: importing cheap clothes from abroad, individual entrepreneurs undermine positions of Belarusian light industry. However, majority of respondents don’t share these evaluations and this opinion of the head of state (Table 4).

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “Recently A. Lukashenko said: “People who import to Belarus raggery of all kinds, even good quality ones, you should understand: all that we import kills our economy, out light industry. All the more so without certificates. Like this we legislate bandits, criminals! We catch some of them, but let others do it”. Do you agree with this?”

Variant of answer %
Disagree 55.2
Agree 33.3
DA/NA 11.5

Explaining the drop of A. Lukashenko’s rating in the first quarter of 2016 (according to IISEPS survey it decreased from 33.3% in December 2015 down to 27.3% in March 2016), people usually refer to the general decrease of life standards, unemployment, communal tariffs’ hike and the initiative on increasing age of retirement.

However, people’s attitude to the conflict between individual entrepreneurs and the power demonstrate that this conflict also made a significant input into the worsening of people’s attitude to the power. Anti-bourgeois zeal and inclination to order turned into a direct blow to well-being of many people, mostly those that have the least means to live.