Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has signed a decree imposing fines on the unemployed Reuters

Europe's last dictatorship has made it de facto illegal to be unemployed, introducing a legislation evoking the Soviet-era paradigm that every citizen has a duty to work for the greater common good.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed into law a decree against "social parasitism" imposing a penalty tax on the jobless.

The presidency said the bill aims to "stimulate able-bodied citizens to engage in labour activity and fulfil their constitutional obligation to participate in financing state expenditures," according to the Times of Moscow.

The ruling states that working age Belarusian residents who have paid income tax on less than 183 days a year will be fined 3.6 million Belarussian rubles (£170, $250). Those who do not pay will first face heavier fines and then eventually land in detention and or community service.

"We need to make these people work using any means we know and can handle," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax as the legislation was being proposed last year.

Exemptions have been granted to parents with three or more children, disabled people and those who have reached retirement age.

The decree didn't go down well with everyone, with more than 27,000 people signing an online petition urging Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron grip since 1994, to scrap the law, claiming it is unconstitutional.

"So, a woman who has three children is good while a woman who has two children takes care of their education and of the family house is now a parasite?" a petitioner named Natalya Kazak wrote.

The Belarusian government boasts of very low unemployment rate (close to 1%), partially thanks to the fact that a large part of the population is employed by its large state machine.