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INEQUITY OF AUTHORITIES PUSHES THE PEOPLE TO REVOLUTION

Nowadays, many Belarusians wonder what caused a number of recent “color revolutions” in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Such different countries with diverse histories and cultures witnessed almost the same outcome – the people revolted and overthrew the power almost without mass violence and blood. Commenting on those dramatic events, the Belarusian authorities gave three major reasons of why that could happen: “First, weak power; second, low living standard and third – implementation of Western political technologies.” Participants of those events and many analysts disagree with such an explanation. A year ago, did anyone talk about weak power of L. Kuchma or A. Akaev? Are the prices higher and the quality of goods and services lower in Ukraine than in Belarus? Did the West give greater support to the Kyrgyz opposition than the Belarusian? In their opinion, inequity of the authorities has become a true reason of those revolutions. The power neglected, offended and humiliated rather than protected the people from miseries or helped it. Remarkably, people can suffer the greatest hardships like a war or natural disasters if those don’t disgrace them. In such conditions, authority and support of the authorities can be very high if people know and feel that the power stands for them and not against.

In our studies of Belarusian citizens’ attitude to the authorities, we decided not to confine to the traditional indicators like estimates, ratings, degree of trust, etc. but ask respondents one simple and clear question: “Over the past three years, have you survived an offence from public authorities?” In general, 26% of respondents answered “yes”, over 80% of them marked up “many times” or “several times”, and 74% answered “no”. Asked the qualifying question “Representatives of which bodies offended you, if any?”, 41.0% mentioned the militia, 34.2% – local authorities and 24.3% – other bodies. Specifying the way the citizens were offended, every third respondent said “my rights were broken”, every fourth – “I was insulted” and every fourth – “they squeezed money from me” or “the authorities didn’t perform their duties”.

Every fourth Belarusian citizen feels offended by the authorities. Is this many or few? Can these figures be considered as a borderline of public tolerance? To answer this question, we should like to analyze the social structure of those offended Belarusians, the system of their values and expectations and especially in what and to which extent they differ from the other part of Belarusian society.

From the standpoint of social demography, there is no great difference between these two groups of the Belarusians, except that the offended are mostly citizens in economically active age (30 to 50) and with a higher level of education. Thus, if the authorities happen to offend the citizens, they do this without any preferences – men and women, young and aged, company chiefs and regular employees, city-dwellers and villagers, residents of both western and eastern regions. It is wrong to say that these offended Belarusians are that very “protesting electorate” discontented with the current course. There’s a great number of A. Lukashenko’s supporters among them while there’s as well a great number of A. Lukashenko’s opponents among those not offended citizens. In other words, the offended citizens are all common Belarusians.

Different are social frames of mind (or attitudes) and expectations of these two groups of the Belarusian society. (See Table 1).

Table 1. Comparative “sociological portrait” of those offended and not offended Belarusians, %

Social frames of mind

Over the past three years, have you survived an offence from public authorities?

Yes (26.0)

No (74.0)

Economic frames of mind
Attitude to recent entrepreneur strikes:
Agree with their demands

66.5

50.2

Don’t agree with their demands

16.8

22.2

Is there corruptibility in Belarus?
Yes

93.0

77.3

No

3.5

8.0

Have you faced corruptibility within the past years?
Yes, many times

53.1

19.5

Yes, once

13.5

7.1

No

33.2

73.0

Who is guilty of recent arrests of the directors of large state enterprises?
Directors themselves broke the law

45.1

56.6

Country’s economic system forces them to break the law

39.9

20.6

In the years to come, social and economic situation in Belarus:
Will improve

16.3

34.5

Won’t change

41.2

40.7

Will aggravate

31.8

11.6

Do you agree with the statement of the Belarusian authorities on that the country’s going the right economic course:
Yes, this is the right course

22.9

47.8

No, this is the wrong course

55.3

26.2

What is more important today, preservation or change of the current situation in the country?
Preservation of the current situation is more important

24.1

60.6

Change of the current situation is more important

74.9

38.8

Social and political frames of mind
How did you vote at the referendum of October 17, 2004?
For Constitution amendment

27.7

56.6

Against Constitution amendment

42.9

18.3

Didn’t take part in the voting

24.2

16.4

For whom did you vote at the parliamentary election of October 17, 2004?
For a candidate supporting A. Lukashenko

19.2

38.5

For a candidate opposing A. Lukashenko

14.5

6.6

For an independent candidate

27.3

21.8

Didn’t take part in the voting

29.7

21.4

Results of the election and referendum announced by the Central Election Commission or by Gallup’s Institute are closer to truth?
Data of the Central Election Commission

24.2

47.0

Data of Gallup’s Institute

46.4

22.8

Are you satisfied with democratization in Belarus?
Yes

20.4

35.8

No

70.2

36.4

Do you believe the report of the Council of Europe on involvement of top Belarusian officials in disappearances of opposition figures:
Yes

70.8

38.9

No

26.4

58.2

If you knew a competitive opponent to A. Lukashenko, for whom would you vote at the next presidential election?
For A. Lukashenko

12.4

34.1

For such a candidate

52.0

26.0

Should Belarus become a member of the European Union?
Yes

60.9

49.9

No

35.6

47.5

What poses threat to the development of Belarus?
West

19.9

29.5

Belarusian opposition

11.5

16.8

Belarusian authorities

36.5

13.3

In case A. Lukashenko wins the next presidential election, the prospects of Belarus:
Will improve

