Hi-Tech Park is a unique case in the modern history of Belarus. And this is not just about economic records. Even if the authors and lobbyists of the IT country project don’t realize what they are actually doing, it is a fact that we are witnessing the emergence of Belarusian politics.
By politics, I don’t mean a struggle for power alone. In an authoritarian country, this is only possible with a head-on collision with the ruling authority.
Politics in Belarus doesn’t arise from confrontation, it comes from off-site lobbyism.
Recently, well-known IT businessmen, system old-timers and marketers from the government have developed an alliance. For years they have been promoting their country development project through the state machinery, up to the highest level.
First, it was an unprecedented expansion of benefits and consolidation of a special legal regime for IT, legalization of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Now the ecosystem of the IT sector is expanding to education.
What we see is classic political lobbying. The unusual thing is how effective it became in an authoritarian and hermetic state. Lobbyism is an absolutely normal process for different groups to advance their interests.
It’s just that the IT Alliance was the first of partially non-systemic players in Belarus who decided to get in on a serious deal. After 2017, these people realized that the benefits should be expanded and secured for a long time.
The year of lobbying and Decree No. 8 emerged. Next to the legal system for the whole country, a parallel legal enclave for IT is born. To ensure sustainable growth in the sector, which lacks qualified personnel, IT specialists are expanding their influence.
Now they plan to create their own IT university and an IT courses lending program. So, next to the educational system for the whole country, there will be an educational IT enclave.
Pros and cons
The country’s active expansion of the IT sector has its pros and cons. On the one hand, the industry generates revenues for the state and people. Having more people in the premium salary sector means more wealthy families.
This, in turn, means the development of an IT-oriented services sector, including the entertainment, beauty, catering, banking, taxi, etc. All this increases the share of private and non-resource-based economies.
That is, it makes the most organic contribution to the diversification of the economy, in fact – to the independence of the country. Moreover, it simultaneously improves the quality of human capital.
It’s better when schoolchildren dream of becoming IT professionals than corrupt security forces or employees of oil corporations. On the other hand, IT is washing the best specialists out of the rest of the economy, which accelerates its decay.
There is an effect that writer Victor Martinovich described as Seoul in the centre of Pyongyang. The prosperity enclave with its taxes, laws and education, and a degrading economy with millions of people around it.
Another thing is the growing gap between the regions and Minsk. The last thing Belarus needs is a split between the “spoiled metropolitan elite” and the depressive heartland where all the rest live. There is one more risk for the longer term.
If during a political transit the power weakens, the legal culture doesn’t strengthen and the rule of law doesn’t appear, then a mix of business (albeit a fairly progressive IT) and officials is a direct path to corruption and oligarchy.
It is hard to say whether pros outweigh cons. In my opinion, today the IT Alliance is working for the development of Belarus. Their goals are echoing the recipes that any country that has successfully passed from Soviet stagnation to the market and democracy would give us.
This is the development of the non-governmental, non-primary sector, integration into the global economy, and education with the focus on market demands, and minimal interference by the state and security forces in the economy.
For the same reason, they don’t want the “last European dictatorship” headlines in the Western media. This damages the country’s image. The IT Alliance doesn’t want the collapse of the state, revolution and destabilization.
Therefore, they are unlikely to ever work against the government. Their tactics is redirecting power to the rails which will make it difficult for both present and future government to get off.