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RUSSIAN GUESTS AND A RUSSIAN AIR BASE

The fact that Belarus becomes more and more attractive for tourists from Russia was noted long ago. The Russian “descent” on May holidays, especially in the capital, was also noticed by many people. Almost all newspapers wrote about it; A. Lukashenko himself responded to this public and media stir among the people: “Recently information has appeared that we were pestered by Russians during the May holidays and there was not a vacancy in hotels. Inwardly I am happy about it. I have always dreamt about Belarus becoming a wished for spot where people would aspire to come to. And these are not the poorest people, they have money”.
On the other hand, some mass media presented the increase in the Russian tourists’ flow almost as an invasion of aggressive and vulgar aliens. However, A. Lukashenko also mentioned the “negative moments”: the fact that Russians purchase housing in Belarus is not liked by everybody in the country.
What is the attitude of Belarusian society in general to this phenomenon, what is the balance of positive and negative assessments? The data of Table 1 give an answer to the question.

 

A considerable share of positive answers motivated directly by the cultural nearness, corresponds to the data of IISEPS previous opinion polls, according to which Russians are the closest people for Belarusians in a purely human sense. This is also confirmed by the answers to other questions of the June poll: 54.8% agreed with the point from the president’s yearly message that “Russia, the Russian people and Belarusians are a single whole, they are one tree” (31% did not agree), and answering the question about the peoples closest to Belarusians according to their national character, culture and traditions, 46.9% named Russians.
It can be assumed that in the positive “market” answers to the question of Table 1 an attitude to Russians is also present in a latent form – it is not obvious that the same large number of respondents would express a positive attitude to the tourists enriching the country if the matter concerned, for instance, the Arabs, Chinese or Caucasus residents, the social distance with whom is huge.
The data of Table 1 let us estimate the potential of resentment against tourists from Russia, too. It equals approximately 15%.
A hypothesis can be suggested that an attitude is closely connected with political preferences: adherents of European integration, opponents of A. Lukashenko estimate the growth in the numbers of Russian guests negatively, and people sticking to the opposite opinions – positively.
Table 2. Connection of the attitude to Russian tourists with age and political preferences*, %

Characteristics
Attitude to Russian tourists
It is positive, because they are people kindred to us
It is positive, because the more tourists, the richer the country
It is indifferent
It is negative, I don’t like the way they behave
It is negative, they buy up our goods and housing
Age
18-29
26.4
32.1
33.0
9.5
6.6
30-59
28.9
34.6
29.7
7.0
7.6
60 +
41.5
21.5
25.6
10.2
9.3
Region
Minsk
23.8
24.6
52.0
6.1
4.8
Minsk region
32.0
35.4
23.2
10.5
6.1
Brest and its region
28.5
44.1
29.0
5.6
1.9
Grodno and its region
41.7
32.2
18.9
11.4
5.1
Vitebsk and its region
29.4
34.3
26.8
11.1
12.2
Mogilev and its region
18.2
40.9
29.0
2.8
13.1
Gomel and its region
45.9
11.4
18.3
11.4
13.1
Who are the Belarusian people closer to?
To Russians
43.4
29.2
25.2
2.8
5.9
To Poles
17.9
28.8
30.1
18.6
10.3
To Ukrainians
35.4
25.0
30.0
13.9
6.3
To western Europeans
15.4
61.5
23.1
7.7
7.7
To Lithuanians
20.8
41.7
8.7
41.7
13.0
They do not resemble anybody
17.6
33.3
37.3
9.5
9.4
If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what choice would you make?
Integration with the RF
50.8
28.7
25.6
3.4
3.2
Joining the EU
16.3
33.5
32.4
12.2
10.3
Do you trust the president?
I do
39.6
30.0
26.8
5.5
7.8
I do not
19.7
32.2
33.4
11.7
8.0

