A Belarusian state-owned bank has reportedly launched a cryptocurrency exchange. But there are fears that the country’s tech industry has collapsed following a summer of protests. Who will it service?
- The state-owned bank of Belarus has reportedly launched a crypto exchange, letting customers buy Bitcoin.
- The crypto exchange may be part of a wider government aim to boost the country’s tech sector.
- Despite sustained growth over the recent years, the tech sector now flees the country following a summer of violent anti-government protests.
The state-owned bank of Belarus, Europe’s most authoritarian country but equally one of the friendliest toward cryptocurrencies, this week launched a cryptocurrency exchange, per local media outlet PrimePress.
The exchange, a partnership between Belarusbank and White Bird, a local cryptocurrency firm, lets Belarusians and Russians buy Bitcoin with a Visa payment card.
The launch is the latest signal that the Belarusian government welcomes crypto—but whereas the government once used crypto to charm tech workers to the country two years ago, unrest in the post-Soviet nation may drown out its “open for business” messaging.
Belarus’s crypto play started in 2018, when the government legalized cryptocurrency trading and granted tax exemptions to individuals and businesses.
It was part of a viral marketing campaign to entice tech companies to set up shop in the country with the promise that it would leave them alone—with much success.
In 2019, the latest year of statistics, Belarus had 1,500 tech companies, accounting for 5.7% of the Belarusian GDP and 50% of its growth last year.
However, many tech workers fled the nation after violent protests broke out this summer when Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s president, sought a sixth term in office.
Lukashenko was secretly sworn in late September; protests continue.
“There are now reports of most software companies moving their operations to Russia, and with that, many engineers relocating to either Russia, Ukraine, or the Baltic states,” Filip Rambousek, a London-based political analyst of Eastern Europe, told Decrypt.
PandaDoc, a large documentation automation firm, had four of its managers in Minsk jailed for supporting the protests. Later, the company conducted an internal survey and found that 8 in 10 of its employees, many Belarusians, simply wanted to leave the country. The office has now relocated to Ukraine.
The protests, and the government’s brutal response to them, knocked out the country’s tech industry. Many of the tech sector workers, generally sympathetic to the anti-Lukashenko movement, are now gone.