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FACTORS OF A GEOPOLITICAL CHOICE

In the course of the December opinion poll respondents were asked traditional questions about their geopolitical orientation. Trends of the answers to the corresponding questions are presented in the following tables (Tables 1-3).

Table 1. Dynamics of answering the question: “If a referendum on Belarus integration with Russia were being held today, how would you vote?”, %

Variant of answer

11’99

10’01

12’02

03’03

06’04

11’06

12’07

12’08

09’09

12’10

03’11

06’11

12’11

For integration

47.0

51.3

53.8

57.5

42.9

46.4

43.6

35.7

39.1

29.8

29.2

31.4

29.0

Against integration

34.1

26.4

26.3

23.8

25.0

33.5

31.6

38.8

40.6

46.9

53.1

47.8

42.9

 

Table 2. Dynamics of answering the question: “If a referendum on the question whether Belarus should enter the European Union were being held now, what choice would you make?”, %

Variant of answer

12’02

03’03

12’05

11’06

12’07

12’08

12’09

12’10

03’11

06’11

12’11

For

60.9

56.4

36.7

36.6

37.1

30.1

40.7

35.3

48.6

45.1

35.9

Against

10.9

11.9

38.3

36.2

35.0

40.6

34.6

40.6

30.5

32.4

36.9

Table 3. Dynamics of answering the question: “If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what choice would you make?”, %

Variant of answer

09’03

11’04

12’05

06’06

12’07

12’08

12’09

12’10

03’11

06’11

09’11

12’11

Integration with the Russia

47.6

49.3

51.6

56.5

47.5

46.0

42.3

38.1

31.5

35.3

41.5

41.4

Joining the EU

36.1

33.7

24.8

29.3

33.3

30.1

42.1

38.0

50.5

44.5

42.0

39.1

The data of Tables 1-3 show a shift of public opinion geopolitical priorities which occurred during the last quarter – farther from Europe. However, the changes reveal themselves to a different extent by various wordings of the questions. For instance, when respondents answered a dichotomic question “either-or”, a decrease in the share of Euro-integration supporters proved to be within the bounds of the coverage error. On the other hand, when respondents answered a direct question about Euro-integration, a decrease in the share of its supporters was appreciable (by 10 percentage points). At the same time, an increase in the share of opponents of this type of integration was also significant.

At that the shares of adherents of integration with Russia have changed during the quarter within the bounds of the statistical error, as far as answers to both the dichotomic and the direct questions are concerned.

Scrutinizing the indicators’ dynamics during a longer period of time we have to ascertain a rough balance of supporters of integration with the East and the West. There is already no stable advantage in favor of Russia which characterized the situation at the beginning of the zero years; however, there is no advantage in favor of Europe, either. Episodes arousing enthusiasm by the adherents of the European choice give place to coming full circle – to an approximate parity.

A certain lack of coordination between the political process and public conscience should be noted here. A clear rapprochement of official Minsk and Moscow took place precisely during the last quarter. Russia granted Belarus rather impressive economic preferences. An intention to create the Eurasian Union was declared at the meeting of leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. All this, though, influenced the structure of geopolitical priorities of Belarusians rather insignificantly (Table 4). Positive attitude to the corresponding declaration of a new geopolitical formation proved to be far from universal.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “Recentely in Moscow presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a declaration on Eurasian economic intagration. In the opinion of the Belarusian authorities, the new amalgamation is called “to become the key regional player which will help to build up relationship with the leading world economic structures”, and in the opinion of the opposition, “participation of Belarus in Eurasian integrarion will adversely influence the country’s prospects of integrating into the world’s economic and political space”. And what is your attitude to it?”

Variant of answer

%

Positive

33.2

Indifferent

38.2

Negative

13.6

DA/NA

15.0

Indifference is the prevailing attitude by every second respondent expressed either directly or indirectly. Perhaps, the truth is that during the years Belarusians have been “overfed” by integration with Russia and the fussing around of various integration forms makes the majority treat the appearance of the new ones with philosophical calm. The fact that the present initiative might be quite serious for the first time, to all appearances, is not perceived by public opinion so far. A comparatively small share of its supporters and a still smaller share of its ardent opponents follow from here. It should also be noted that due to various reasons the official Belarusian mass media did not display any special enthusiasm regarding the new integration initiatives either, and did not conceal problems connected with them.

There is also no unity among respondents concerning the motives followed by Russia when it brings forward new integration initiatives, as well as concerning the objectives pursued by it (Table 5).

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “In recent years Russia has initiated a number of integration projects such as the Customs Union, the Common Free Market Zone and now the Eurasian Union. What do you think about these Russian projects?” (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

%

These are merely economic projects and they do not set political goals

29.6

This is an answer to integration of European states

24.7

It is an attempt to restore the USSR

18.7

It is manifestation of imperial aspirations

17.4

DA

17.9

Only a small part of respondents sees imperial intentions in the suggestions of Moscow. The relative majority perceive in them purely economic undertakings. Nevertheless few respondents expect general improvement of life from the projects; only 24.1% suppose that ordinary people will benefit from their implementation and 44.3% are sure that the authorities and officials will benefit from them. Perhaps, a rather cool attitude to the new integration “triumphs” is caused by such conceptions.