* Table is read across
As it follows from Table 2, the hypothesis turned out to be partly correct, political preferences do not change the hierarchy of assessments: an overwhelming majority among supporters of the president and integration with the RF takes a favorable view of the “influx” of the Russian tourists; among the president’s opponents the same estimation is also given by a majority. The geopolitical choice proves to be a more contrasting factor. A virtually equal share of those who are scared by the Russians’ buying-up the goods and real estate among supporters, as well as among opponents of the president, draws attention to itself.
Attitude to the Russian tourists proved to be not much dependent on age, although among respondents of the older generation there are more of those who preferred positive cultural motivation; among the youth there are more of those who mentioned “market”, but also positive motivation.
As for the regions, the lowest positive assessments of the guests from Russia are given by the capital; nevertheless it is almost every second polled resident of Minsk. In the eastern regions of the country a relative prevalence of negative assessments of the visiting Russians should be mentioned.
Connection of the question with the assessments of nearness of Belarusians with different peoples springs a small surprise. It is natural that those who think that Belarusians are close to Russians are inclined to positively assess tourists from Russia to the fullest extent. They are followed by those who identify Belarusians with the peoples of Western Europe, according to the degree of the assessments positiveness. Surprisingly, but respondents supposing that Belarusians are close to the neighboring peoples of Eastern Europe – Poles, Ukrainians and Lithuanians – are inclined to assess the guests from the East positively least of all. One’s attitude to the visiting Russians turns out to be a peculiar projection of the attitude to them of the peoples that respondents consider close to Belarusians.
If the attitude to the civil guests from Russia is in general positive, then the attitude to the prospects of appearance of allies in military uniform on the Belarusian land is more likely negative (Table 3).

 

At the same time, the negative attitude is peculiar to a relative majority of respondents only; the news about the appearance of a Russian air base left almost the same number of respondents indifferent.
Young people are indifferent to the given question to a greater extent than other age groups; more often negative assessments are given by the older generation (Table 4). Perhaps, the traditional Belarusian maxim – as long as there is no war – common exactly to the older generation, works here. Appearance on one’s land of allied but nevertheless foreign soldiers can be connected in these people’s imagination namely with the prospects of a war.
Table 4. Connection of the attitude to the prospects of deployment of a Russian air force base in Belarus with age and political preferences*, %

Characteristics
Attitude to the deployment of a Russian air force base in the RB
Positive
Indifferent
Negative
Age
18-29
19.2
39.3
33.0
30-59
18.8
35.7
36.8
60 +
22.7
31.4
37.4
Who are Belarusian people closer to?
Russians
24.6
40.1
26.0
Poles
16.0
29.5
49.4
Ukrainians
15.0
30.0
45.0
Western Europeans
23.1
36.5
36.5
Lithuanians
16.7
12.5
62.5
Belarusians do not resemble anybody
15.2
34.9
43.2
If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what choice would you make?
Integration with the RF
31.1
39.7
23.3
Joining the EU
12.7
34.7
47.1
Do you trust the president?
I do
26.0
34.5
31.2
I do not
14.5
35.8
43.2

* Table is read across
The cultural nearness parameter demonstrates the same outcome as with regard to the Russian tourists: those who consider that Russians are closer to Belarusians than anybody else, are disposed to assess appearance of an air force base positively to the fullest extent (although even among them the ratio is approximately the same); they are followed by respondents who think that Belarusians are close to western Europeans.
A geopolitical choice and attitude to the president are connected with the question under consideration closely and plainly: those who declare for Europe and do not trust A. Lukashenko are against the base to the utmost. The correlation, however, is irregular: even among adherents of the president there are also more opponents of the base appearance than supporters. Only the geopolitical choice in favor of Russia gives slight preponderance to the supporters of the base.
Thus, Belarusian society on the whole demonstrates a rather cool attitude to the appearance of a Russian air force base in Belarus, which in theory should protect Belarus from the NATO military threat. Hence it is easy to conclude that not all Belarusians share the concept that such a threat actually exists. This is also confirmed by their attitude to the apocalyptic scene of the world described by head of state not long ago (Table 5).

 

There are somewhat more of those who agree with the scene described by A. Lukashenko, than supporters of deployment of a Russian air force base in the RB; there are somewhat fewer of those who do not agree with the president than of air force base opponents. The indifferent ones make up a relative majority. As a consequence, just a minority supports the philosophy of the country’s openness to the West, as well as the philosophy of a “besieged fortress”.
The balance manifests itself in the dynamics of geopolitical priorities, too. They are notable for high stability in spite of sometimes sharp fluctuations. Later the changes are, as a rule, made up for, maintaining essentially a zero trend – a rough parity among supporters of the choice in favor of Russia or Europe. The data of the June opinion poll confirm the regularity to the full (Tables 6-8).

 

 

 

Thus, the data of the June opinion poll show that Belarusians treat Russians with affection, including those who come to Belarus. However, the citizens of Belarus have appreciably much less liking to the military projects of the RF and the RB. The opinions divide approximately fifty-fifty with regard to the threat on the part of the West. There is also a balance between the geopolitical choice of “Belo-Russians” and “Euro-Belarusians”.