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From Belarus With Love — Part II: “Techwashing” an Autocratic Regime?

Series parts:

  1. From Belarus With Love — Part I: Schizophrenic EPO Policy
  2. YOU ARE HERE ☞ “Techwashing” an Autocratic Regime?

The High Technologies Park in Minsk
The High Technologies Park in Minsk - an "extraterritorial" Digital Economy hub - was set up in 2005 by a decree from the Belarusian despot Alexander Lukashenko.

Summary: A quick history of the High Technologies Park of Lukashenko; EPO President (despot) Battistelli and his friend Campinos have outsourced some of the EPO's operations to this "pet project" of Lukashenko

For those who are unfamiliar with the country, it may be worth mentioning that Belarus is a former Soviet Republic which has been "presided" over for almost three decades by Alexander Lukashenko, a mustachioed former collective farm boss, who rules the land with an iron fist.

Back in the early years of the new millennium, Lukashenko was persuaded by his advisors that it was time to move Belarus into the twenty-first century and claim a local slice of the action in the global "Digital Economy".

"Tsepkalo was appointed as the HTP's "Director of Administration" and he remained in charge of the project until he was dismissed by Lukashenko in 2017."Back in the early years of the new millennium, Lukashenko was persuaded by his advisors that it was time to move Belarus into the twenty-first century and claim a local slice of the action in the global "Digital Economy".

And so it came to pass that the Belarus High Technologies Park (HTP) was established by Presidential Decree in September 2005.

The HTP was the brainchild of Valery Tsepkalo, a Belarusian politician, diplomat, and advisor to Lukashenko. He wanted to show that “Belarus can be associated not only with farmers and with potatoes.”

Tsepkalo was appointed as the HTP's "Director of Administration" and he remained in charge of the project until he was dismissed by Lukashenko in 2017.

Valery Tsepkalo
The Belarus HPT was the brainchild of Valery Tsepkalo (l.), formerly a close associate of the country's autocratic leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

The HTP operates as a "special economic zone" - an extraterritorial enclave with its own legal regime - where IT companies receive substantial tax benefits and preferences. Most importantly, under the protection of the government, HTP "residents" are free from most of the day-to-day problems typically encountered by domestic private companies in Belarus, in particular the headaches caused by local bureaucracy and administrative corruption.

HTP tax rates
Companies that qualify as HTP "residents" benefit from the special tax regime of this extraterritorial enclave.

"The HTP operates as a “special economic zone”..."The HTP got off to a promising start and it gave Lukashenko something to brag about. Some critical observers saw it as a convenient PR tool for "techwashing" his autocratic régime.

During its first decade and a half, the HTP was something of a success story and it provided useful PR material for "techwashing" Lukashenko's autocratic regime.

We will return to the HTP later on in this series when we will look at how the Belarusian high-tech dream turned sour in 2020.

But in the next part we will have a look at how Lukashenko's "Digital Economy" project started to attract positive media attention abroad, in particular in Germany, and how this helped to raise the international profile of the HTP's resident companies.

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