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Wheels Come Off Belarus Economy

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MINSK, Belarus (March 22) – In a sign of things to come, workers at the Minsk Bicycle and Motorcycle Factory protested in November about unpaid wages. We used to be proud to work here, one worker said. Now, its a bad joke. So the workers have taken to stealing them and selling them at a discount on the street to supplement their meagre salaries. It is a fitting, if depressing, metaphor for the state of Belarus a nation of ten million people caught in a Soviet time warp on the borders of the EU.

Wheels Come Off Belarus Economy

MINSK, Belarus  – In a sign of things to come, workers at the Minsk Bicycle and Motorcycle Factory protested in November about unpaid wages. “We used to be proud to work here,” one worker said. “Now, it’s a bad joke.” So the workers have taken to stealing them and selling them at a discount on the street to supplement their meagre salaries. It is a fitting, if depressing, metaphor for the state of Belarus — a nation of ten million people caught in a Soviet time warp on the borders of the EU.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, this plant was churning out 860,000 bicycles and 230,000 motorcycles a year, including the iconic 125cc “Minsk”. Fifteen years on, it still produces many of the same models, frozen in time by Aleksandr Lukashenko, the President who resurrected Soviet-style central planning after he took power in 1994.

 

 

Except that today no one wants to buy them. Starved of investment, the bicycles are so shoddy that when one was presented to the President on the plant’s 55th anniversary, it collapsed underneath him. (MH)

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