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SUCCESS OF THE REFORMS WHICH DID NOT START

In autumn of the previous year the Belarusian authorities began reforming the economy under the pressure of the reality which had taken shape by that time. A year passed, and in September such authoritative international organizations as the World Bank and the International Financial Corporation published a regular report “Conduct of business 2009”. There is direct evidence of progress: Belarus has entered the group of four main countries-reformers in the normative legal field, and as far as the rating in the sphere of rules of business conducting simplification is concerned the country has risen from the 115th to the 85th place.

Inspired by the achieved result prime minister of Belarus S. Sidorsky publicly assured representatives of the Belarusian business community that the work on creating favorable business climate in the country was going to be continued. However, the public opinion, regarding the reformative potential of the Belarusian authorities, as usual divided into two opposite camps (Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “In your opinion, market reforms in Belarus…”, %

Variant of answer

All the polled

Trust A. Lukashenko

Do not trust A. Lukashenko

Are successfully accomplished

4.7

8.4

1.0

Are successfully developing

29.8

48.1

6.9

Have been hampered

24.7

7.9

10.6

Have ended in failure

8.5

2.4

19.8

Have never seriously begun

15.7

6.7

29.1

DA/NA

16.6

18.0

10.2

One can clearly see that the difference in assessments among the respondents who trust and those who do not trust A. Lukashenko is considerable. In the opinion of the former, market reforms are successfully developing if not accomplished. In the opinion of the latter they have ended in failure or have not even begun yet. One should pay attention to the high share of those who found it difficult to answer among the respondents trusting A. Lukashenko. This situation is quite typical of opinion polls when respondents do not really see any positive results in the activity of their political idol, and at the same time they do not venture to express any critical remarks about him.

Estimating the achieved output of the market reforms in different ways, the Belarusians, nevertheless, do not reject the very fact of changes in the economy. When answering the question: “If you think that some changes have lately occurred in the economy of the country, than what kind of changes has there been more?” 20.7% of respondents suppose there have been more of favorable changes, 39.3% – both kinds of changes equally. The share of economic skeptics who had registered merely unfavorable changes made up 24.4%. Only 9.1% noticed no changes at all, and just 6.5% of respondents found it difficult to answer.

Thus, it is possible to ascertain that the word-combination “market reforms” has stopped being a bugaboo in Belarus; moreover it is filling with some sacral sense before our very eyes ranking with such historic analogues as “maize”, “peat pots”, “checkrow”‘, “uninterrupted pouring of steel”‘ and so on. Such sacralization once again reminds us that under the conditions of authoritarian political regime deviation of reality from what is desired does not lead to adjustment of the course, but on the contrary – to correction of the reality, to put it more precisely – to correction of its perception by the supporters of the regime.

Data of Table 2 show a quite unexpected growth in the number of economic changes supporters. Naturally, the share of them is considerably higher among those who do not trust the head of the Belarusian state; however, among those who trust him it is also substantial. At least in September it turned out to be 4.2 percentage points higher than among all the polled in June of 2006. On the peak of mobilization euphoria connected with the presidential elections craving for changes was not so visible in the society. Unfortunately, the very fact of increase in the need for changes registered in the course of answering the question of Table 2 does not tell us anything about the character of the desired changes yet. The experience of long-term sociological researches suggests that vectors of these changes are most likely going to be quite far from parallelism.

Table 2. Dynamics of answering the question: “Would you like such changes to happen?”, %

Variant of answer

All the polled (06’06)

All the polled (09’08)

Trust A. Lukashenko

Distrust A. Lukashenko

Yes

38.9

52.2

43.1

71.0

No

29.4

15.6

22.8

5.6

I do not care

16.6

14.7

15.5

11.2

DA/NA

15.1

17.5

18.6

12.2

Longing for changes the Belarusians at the same time do not really believe in them. In September answering the question “In your opinion, are fundamental changes possible in home and foreign policy of Belarus in the next five years?” a little bit fewer than a third of the respondents (31.8%) answered that they were possible, 46.6% – unlikely, and another 15.2% – impossible. It is interesting to note that in June, 2006 answers to the mentioned question virtually did not differ in any way.

It is not difficult to guess that those respondents who trust A. Lukashenko believe in changes in the first place. They “beat” their political opponents with 41.7 to 16.0. Data of Table 3 let us assess the main subjects of the forthcoming changes.