The data of the December opinion poll also showed stability in other assessments of various aspects of relations with Russia. Thus, cultural identities of Belarusians did not virtually change for the last year (Table 6). A slight decrease in the number of those who consider themselves to be closer to Europeans also confirms a slight decrease in the number of those who support Euro-integration of Belarus (see Table 2).

Cultural identity remains an important factor determining a geopolitical choice (Table 7). However, the data of Table 7 let us talk about the one-sided nature of determination: among “Belo-Russians” an overwhelming majority, almost everybody, notes their propinquity to Russians. At the same time, there are a little bit more than half of those who consider themselves closer to Europeans among “Euro-Belarusians”, whereas 40% of those who make their political choice in favor of Europe identify themselves with the East, with Russia, in the cultural sense.

Table 6. Dynamics of answering the question: “Who do you feel closer to – to Russians, or to Europeans?”, %

Variant of answer

03’10

12’10

12’11

To Russians

74.5

69.9

68.0

To Europeans

19.4

29.6

25.8

NA

6.1

0.5

6.2

Table 7. Relationship of cultural identity to a geopolitical choice, %

Variant of answer

For integration with the Russia

For joining the EU

Closer to Russians

90.6

40.4

Closer to Europeans

5.9

53.4

The opinion poll showed that respondents’ attitude to the possibility of participation of Russian capital in Belarusian privatization has not virtually changed during the ten-year period (Table 8).

Table 8. Dynamics of answering the question: “Is it acceptable or not, in your opinion, for Russian capital to participate in privatization of Belarusian enterprises?”, %

Variant of answer

04’02

06’08

12’11

All respondents

Trust the president

Do not trust the president

For integration with the Russia

For joining the EU

It is acceptable

43.9

44.2

44.3

46.8

44.1

54.7

39.0

It is inadmissible

35.0

44.5

39.5

32.0

44.4

30.6

48.1

DA/NA

21.1

11.3

16.2

21.1

11.5

14.7

12.9

There is certain symbolism in the dates of the opinion polls presented in Table 8: in April, 2002 a Russian-Belarusian agreement was signed according to which the gas price for Belarus equaled the one for Smolensk region of the RF in exchange for privatization of Beltransgaz by Gazprom, and in December, 2011 Beltransgaz was completely sold to Gazprom. However, the population’s attitude practically did not change.

A peculiarity, noted already in June, 2008, draws attention to itself: the shares of adherents of Russian capital participation in Belarusian privatization are approximately equal among supporters and opponents of the president. At that time we suggested the following explanation of the proximity: “On the one hand, those who do not trust A. Lukashenko are more market-oriented than their opponents, and that is why they should support privatization. On the other hand, they are inclined to solve the eternal for Belarusians dilemma “East-West” in favor of the West, therefore it would be only natural to suppose that they will declare against Russian capital. Their opponents are anti-marketers and anti-westerners within the framework of the given logic, which does not help to clearly define their position on the question of admissibility of Russian capital participation in privatization either”. To all appearances, the mentioned explanation is also true three years later. However, already the dilemma “East-West” itself visibly divides supporters of this or that geopolitical choice regarding participation of Russian capital in Belarusian privatization: among “Euro-Belarusians” the attitude to it is more restrained and the assessments balance is negative. A geopolitical choice proves to be stronger than economic preferences.

The data of Table 9 describe the frequency of visiting foreign countries by Belarusians. It follows from the table that the majority of trips fall on the CIS countries – 47.7% visited them, 39.7% out of them came to Russia. At the same time, 21.4% of Belarusians – approximately every fifth respondent – visited the EU countries, including the Baltic States. At that 41.6% have not been abroad at all for the last 5 years.

According to Table 10, elderly people go abroad least of all, and they go to Russia three times more often than to the West. As for the youth, they travel to the East almost as frequently as the Belarusians of the middle age; however, they go to the West appreciably (five times) more often than elderly people, although young people often visit Russia, too.

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question: “How often have you been abroad for the last five years?”, %

Variant of answer

Several times a month

Several times a year

Once in several years

I have not been

NA

In Russia

3.5

12.9

23.3

58.2

2.1

In the CIS countries (except Russia)

1.3

8.0

19.3

68.6

2.8

In the Baltic States

0.6

3.1

7.2

85.7

3.4

In the EU countries (except the Baltic States)

1.7

5.2

9.9

80.2

3.0

In the USA

0.3

1.3

94.9

3.5

In other countries (Turkey, Egypt and other)

0.8

2.1

13.0

80.9

3.2

Table 10. Relationship of the frequency of trips abroad to the age and geopolitical preferences*, %

Variant of answer

Have been in Russia during five years

Have been in the EU (except the Baltic States)

Age:
18-29

44.0

25.6

30-50

47.0

18.0

60 +

18.6

5.4

If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what choice would you make?
For integration with the RF

36.2

11.0

For joining the EU

45.9

26.7

Do you feel closer to Russians or to Europeans?
To Russians

36.6

10.6

To Europeans

46.9

32.6

* The table is read across

Connection with geopolitical priorities and cultural identifications turned out to be less anticipated. It is not surprising that “Euro-Belarusians” go to the West more often than “Belo-Russians”. However, they also go to Russia more often than supporters of the Russian vector. The same is with the cultural identification: those who consider themselves closer to Europeans go to Russia more often than those who consider themselves closer to Russians.

