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Is Europe's Last Dictator Planning A Return To Serfdom?

December 10, 2012
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Source: Radio Free Europe

Despite a five-year modernization program, Belarus's wood-processing industry just can't hang onto its skilled workers.

Promises of higher wages and more attractive working conditions aren't doing the trick as workers continue to seek more lucrative employment in neighboring Russia.

So President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has come up with a different idea: forced labor.

"A decree is being prepared that says that until the end of the planned modernization and reconstruction of [wood-processing] enterprises [in 2015], workers are forbidden from quitting their jobs," Lukashenka announced during a visit to the Barysaudrev wood-processing plant in Barysau, a bleak industrial city about 40 kilometers northeast of Minsk, on November 30. "Workers cannot quit their jobs without the agreement and permission of the management of the enterprise."

He added that workers who left their jobs despite the warning would be sentenced to compulsory labor and returned to the production line.

The presidential decree codifying the threat was issued on December 7.
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"The only novelty here from the legal standpoint is the concept of forced employment, which is completely illegal," Syarhey Antusevich, deputy chairman of the Belarus Congress of Democratic Labor Unions, said. "I think that maybe the leader of the country just went off on a tangent, as he is sometimes prone to do, and decided to solve some serious, real problems in this way."

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