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RUSSIAN MINIMUM

According to the data of the June 2010 poll of IISEPS, the level of pro-Russian trends among Belarusians in the first summer month of the current year was the lowest over many years (Table 1). Herewith, it is noteworthy that the opinion poll was concluded before the acute gas conflict, in the course of which Russia for the first time since 2004 had sharply reduced gas supplies to Belarus. But the factors acting towards reduction of pro-Russian preferences were abundant in any case – in this respect a number of events should be mentioned: the echo of the January oil conflict, quarrels between Minsk and Moscow about the granting of asylum in Belarus to the ex-president of Kyrgyzstan K. Bakiev, bitter criticism of Russia pronounced from the most important rostrums including the president’s message to the National Assembly and the people of Belarus, and finally, the arrival of the tanker with the Venezuelan oil meant to free Belarus a little from the energetic ”embrace of iron” of the eastern ally. Not all of these events, and to be more precise, their media images, had an equal effect on the Belarusian public conscience, but the cumulative effect turned out rather marginal.

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

Variant of answer

11’99

12’02

03’03

06’04

11’06

12’07

12’08

03’09

09’09

03’10

06’10

For integration

47.0

53.8

57.5

42.9

46.4

43.6

35.7

33.1

39.1

32.1

29.3

Against integration

34.1

26.3

23.8

25.0

33.5

31.6

38.8

43.2

40.6

44.5

48.6

Nowadays the question about the integration with Russia might sound even a little oddish: no one, not even the authorities, speaks about it as about a true or desirable political perspective. And indeed, what integration could be discussed, when one trade war slips into another. One could parry this by the fact that the integration perspective has not always been as much ambiguous as now. Meanwhile, only identical questions asked from year to year allow for consistent assessment of the trend dynamics. Besides, the question asking exactly about integration, but not about a union, for example, makes it possible to assess the vector of the relevant geopolitical choice and readiness for changes in the relevant direction. The union between Belarus and Russia is too wide a notion: even now Belarus is in the union with Russia, eventually, CIS including, say, Ukraine and Moldova, is also a union with Russia. Hence, a question about the union is too general. In a sense, a question put like this is a question about the attitude towards the existing state of affairs. At the same time, a question about integration is more consistent with the aim of measuring the choice as such, the readiness for changes in either direction.

As can be seen, by this criterion Belarusians as of June 2010 were willing to make that choice in the eastern direction least of all over the last more than 10 years. Frankly speaking, lately these records has been following one after another, the previous minimum of that kind was reached in March 2009. Against the rate of willingness to integrate with Russia in March of the previous and current year, the change of the June value is within a coverage error. However, one can observe a correlated change of values of an express willingness and an express unwillingness to integrate with Russia: and again the latter value is record-breaking as of the whole period of observations, for the first time the number of those rejecting the integration with Russia came so close to the 50%-mark.

Herewith, it should be noted that as it has been frequently the case earlier, the reduction of the level of pro-Russian trends has not resulted in the growth of pro-European trends (Table 2).

Table 2. Dynamics of answering the question, “If nowadays a referendum were held in Belarus on the question, whether Belarus should enter the European Union, what would be your choice?”, %

Variant of answer

12’02

09’05

11’06

12’07

09’08

12’08

03’09

09’09

12’09

03’10

06’10

Yes

60.9

38.0

36.6

37.1

26.7

30.1

34.9

44.1

40.7

36.2

36.4

No

10.9

44.0

36.2

35.0

51.9

40.6

36.3

32.8

34.6

37.2

39.4

By the quarter, the percentage of those willing Belarus enter EU as well as the percentage of the opponents thereof, did not change. If we compare them with the topical pro-European maximum as of September last year, what we have now is a significant reduction of the number of supporters and a increase of the number of opponents of Euro-integration.

This parallel decrease of readiness both for Euro-integration and for the integration with Russia is also confirmed by the answers to the question simulating the situation of a dichotomous choice: Russia or European Union (Table 3).

