Monday, June 2, 2014

Odd notions from Belarus

Somebody should teach President Lukashenka some history. He is in danger of repeating it, having learnt nothing from it, presumably, forgotten nothing except the outcome. According to this article in Business Insider "Belarus is planning to bring back serfdom".

Serfdom is rather a difficult concept as it means different things in different countries. The serfdom of the high European feudalism was not really like the serfdom in Russia where it went on till 1861. That was more like slavery as the peasants who had originally been tied to the land while their masters were tied to service to the Tsar until Catherine II freed them from it, became, by various gradations, those masters' property who could be bought, sold or gambled away. The difference between that and the slavery in the American South was that the Russian peasants (serfs or slaves) were still liable for military duty and were taxed through their village commune.

Is this what President Lukashenka has in mind? Well, no, not quite.

According to this blog in the Financial Times [you have to register to read it and other blogs but it is free]
Lukashenko has announced plans to introduce legislation prohibiting farm labourers from quitting their jobs and moving to the cities. “Yesterday, a decree was put on my table concerning – we are speaking bluntly – serfdom,” the Belarus leader told a meeting on Tuesday to discuss improvements to livestock farming, reported.

The serfdom decree would beef up the power of regional governors and “teach the peasants to work more efficiently,” Lukashenko said. Governors who failed to ensure timely and efficient harvests in their regions would get the sack, he added.
What it really reminds one of is the position of the peasants in the Soviet Union after collectivization ( the ones who survived the process, the subsequent state induced famine and deportation). They were all members of kolkhozes (collective farms) and sovkhozes (state farms) but, unlike other citizens of that great country, they had no passports by which, of course, I mean internal passports since nobody had foreign ones. Without a passport you could not go anywhere in the country so the peasants were tied to the land. They could not leave their kolkhozes unless their turn for military service came or they were arrested for nor fulfilling their plan or making nasty comments or even jokes about it.

One can't help wondering whether the "Governors who failed to ensure timely and efficient harvests in their regions" would merely get the sack. If so, times have certainly become more lenient but the outcome from the point of view of production will be the same: a disaster.


  1. "...The serfdom decree would beef up the power of regional governors and “teach the peasants to work more efficiently,” Lukashenko said..."

    I think that quote deserves a double facepalm. If they really want the peasants to work more efficiently, why not try something really revolutionary like allowing them to own the land* they work on and/or profit from working it in a free market for their produce.

    *Of course saying that I'm assuming that they don't already own it, but given the context it doesn't seem very likely.

    1. Indeed. And large numbers of porcines are fuelled to take off in the air any minute now.

  2. It sounds a bit like England after the Black Death. Fewer people meant less available labour and wages went up. The Statute of Labourers was supposed to stop that happening but it didn't work very well. Also landlords would compete for the service of each others' villeins, villeins could run away to towns and become free if they stayed away long enough and so on.

    The one thing the landowners did not have then was the possibility of mechanisation . They do now - but I can see where the problem arises in Eastern Europe.

    I used to know a Danish farmer who was an expert on geese. He sold his rearing system in Eastern European countries. At home, he and his wife with occasional help ran a very large unit. In the former communist world, it somehow needed 8 workers to achieve the same output - because of the way they had got used to working when there was no real incentive. Perhaps they should try incentives and a modicum of mechanisation - then they would need fewer peasants.