17.6

41.5

Will not change significantly

48.0

44.9

Will decline

33.7

12.8

It is obvious that the two groups differ dramatically in their social frame of mind. Those offended by the authorities approve striking entrepreneurs, suffer of corruption (by the way, they think that it is born by the entire economic system and not separate officials) and give pessimistic estimates of country’s economic prospects (this is why most of them don’t accept the current course but expect that it changes). They are mostly citizens who voted against Constitution amendment at the referendum and for opposition or independent candidates at the parliamentary election, who trust the data of Gallup’s Institute rather than the Central Election Commission, who are discontented with democratization in the country, who think that top Belarusian officials are engaged in disappearances of opposition figures, who are transparently pro-European and think that these are the Belarusian authorities that pose a threat to Belarus and not some foreign states, who expect deterioration of country’s prospects in case of A. Lukashenko’s victory at the coming presidential election and this is why they are ready to vote for a candidate able to compete successfully with the current head of state. Regarding those who take no offence against the authorities, the majority is pretty loyal to the current course and is moderately optimistic about the future. In most attitudes, these two social groups are not simply different but obviously antagonistic.

Another classic indicator of how the people estimate authority’s equity and fairness is its “feeling of law observance”, or estimation of human rights observance in the country. In average, only 26.7% of respondents said that basic human rights (ten basic rights were listed) are always observed in this country and nearly 60% stated that they are observed randomly or never. In the opinion of citizens, the following rights are violated most often. (See Table 2).

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “How do you think human rights are observed in Belarus?” %*

Human rights

Always

Not always

Are not observed

Worthy living

16.3

44.1

33.0

Equal protection of the law

23.1

34.0

33.2

Freedom of gathering, meeting and demonstrating

17.5

37.9

29.7

Freedom of opinion and its expression

22.2

37.7

30.0

* Table is read across

More thorough analysis shows that this is exactly resentment against the authorities that is a major reason of sharp “decline in people’s feeling of law observance”. (See Table 3).

Table 3. “Feeling of lawfulness” among offended and not offended Belarusians, %

Are the following human rights observed in Belarus:

Over the past three years, have you survived an offence from public authorities?

Yes (26.0)

No (74.0)

Worthy living
Always

5.7

20.1

Not always

37.5

46.4

Not observed

53.8

25.7

Equal protection of the law
Always

10.2

27.6

Not always

29.6

35.6

Not observed

54.1

25.9

Freedom of gathering, meeting and demonstrating
Always

10.7

24.6

Not always

37.8

47.2

Not observed

51.5

28.2

Freedom of opinion and its expression
Always

8.9

30.6

Not always

35.8

44.1

Not observed

55.3

25.3

Thus, over half of those offended by the authorities claim that their basic rights are not observed at all. This is twice as much as among the general number of respondents! In its turn, “decline in the feeling of law observance” influences directly the electoral preferences of the Belarusians. (See Table 4).

Table 4. “Feeling of lawfulness” among different electoral groups, %

Are the following human rights observed in Belarus:

If you knew a competitive opponent to A. Lukashenko, for whom would you vote at the next presidential election?

For A. Lukashenko (28.4)

For his contender (32.8)

Worthy living
Always

33.4

4.6

Not always

46.2

37.7

Not observed

11.4

54.8

Equal protection of the law
Always

45.5

9.8

Not always

34.1

29.9

Not observed

10.5

55.4

Freedom of gathering, meeting and demonstrating
Always

38.4

4.8

Not always

34.4

35.2

Not observed

8.1

51.3

Freedom of opinion and its expression
Always

44.7

5.9

Not always

35.2

33.6

Not observed

7.0

53.7

The Belarusians ready to re-elect the current president have a much higher “feeling of law observance” than those ready to vote for an alternative candidate. What’s more, “decline in the feeling of law observance” not only changes inevitably the electoral preferences but significantly increases people’s readiness to active forms of protest. (See Table 5).

As the analysis shows, 12.8% of those not offended by the authorities over lately are ready to participate in mass meetings and demonstrations to air their opinions and 10.5% – in strikes while those numbers among offended respondents are 30.1% and 31.9% respectively!

Table 5. Readiness to public actions depending on the “feeling of lawfulness “, %

Ready to participate in the following public actions to express their opinion:

Is the right to worthy living observed in Belarus:

Always

Not always

Not observed

Meetings, demonstrations and pickets

6.8

15.6

27.9

Strikes

4.3

13.1

26.1

Hunger-strikes

2.1

3.9

9.0

Armed struggle

2.0

3.6

10.2

Judging by relatively high president’s rating (46.4% of citizens are presently ready to vote for him) and satisfactory estimates given to the Belarusian authorities for their work in general (3 points at the five-point scale), people’s level of offence is still far from the public tolerance borderline that has revolutions beyond it. Yet, the logic of authorities’ inequity in this country is very similar to the same process in the countries of “color revolutions”. Resentment against the authorities takes citizens to comprehension of their inequity – this comprehension takes to understanding of human rights and their infringement – this understanding takes to changes of electoral preferences – this change, if not implemented through free and fair election, takes to the readiness to stand up human rights in the actions of public protest and revolution is its extreme form. Who knows, perhaps, with their actions the Belarusian authorities might provoke this process much quicker than all the actions of the opposition taken together and Belarus will see Kyrgyz or Romanian rather than Georgian or Ukrainian revolution?..