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

Variant of answer

12’05

06’06

12’07

09’08

12’08

03’09

06’09

09’09

12’09

03’10

06’10

Integration with Russia

51.6

56.5

47.5

54.0

46.0

42.4

42.1

38.3

42.1

41.4

37.7

EU-membership

24.8

29.3

33.3

26.2

30.1

35.1

41.4

42.7

42.3

40.4

38.9

As compared to the first quarter of the year the changes are small, but unidirectional: the rough parity between the proponents of the first and the second geopolitical choice is maintained, but at a lower level as against the previous observations.

A surrogate variable confirming the reduction of the level of pro-Russian trends is the dynamics of the hypothetic election of the union president (Table 4).

Table 4. Dynamics of answering the question, “If a post of the president of Belarus and Russia had been established, who would you vote for at the election for this post?”, %

Variant of answer

11’99

08’01

10’01

09’02

09’03

11’04

09’05

12’05

03’06

06’08

06’10

A. Lukashenko

31.6

19.5

26.4

15.0

21.1

29.8

33.2

38.8

44.4

27.7

28.6

V. Putin

13.2

41.4

37.9

53.9

45.2

24.3

25.7

19.8

22.0

21.6

16.2

D. Medvedev

10.9

9.8

A different politician (less than 3% each)

17.9

8.8

4.3

5.1

6.9

2.0

6.5

3.5

5.1

4.5

4.2

NA

37.3

30.3

31.4

26.0

26.8

43.9

34.6

37.9

28.5

35.3

41.2

Table 4 highlights a rather low willingness of respondents to take part in the game suggested by the sociologists as well as fairly low popularity rating of the ex-idol, the Prime Minister of Russia V. Putin. His current union rating has fallen so close to that humble value, which he took off with to his popularity rate in the Belarusian public conscience far back in November 1999. The incumbent president of Russia D. Medvedev has neither lost, nor gained anything in the eyes of Belarusians over the 2 years of his rule – as a candidate for the union president he is inferior to his “tandem” partner, who in terms of good feelings of Belarusians has known better times.

The question of Table 3 represents an institutional rapprochement either with Russia or with Europe as mutually excluding alternatives. It seems this mutual exclusion does exist in practice, but according to the poll data, it is not so for quite many Belarusians (Table 5).

Table 5. Correlation between the answers to the questions about voting at hypothetic referendums on Belarus entering EU and on integration with Russia *, %

Voting at the referendum on Belarus entering EU

Voting at the referendum on Belarus integration with Russia

For

Against

Abstension / NA / DA

For

14.2

18.9

3.3

Against

9.6

24.9

5.0

Abstension / NA / DA

5.5

4.9

13.7

*Absolute percents are tabulated in the table, the sum of all cells of the table is 100%

As can be seen, a considerable number of respondents (14.2%) consider a two-way integration quite realistic. At any rate, these respondents prefer exactly this variant. This group includes 39% of proponents of Belarus accession to EU and 48.4% of proponents of the integration with Russia. Consequently, we can speak about the polarization as regards the geopolitical choice quite conventionally, as almost every second of the proponents of the choice in favour of one of Belarus’ geopolitical “magnets” is at the same time a proponent of the other choice.

At the same time it is noteworthy that almost one half of respondents (48.7%) reject both the variants directly or indirectly, and approximately every fourth (24.9%) rejects both the variants expressly.

However, put in the situation of a dichotomous choice only 23.4% refuse to make the choice at all. Nevertheless, it is obvious that a considerable part of the respondents would not like Belarus approach either Russia, or Europe closer than it is now.

The data of Table 6 reveal the relation of the geopolitical choice expressed in the answers to the question of Table 3 to the socio-demographic characteristics and political preferences of the respondents.

