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ATTITUDE TO SEPARATISM IN BELARUS: “DOVES” AND “HAWKS”

Threat of separatism in Belarus doesn’t seem currently important. Over all the years of independence there was only one faint resemblance not even to separatism, but to protoautonomism – movement “Polisse”. This movement quickly came (and was brought) to nought amid harshly negative attitude of all Belarusian political elite of that time. Moreover, we may add that ethnically Belarus is rather homogenous; there are no regions with high shares of representative of non-title ethnos.
However bolts sometimes come from the blue. Centuries-old experience of Englishmen and Scots living in the same country never resulted in a referendum before. And Donbass people didn’t seem so different from the rest of Ukrainian people up until recently.
In a word, in current international context the question on the reaction of Belarusian society to hypothetical separatist aspiration is not devoid of sense (Table 1).

 

Opinions about desired actions in response to separatism were divided almost into two halves. 46.3% of respondents in one form or another are ready to recognize legitimacy of such initiative, though only 10% of them are ready to let their fellow countrymen decide their fate by themselves (a Scottish variant, conditionally speaking). Negotiations is a somewhat more tough reaction; it makes provision for recognition of legitimacy of separatist demands, but it doesn’t stipulate that government will necessarily agree with any form of a “ivorce” desired by separatists or will even agree with it in any form. To wide extent negotiations is also the Scottish variant: there were long negotiations between London and Edinburgh before this year’s referendum in Scotland.
However, the relative majority is much less complacent. 49.3% of respondents say “no” to this hypothetical initiative. 18.4% say “no” with a certain taint of slyness. They seem to recognize legitimacy of similar demands, but there is no need for L. Yermoshina to foresee the results of an all-Belarusian referendum on separation of some region. Opinion of 30.9% of respondents is devoid of any form of slyness: they suppose that such pretensions should be answered with force. 14% of respondents consider that all means are admissible, even an anti-terroristic operation.
The connection between the question under investigation and the age is insignificant. The only thing worth mentioning is the fact that respondents of senior age are less inclined to a liberal solution: the number of “doves” is the smallest among them and the number of supporters of military resistance to separatism is the biggest (Table 2).
Table 2. Connection between the answers to the question on reaction to hypothetical separatism in Belarus, socio-demographic characteristics and political preferences*, %
Characteristics
If an initiative of separation from Belarus appeared in some region of Belarus, which actions should Belarusian power take?
“Super-doves”**
“Doves”***
“Hawks”****
“Super-hawks”*****
Age:
18-29
10.9
45.1
49.1
30.7
30-59
10.3
47.7
48.8
30.3
60 +
8.3
44.3
50.6
32.6
Education:
Primary
4.3
50.5
46.3
27.7
Incomplete secondary
12.3
39.9
54.2
36.6
Secondary
10.5
44.7
51.1
31.7
Vocational
11.6
50.4
46.6
29.5
Higher
7.2
45.6
48.3
29.6
Do you consider yourself closer to Russians or Europeans?
Russians
10.8
45.8
49.3
31.8
Europeans
7.8
47.5
49.6
28.5
Do you trust the President?
Trust
11.9
46.0
50.3
34.9
Don’t trust
7.2
48.0
47.6
26.9
Do you think that Belarusian opposition understands issues and cares of people like you?
Yes
12.6
48.7
45.9
22.0
No
8.7
45.5
50.9
35.4
Do you agree that “a patriot should support power whatever it may be”?
I agree
12.0
36.7
60.1
44.9
I rather agree
11.0
42.9
52.5
35.2
I rather disagree
10.6
48.9
46.6
26.0
I disagree
7.9
50.0
46.9
30.1
If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what choice would you make?
Integration with the RF
10.2
43.8
52.8
32.7
Joining the EU
10.8
51.6
44.3
29.5
How objective are the news in Russian news programs?
Completely objective/ Mostly objective
10.2
47.6
47.3
31.0
Completely biased/Mostly biased
8.1
44.3
52.4
34.3
How do you evaluate the annexation of Crimea by Russia?
It’s an imperialistic usurpation and occupation
12.3
48.7
47.2
32.5
It’s a restitution of Russian lands and reestablishment of historical justice
9.2
46.0
51.1
29.9
How do you evaluate the use of armed forces by Ukrainian powers in Spring 2014 for the restoration of control over Donbass?
It’s a crime, a war against their own people
12.2
48.7
47.5
28.6
It’s a lawful neutralization of an armed rebellion
6.1
38.9
57.2
35.0
It’s a severe, but a forced measure
6.0
45.6
50.2
34.3
* The table is read horizontally
** Respondents who had chosen the variant “To carry out a referendum on separation in this region”
*** Respondents who had chosen the variants “To carry out a referendum on separation in this region” and “To negotiate with people desiring this separation”
**** Respondents who had chosen the variants “To carry out a national referendum on separation of this region”, “To put under arrest the instigators of the initiative”, “To suppress this initiative by all means”
***** Respondents who had chosen the variants “To put under arrest the instigators of the initiative”, “To suppress this initiative by all means”
The number of “super-doves” is slightly bigger among the supporters of the President than among his opponents; at the same time there are much more “hawks” and “super-hawks” among them. Connection with the attitude to opposition is even clearer: there are much less of “super-doves” and much more of “hawks” and “super-hawks” among those who suppose that opposition doesn’t reflect interests of people like them. Adepts of paternalistic view on patriotism are inclined to resist separatism to a record high extent.
It is revealing that among “Belo-Russians” there are more advocates of separatism suppression than among “Euro-Belarusians”. Though there is nothing surprising about it. Scotland, where the problem was solved by means of a peaceful electoral procedure is a part of Europe. Supporters of integration with Russia may approve Russian policy in Ukraine: Moscow supports separatism there. But geopolitical choice is also connected to a certain political philosophy. And Russia very openly showed their philosophy in Chechnya.
Ukrainian context, however, influences the answers to a certain extent, causing a cognitive dissonance among some of respondents: their political philosophy, their worldview push them to prefer the tough variant towards Belarusian separatism. But the tragedy in Donbass, the fact that keeping territorial integrity may cost a lot of blood including blood of innocent people, the fact that Russia supports separatism in Donbass and demands negotiations with separatists from Kiev – all these fact “break the mould” of some pro-Russian Belarusians.
That is why respondents that trust Russian TV and share Moscow’s position on Crimea and Donbass are somewhat more liberal about hypothetical separatism in Belarus than those who don’t trust Russian TV and don’t approve Russian policy in Ukraine.
Answers to these questions show that, despite an evident assumption, supporters of Moscow’s policy in Ukraine and adherents of Belarusian power are overlapping but not coinciding sets. People who share Russian TV’s position towards Ukraine are more lenient to a prospect of separatism in Belarus than all respondents in average. And the adherents of paternalistic political culture and President’s supporters are more severe than all respondents in average.
In fine it should be established that in general differences between socio-demographic groups and groups with different political setups in their attitude to hypothetical separatism in Belarus are not really big. However, adherents of the current order are less inclined to a tolerant attitude to this phenomenon, as a rule. In general, separatism in Belarus, if it emerges one day, will face quite a negative massive reaction. Almost one third of population will refuse any legitimacy to similar inclinations from the very beginning and will advocate a military response to this initiative.