Alarmed by the "suitcase trade" conducted by Belarusans with neighboring Poland, the Belarusan authorities have moved to limit what its citizens may import from Poland in private cars. They have also introduced costly new restrictions on the invitations that Belarusans must receive in order to cross the Polish border. While the effectiveness of these restraints remains to be seen, they do seem likely to criminalize the small-scale trade that is largely unregulated in most other CIS countries, and which helps many individuals to supplement meager incomes earned in the official economy.
According to Polish press reports (Donosy, January 5), prior to the new restrictions Belarusans were major purchasers of clothing, meats, and potatoes at the large open-air markets that have sprung up in Poland since 1990 to service the needs of Poland’s "Eastern clients." Once brought back to Belarus, these goods were either consumed by their purchasers (meat and other foodstuffs were subject to rationing in Minsk last year) or were resold on private markets, where, according to the Belarusan Statistical Ministry, as much as 70 percent of Belarusan trade was conducted in 1997. (Russian agencies, January 3) In order to earn the zloty needed to finance these purchases, Belarusans are alleged to sell smuggled vodka in Poland.
Concerned perhaps by Belarus’s burgeoning trade deficit and the more confrontational policies adopted by Poland’s new anti-Communist government, the authorities in Minsk have prohibited the private import of goods in greater amounts than what can fit into the baggage compartment of a private automobile. Moreover, as of mid-January Belarusans wishing to travel to Poland can do so only on the basis of an invitation; and they must pay $20 to process the invitation with the authorities. (By way of comparison, the $20 charge is nearly three times the national minimum wage. [Itar-Tass, January 3])
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