$2.9m fine shuts down Soros

May 30, 1997

The Soros Foundation in Belarus has suspended all operations following the impounding of its local bank accounts to pay a $2.9 million fine imposed by the tax authorities.

Ostensibly, the fine is the penalty for certain Soros-funded projects not meeting conditions for tax-exemption - promotion of science, culture, healthcare and environmental protection.

But local Soros workers are convinced that the clampdown is a political move, part of a general drive by President Alexander Lukashenko to bring under his own control or else suppress all private initiatives in the country.

Soros' annual expenditure of $6 million has been a major supporter of all forms of research in Belarus. Its suspension came only a few days before President Lukashenko announced plans to impose strict government controls on science and research.

Under these plans the Belarusian Academy of Sciences will add "National" to its name. Its president will now be ex officio a member of the cabinet, with the rank of a deputy prime minister. This apparent honour brings the condition that the president has to be confirmed in his position by the head of state, Lukashenko himself. The academy has elected a new president, physicist Alexander Voytovich.

Lukashenko's plans include the elimination of all "scum and dross" from the scientific and research establishment and the "government certification" of all research institutions.

This does not mean simply the removal of "dead wood" in the style of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms of Soviet science in the late 1980s. President Lukashenko's aim seems rather to be a political purge.

He particularly criticised the academy's institutes of economics and history, saying they were aimed at destabilising the situation in Belarus.

He singled out a university history text book represented Russia as an enemy of Belarus.

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