One of the explanations may consist in the following: precisely the more frequent trips to Russia, acquaintance with the daily life there turn “Euro-Belarusians” off of a geopolitical choice in favor of that country. However, this explanation is not exhaustive, as “Belo-Russians” also go to the East quite often, and it is doubtful whether they have the luck to encounter solely attractive traits of Russian life.

The explanation lies more likely in the socio-demographic characteristics of the people making this or that geopolitical choice (Table 11).

As it follows from the data of Table 11, groups with a higher social capital – men, educated, young, and middle age people, and city dwellers – are more inclined to the European choice. They are also more dynamic, geographically among other things. That is why the geopolitical choice, as well as the frequency of trips abroad (including to Russia), is explained in the given case virtually by one and the same factor – by the volume of the social capital.

This conclusion is also confirmed by the connection between a geopolitical choice and a notion about the role of the state in the life of a society (Table 12).

Respondents sharing libertarian conceptions about the role of the state are more strongly attached by the European Union; supporters of liberal and more patriarchal conceptions prefer Russia to a greater degree. Ideological convictions are not directly connected with life circumstances. There are rich people with socialist views and poor people who believe that the state does not owe them anything, and they should count only on themselves. Nevertheless, a certain connection can be retraced: people with greater opportunities, with a larger social capital are less inclined to treat the state as a social security department, and in Belarus they are more oriented toward Europe.

 

Table 11. Relationship of geopolitical preferences and cultural identifications to socio-demographic characteristics*, %

Variant of answer

If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what would you choose?

Who do you feel closer to – to Russians or to Europeans?

For integration with the Russia

For joining the EU

To Russians

To Europeans

Gender:
Male

36.5

45.7

63.5

29.3

Female

45.5

33.9

71.7

22.9

Age:
18-29

28.0

55.7

50.6

43.7

30-59

41.2

40.0

69.0

24.1

60 +

55.4

20.6

83.4

11.5

Education
Primary

54.2

13.5

91.7

6.3

Incomplete secondary

55.6

21.3

84.1

9.3

Secondary

37.7

42.0

65.1

28.1

Vocational

43.5

39.4

67.6

26.1

Higher

36.2

47.9

60.5

33.3

Type of settlement
Capital

37.2

46.1

57.0

35.2

Region center

42.2

39.5

66.9

25.1

City

42.6

34.1

72.9

23.2

Town

40.1

39.7

63.9

30.8

Village

43.8

37.4

75.6

17.7

Do you use the Internet?
Yes, daily

29.9

54.3

51.1

41.6

Yes, several times a week

37.8

45.1

60.2

32.5

Yes, several times a month

39.1

42.2

66.4

30.5

Yes, several times a year

66.7

23.3

83.3

6.7

No

47.1

29.8

78.5

15.7

I do not know what it is

64.3

14.3

91.4

4.3

Do you trust the president?
Yes, I do

60.9

19.0

86.5

9.7

No, I do not

30.7

51.9

58.4

34.3

* The table is read across

What is indeed partly paradoxical? Let us take, for example, such indicator of the income inequality of the country’s population as the decile coefficient – exceeding of the income of 10% of the richest people in the country over the income of 10% of their poorest fellow countrymen. As per the data of the U.N., in 2008 it constituted 6.9 in Belarus, in Germany – also 6.9, in Poland – 8.8, in Lithuania – 10.4, in Russia – 12.7 (!). In other words, according to the coefficient which measures the degree of social inequality, Russia is not only the country of lower social equality than Belarus, but also than old and new countries-the-members of the European Union. The Russian socio-economic system provides its “week” strata of the people with a smaller part of the national “pie”, than Belarus and the EU countries.

Table 12. Relationship of the geopolitical choice to the answers to the question: “In your opinion, how should the state and its citizens get along with each other?”, %

Variant of answer

For integration with the Russia

For joining the EU

The state should take care of all its citizens securing a decent level of life for them

44.8

32.7

The state should make “rules of the game” common for everyone and watch that they are not violated

46.8

35.6

The state should interfere in the life and economic activity of its citizens as little as possible

25.7

60.5

* The table is read across

It is not clear, though, why the “week” strata of the population with a smaller social capital choose Russia where people of the same social standing are having a harder time than in the European “states of universal well-being”.

One of the explanation is that they choose not Russia itself, but its, so to say, projection on Belarus. Russians can build their state on any principles, but, thanks to their generosity, there is a possibility to pursue a generous social policy in Belarus.

However, such an explanation is hardly exhaustive. As it has been shown above, cultural identifications are also closely connected with the social capital – representatives of the “week” social groups far more often associate themselves with Russians. And this in its turn conditions a geopolitical choice to a considerable extent.