Belarus high-tech status in firing line

Demonstration MinskThe Belarus high-tech sector has a lot to answer for, among other things the hugely successful multiplayer gaming platforms Fortnite  (registered users: 350 million) and World of Tanks (75 million). Today, their respective parent companies Epic Games and Wargaming are multinational companies, but both have always retained strong links to the country that educated and nurtured their founders. After President Alexander Lukashenko’s brutal response to the demonstrations that have swept Belarus since the alleged rigging of elections on August 9, that may be about to change.
From Lukashenko’s dictatorially Soviet point of view, popular unrest may be something to be dealt with by force, but the possibility that his actions could trigger a mass exodus of the 1,500 or so companies involved in gaming, product development and general outsourcing should be causing him and his economic planners serious concern. Largely located in and around the capital Minsk, the revenues generated by Belarus high-tech sector had reached $3bn bv 2018, accounting for nearly 6% of GDP.  If, most likely with the help of some muscle from the Kremlin, Lukashenko decides to dig in as The Last Totalitarian in Europe, those figures may end up representing a peak. Arkady Dobkin, founder of Epic Games owners and outsourcing giant EPAM, was one of several leading industry figures to sign an open letter calling for the release of arrested demonstrators and demanding new elections, while  the CEO of Rakuten Viber VOIP software developers Djamel Agaoua told Forbes.ru that the company may halt investments after two of its employees were detained during the crackdown, one of whom ended up in hospital.
“Everyone in the IT community, all Belarusians inside and outside the country were shocked by how blatantly the elections were rigged and by how much violence was applied afterwards,” says PandaDoc CEO Mikita Mikado, a native Belarussan who co-founded his document automation software  company  in 2012. “If this government stays, there will be no PandaDoc in Belarus.”
Belarus High Tech ParkIronically, the Belarus high-tech sector owes much of its recent success to decades of Soviet investment in science and technology followed by the Lukashenko administration’s decision to carry on that tradition by making IT a top development priority. In 2005, it set up the Belarusian Hi-Tech Park (HTP) on the eastern outskirts of Minsk which today is home to nearly 400 companies who between them employ approximately 27,000 software engineers and account for around 30% of the IT industry’s total output. HTP resident-companies are exempt from corporate taxes until 2049, and the process of outsourcing for foreign companies in Belarus has also been simplified. If things don’t change for the better and fast, it may not be enough to keep them all.