Alexander Lukashenko has ruled the European nation and former Soviet republic of Belarus with an iron fist since 1994. Ranked at 141
in last year's world ranking of quality of life, many workers prefer to flee to neighbouring Russia. Now Lukashenko has announced a measure that could force Belarusians to remain in the country as forced labour.
reported that in order to stem the exodus of workers from the country's wood-processing industry, Lukashenko issued a presidential decree on Dec. 7. The President announced:
"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. Workers cannot quit their jobs without the agreement and permission of the management of the enterprise."
"You will be sentenced to compulsory labor and sent back here if you leave" Lukashenko warned workers at the Borisovdrev wood-processing plant in Borisov, the Moscow Times
reported. The Borisovdrev plant is 100 percent state owned.
Independent Minsk analyst Alexander Klaskovsky commented on the decree, saying: "Amid a severe economic crisis, Lukashenko is launching a risky experiment that could later be spread to the entire economy. It amounts to Lukashenko introducing elements of slavery in 21st-century Europe."
Currently forced labour in Belaraus is illegal. According to the Belarus Digest
"Belarus has the least employee-friendly employment system in Europe, which strips workers of any protection in their relations with employers. A 1999 presidential decree effectively made much of the Labour Code a dead letter and launched a massive compulsory introduction of temporary contracts to strengthen authoritarian consolidation in the country."
Lukashenko revels in the notoriety of dictatorship, saying
: "I am the last and only dictator in Europe."