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PROTEST POTENTIAL

During his recent meeting with Russia’s president, A. Lukashenko stated that “almost entirely the population voted for him” except for “one or two thousand of under-aged youths who tried to de-stabilize the situation for money.”

Both theses of the president are much exaggerated. Even by official data, this is 22% of registered voters who voted not for A. Lukashenko. According to our opinion poll, the president in the office received 58.2% of all votes which is very impressive but is far from “almost entire population.”

The president was as well rough in his comments on the protest potential. Much more people than A. Lukashenko said and by far not under-aged youths are ready to participate in the actions of protest.

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “What is your attitude to participation in rallies to express your standpoint?” depending on votes cast at the presidential election, %

Variant of answer

For whom would you vote at the presidential election?

A. Kozulin (4.7)

A. Lukashenko (58.2)

A. Milinkevich (18.8)

Attitude to rallies, demonstrations and picketing as a form of expression of opinion:
Participated (5.8)*

17.8

1.5

19.8

Ready to participate (10.9)

24.9

3.6

28.0

Will not participate (78.1)

45.9

92.8

42.3

Attitude to strikes as a form of expression of opinion:
Participated (1.1)

0

0.5

3.6

Ready to participate (10.0)

32.1

1.7

30.6

Will not participate (82.7)

51.8

95.2

51.9

Attitude to hunger strikes as a form of expression of opinion:
Participated (0.3)

0

0

0.1

Ready to participate (4.7)

22.3

0.6

14.0

Will not participate (89.2)

63.1

97.3

70.5

Attitude to armed struggle as a form of expression of opinion:
Participated (0.6)

0

1.1

0

Ready to participate (4.5)

15.8

0.7

11.7

Will not participate (89.2)

68.3

95.4

70.8

* Figures in brackets represent the percentage among all respondents

As it goes from the Table, if all the population was the same like A. Lukashenko’s supporters, the head of state would be close to truth in the explanations he gave to V. Putin – A. Lukashenko’s electorate is the least ready to participate in public protests. The reasons are different: some don’t see grounds to protest against the current authorities to whom they trust; others are simply not inclined to public actions. Anyway, an overwhelming majority of A. Lukashenko’s supporters didn’t participate in rallies in the past and are not going to participate in them in the future.

Those who voted for president’s opponents appear an absolutely different kind of voters. Approximately every fifth of A. Kozulin’s and A. Milinkevich’s supporters already participated in rallies and demonstrations and about a quarter of them are ready to participate in them in the future. Although few of these voters participated in strikes, almost every third of them is ready to join them. What’s more, a great part of opposition voters is ready for the most extreme forms of protest like hunger strikes and armed struggle.

It should be noted that the protest potential of those who didn’t support any candidate is lower than that of opposition candidate supporters but much higher than that of president’s supporters.

Clearly, statement of readiness to some kind of actions doesn’t mean real readiness to participate in those under any conditions. For example, according to Table 1, A. Milinkevich’s supporters ready to participate in mass actions of protest make 5% of all respondents. This is over a third of a million of all Belarusian voters. However, much less people participated in the latest mass actions.

Nevertheless, respondents who said they are in general ready to rally, strike, etc. make huge protest potential. Under particular conditions like deterioration of their welfare or necessity to join a mass action, they will be the first showing activity.

Indicator of readiness to mass actions is close to indicator of readiness to vote for an alternative presidential candidate. Of course, not every single man ready to vote for alternative in general will cast his/her vote for this or that alternative politician. Yet, opposition politicians can win this electorate in the first turn.

Now, let’s see how deeply, in the opinion of respondents, the situation in Belarus is fraught with grave conflicts and how close it is to the point when readiness to protest will turn into actual protest.

Although 35.9% of the polled say that “there is almost no social tension and conflicts in the Belarusian society” and another 39% say that “there is social tension in the Belarusian society, yet it is weaker than in Russia and other CIS countries,” almost every fifth characterizes the situation in the country as highly explosive – “Social tension is very high in the Belarusian society and tends to increasing even more.” What’s more, the people who stick to this viewpoint are mostly ready to vote for opposition candidates and participate in mass actions of protest. To put it differently, the people who feel deprived of their rights and interests assess social tension as very high. Those who are satisfied with their personal welfare and the situation in the country don’t see any tension.

As regards particular actions of protest which took place in Minsk starting from March 19, almost 70% of respondents said they knew about them. This is a very high figure, yet it is not a surprise. The state-run mass media didn’t cover election campaigns of opposition candidates while they widely covered after-election rallies at October Square in Minsk, even though in a biased way. Answering to the question about attitude to these rallies, 20.4% of respondents said they approve them and 45.9% of the polled answered in the opposite.

The number of those who approved the events at the October Square is close to the number of those who are ready to participate in actions of protest: the actions were approved by those who in general don’t exclude possibility to join the actions themselves. Noteworthy is an unusually high indicator of disapproval. Clearly, the state-run mass media played a great role in this. They portrayed protesters as drug addicts, Western mercenaries and young silly chaps. However, recent election campaign as well contributed to the result – a part of those who voted for A. Lukashenko interpreted the rallies as an attempt to contest their choice.

Anyway the fact that every fifth respondent supported the protesters shows that A. Lukashenko’s statement about “one or two thousand of under-age youngsters” who are his only rivals is nothing more than his wishful thinking.

As regards the other part of A. Lukashenko’s statement – about “de-stabilizing the situation for money,” it isn’t shared by all either. Asked the question “Some people say over lately that outside forces try to carry out a color revolution in Belarus. Do you think this is true or not?”, a third of respondents said this is not true.

This way, we come to the following conclusions:

    • protest potential, i.e. the number of people ready to participate in public forms of expression of opinion, makes approximately 20% in Belarus;

 

  • protest moods are closely tied with political discontent: the people ready to protest approve actions of the opposition and are inclined to vote for opposition candidates while A. Lukashenko’s supporters almost unanimously speak out against participation in any form of protest.