Table 3. Dynamics of answering the question: “If you consider that such changes are possible, who, in your opinion, is going to trigger them?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

06’06

09’08

Belarusian authorities

25.6

32.7

Belarusian people

19.2

23.6

Belarusian opposition

11.4

9.8

The West

13.9

8.1

Russia

11.1

6.3

DA/NA

15.0

12.0

The authorities, as it was to be expected, found themselves in the first place. The respondents also highly estimated subjective potential of the nation. However, it is more likely an echo of the Soviet heritage when according to the official propaganda the nation was walking “as a master” over the country, and everything that was being done in the country was being done for the sake of the nation and on behalf of it. At the same time the ability of the opposition to act as an alternative subject of changes, as well as of outside forces (the West and Russia), was assessed by the Belarusians extremely moderately. It is interesting to note that from the point of view of the public opinion the authorities and the people gained and the opposition, the West and Russia noticeably lost their ability to initiate changes. The registered dynamics directed oppositely apparently testify to the further strengthening of the authoritarian power in Belarus.

What in the opinion of the Belarusians serves as the main obstacle on the way of the economic development of the country? According to the respondents it is still the same subject they pin their primary hopes for changes on, i.e. the authorities. The first five lines in Table 4 were with confidence occupied by the variants of answer directly connected with the authorities and the bodies of government. The respondents put “people” only on the sixth and the eighth lines having marked their inability to work and lack of initiative.

On the other hand, the opposition found itself at the very end of the list. However, should party leaders enter the fact in the register of their advantages? A lot of doubts are cast upon it. More likely it indicates the opposition non-participation in the processes which are taking place in Belarus.

Once again quite close answers of the Belarusians and the Russians (“Levada-Center”, 2007) surprise us, although there are easily explainable distinctions. Thus, the Russians more rarely reproach their authorities with the absence of a reform program. Against the background of strong propaganda brainwashing concerning “Putin’s Plan” such difference amounting to 7 percentage points should not surprise too much. And what does it matter, if the substance of the given plan still remains a mystery for the Russian society (“Only Putin knows Putin’s Plan”, – S. Mironov, chairman of the Federation Soviet of the Russian Federation)? The main thing is that the plan exists. Almost 10 points more often the Russians mention weakness of the authorities. And in this case, too, one should not be surprised. Possessing such a vast territory and inner differentiation it is not an easy task to get rid of the notorious principle “We have an enormous country, but there is no order in it”.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “What is now the main obstacle on the way of the economic development of the country?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

Belarus

Russia

Corruption, plundering of the state resources and property

38.0

43

Absence of a thought-out program of reform conducting

25.2

18

Non-execution of the passed laws and decrees at the local level

24.3

28

Resistance of officials and bureaucracy

22.4

29

Economic incompetence of the present authorities

18.6

17

People themselves, they forgot how to work

17.0

20

Weakness of the authorities

15.6

25

Lack of enterprising, pushing people

12.6

12

Opposition

3.6

–*

I do not see any special obstacles

13.6

13

DA

6.2

3

* The given variant of answer was not offered

Presence or absence of a belief in reforms (present or future) in itself does not mean understanding of what is going on. As it follows from the data of Table 5 67.9% of the Belarusians by their own admission have a quite vague or no idea at all about what is going on. At first glance those who trust the head of state look more sophisticated, however, one should not be in a hurry with such a conclusion. It is necessary to remember that among supporters of A. Lukashenko predominate, first of all, elderly people and secondly, people with a rather low level of education. An analysis confirms this conclusion: among the respondents up to 30 years of age only 18.4% have a clear idea about the direction of Belarus development and about the aims of the governing body, and among those who are over 60 – 39.9%; among those who have primary education – 33.0%, and among possessors of university diplomas – 26.7%. As a result of such enlightenment women leave men behind by the level of political literacy (30.2% vs. 23.3%)!

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you have any idea what direction Belarus is moving in and what is made its aim by the governing body of the country?”, %

Variant of answer

Russia

Belarus

All the polled

Trust A. Lukashenko

Distrust A. Lukashenko

A clear idea

23

27.1

41.1

12.2

A vague idea

40

41.0

35.2

44.7

No idea

21

26.9

18.1

40.7

Things are let develop as they might

8

–*

DA/NA

9

5.0

5.6

2.4

* The given variant of answer was not offered

Summing up it should be mentioned that the attitude of the society to the reformatory efforts of the authorities is ambivalent. This ambivalence, in its turn, is entailed by the ambivalent nature of mutual relations between the society and the authoritarian power. On the one hand, the population for the most part feels its complete dependence from the “vertical” of power. From this follows the view on an official as on a bribe taker and a bureaucrat strange to the interests of “common people” (which corresponds with the reality in many respects). On the other hand, there is complete dependence of the population on the authorities. Such dependence does not assist in thoughtful attitude towards what is going on. It requires faith into a wise and almighty leader. One can sleep more soundly and work more calmly with such faith. It is not only clear, how successfully.