Table 6. Relation of the geopolitical choice to socio-demographic characteristics and political preferences

Variant of answer

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

Integration with Russia

EU-membership

What statement do you agree with?
Belarus needs changes

31.0

45.7

Belarus does not need changes

50.1

31.2

Attitude towards the campaign “Tell the Truth”
NA

39.5

37.0

Positive

18.2

67.5

Don’t care

30.5

41.0

Negative

21.4

28.6

Attitude towards sexual minorities
Positive

36.5

48.1

Don’t care

34.7

47.0

Negative

40.0

32.9

Is it necessary to abolish capital punishment in Belarus?
Preserve

40.9

38.3

Abolish

34.3

42.3

Do you trust the president?
Trust

47.8

26.7

Don’t trust

21.9

60.2

Do you feel protected from the possible arbitrariness on the part of the authorities, militia, the State Motor Vehicle Inspectorate, the tax inspectorate, courts and other state bodies?
Definitely, yes

49.0

21.7

More likely, yes

45.0

28.7

More likely, no

33.5

47.0

Definitely, no

21.5

64.5

If the presidential election in Belarus were held tomorrow, who would you vote for?
L. Borshchevsky

0

80.0

S. Gaidukevich

24.1

53.7

S. Kalyakin

27.6

51.7

A. Kozulin

18.4

64.9

A. Lukashenko

52.9

20.9

A. Milinkevich

20.7

63.3

A. Mikhalevich

22.2

61.1

V. Neklyaev

12.0

68.0

V. Rymashevsky

6.3

87.5

Ya. Romanchuk

6.7

73.3

N. Statkevich

0

83.3

A. Sannikov

12.5

75.0

A. Yaroshuk

41.7

25.0

Voting at the referendum on Belarus entering EU
For

17.5

72.0

Against

57.8

20.1

Voting at the referendum on Belarus integration with Russia
For

69.4

21.6

Against

24.5

56.2

May the declared local election results be considered trustworthy?
Yes

45.2

28.7

No

22.7

60.0

Gender:
Male

33.5

45.1

Female

41.2

33.5

Age:
18-30

25.4

58.6

31-59

35.1

40.4

60 +

53.2

19.0

Education:
Primary

52.7

18.8

Incomplete secondary

54.3

26.4

Secondary

33.7

41.0

Vocational

37.0

40.0

Higher

25.5

53.2

The geopolitical choice proves to be strictly limited by socio-demographic characteristics: weaker social groups – women, senior citizens and undereducated citizens are more inclined to give preference to the eastern “vector”; men, young citizens and educated respondents are more attracted by Europe. The attitude towards officially declared European values (negative attitude towards death penalty, tolerance towards sexual minorities) is also correlated with the geopolitical choice, though this correlation is not very close.

The strongest distinguishing feature proves to be the attitude towards power, both “near” (militia, the State Motor Vehicle Inspectorate, courts) and supreme. A comparative analysis of the attitude of supporters of different candidates for presidency towards the Russia-EU dichotomy shows that only among favourers of A. Lukashenko and A. Yaroshuk the proponents of the integration with Russia predominate over the proponents of Belarus integration with EU. Frankly speaking, the electorates of all the candidates, except for the incumbent president, are small, and except for A. Milinkevich and A. Kozulin, are even less than small, so that the difference in the percentages of the proponents of one or the other geopolitical choice among them is statistically insignificant. But it is the general tendency that strikes.

In particular, no matter who is right in the big Belarusian dispute whether the Russian money helped the sun of the campaign “Tell the Truth!” to rise, its proponents have a geopolitical orientation conventional for the opposition electorate, i.e. there are really more “Euro-Belarusians” among them than “Belo-Russians”.

Table 6 suggests that the geopolitical preferences of Belarusians are not very stable: depending on the wording of essentially equivalent questions many respondents tend to give different answers or make different choices. Nearly every fifth of the proponents of the integration with Russia or EU changes orientation when passing from one-sided questions to dichotomous ones. And under equal passing the opponents of the relevant geopolitical choice turn into its proponents practically in the same proportions.

Hence, politicians can to a certain extent manipulate this choice. But on the other hand, the close correlation of the choice with the geopolitical characteristics as well as the fact that A. Lukashenko (despite the eloquent charges and malediction upon Russia he is yelling out) remains for his electorate the most pro-Russian politician – all that suggests that there are several constants in the Belarusian community in respect of the choice between East and West, constants that are very slow to change.