Belarus, the only European country led by a dictator, wants to become a hub for the digital and crypto industries.
A lot of countries are looking to emulate the success of Crypto Valley in Zug, Switzerland. The potential financial windfall of being the leader in the next technological revolution is enormous, which is why countries like Malta are rolling out the red carpet for blockchain and cryptocurrency startups. The latest entry on this crypto playing field is an unusual one – Belarus.
Old School Dictatorship
Belarus is a landlocked Eastern European country. It’s also possibly the closest approximate one could get to the old USSR. The country is led by President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled with an iron fist since 1994.
Lukashenko is the last true dictator in Europe, and he has kept many of the USSR-era components of state communism up and running. A large chunk of the economy is controlled by the central government, and the country still boasts a secret police, who happen to still be called the KGB. Elections are a joke, and Belarus has the lowest Democracy Index in all of Europe.
Yet Lukashenko wants Belarus to become a major and thriving hub of the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries. To that end, he signed a decree in December 2017 that promised incentives and tax breaks to technological startups.
Tech in Belarus Is Surprisingly High
One would think that having a dictator in charge and Soviet-era economic planning would be the least hospitable atmosphere for technological and business innovation. Yet Belarus has some surprises up its sleeve.
The country boasts some achievements for the tech industry. The creator of the insanely popular World of Tanks is a citizen (not to mention he became the country’s first billionaire due to the online game). A mobile app, MSQRD, developed in the country was recently bought by Facebook, and another startup that specialized in video transformations was snapped up by Google.
The brain power for pushing the technological envelope for blockchain and cryptocurrency is there. The country has a strong university system that churns out a flood of highly qualified engineers. Nikolai Oreshkin, a managing partner at Elysium Venture Capital, notes:
Belarus has good tech schools which educate talented engineers, but there is a gap in the business component. That is why we see a number of great outsourcing companies and freelancers out of Belarus, but not that many HQs of large tech companies.
The main difficulty is on the business side. Still, there are now over a hundred startups in the country. The newly-graduated engineers that used to leave the country for greener pastures are now choosing to stay home as they can command really good pay. In fact, competition for space in the capital city of Minsk is fierce. One startup owner says that “everything’s been rented out, the industry is developing even faster than we expected.”
One wonders if the Crypto Valley promise dreamed of by President Alexander Lukashenko will bear fruit. Will the government swoop in and take control of companies once they become profitable? How hands-off will the authoritative, communist-style government actually be? Then there’s the fact that Lukashenko is 64 years old. What happens if he were to pass in the next few years?
Do you think Belarus will become a major crypto and blockchain hub? Let us know in the comments below.
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