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“PRISONER’S DILEMMA”: BELARUS BETWEEN THE WEST AND RUSSIA

Estonia and Latvia have held lately referenda on joining the European Union. Those referenda were the last in the series of plebiscites carried by the countries-candidates in this year. Nowadays, attitude of the Belarusians to Europe can be found in an opinion poll only. Results of the latest opinion poll show complexity and ambivalence of this attitude. Most Belarusians say the choice for Europe that Belarus’ neighbors have made is a right one and will bring practical benefit to the Poles, the Lithuanians and the Lett (See Table 1).
Table  1. Distribution of answers to the question “Belarus’ neighbors Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and ten more countries will become EU members in May of 2004. Will people’s living in those country change in 5 years?”

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Table 2. Dynamics of answer distribution to the question “In your opinion, what countries and international organizations pose a threat to Belarus?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

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Approaching of the united Europe to the Belarusian borders doesn’t give much concern to the Belarusian citizens and isn’t taken as a menace (See Table 2).
Data of Table 2 is a mixture of ideological indoctrination (often Soviet-type) and common sense. In both polls respondents estimated the threat from NATO as being graver than that from the states-members of this alliance. Demonizing of NATO by the Soviet as well as current official propaganda has left its marks. In its weaker form this ideological indoctrination is revealed in an improbably high estimation of the threat coming from the OSCE – another international organization that unlike the NATO has no troops or intelligence bodies. This is an obvious trace of titanic struggle carried by the Belarusian authorities against the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group.
If compared to all previous researches, there are obvious differences. Indexes of threat going from NATO and the USA have come much closer – the difference is slightly greater than the margin of error. Mass conscience on this issue has become more rational. High estimate of ‘American threat’ already existed some time ago and this year it has apparently been strengthened by the Iraqi war, namely by the estimate of this war by the Belarusian and Russian leaders and mass media.
It is remarkable that NATO expansion to the Belarusian borders hasn’t led to estimation of increased threat coming from the alliance in general and its members (both old and new) in particular. The Great Britain was the only exception that can be accounted for by its participation in the Iraqi war. Indirectly, this point was also revealed in the estimations given by the Belarusians to the leaders of different countries (See Table 3).

Table 3. Dynamics of answer distribution to the question “Who of the contemporary high-ranking politicians do you like the most and who of them fits your ideal of a politician?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

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* In these opinion polls the name of this politician was not offered

Clearly, estimates given to foreign leaders cannot be tacitly applied to their countries. Recently elected heads of foreign states receive low estimates just because the Belarusians know little about them. On the other hand, a new hero like Russia’s president who became such a figure for the Belarusians from 2000 can shove aside all other politicians and provoke decline in their rating. Also, leader’s personal traits play an important role: Russia’s President B. Yeltsin closed the list of favorites in 1999 while Russia’s acting President V. Putin headed the list in 2000 and 2003. In late 90-ies charming B. Clinton enjoyed sympathies of the Belarusians (Drop of those sympathies was registered only during the war in Yugoslavia).
But even then Clinton’s rating exceeded ratings of all other Western leaders. In September of 2003 G. Bush gave this place not only to leaders of anti-war opposition H. Schroeder and J. Chirac but even to his military ally A. Blair. And this is while the military target of G. Bush – S. Hussein doesn’t enjoy special sympathies of the Belarusians (unlike S. Milosevic in 1999).
In a word, there’s a clear division of the West in the Belarusian mass awareness into Europe and America. Its attitude to these two components differs as well. However, sympathy to the European leaders, no feeling of threat from the European countries and even assurance that the Poles and the Lithuanians will benefit of their joining the EU doesn’t mean that the Belarusians are willing to join the united Europe.
We would like to shortly preface the remarks about this unwillingness. During the IISEPS opinion poll in March of 2003 the Belarusians were asked about their choice in hypothetical referenda on Belarus’ joining to EU and its unification with Russia. 56.4% of respondents cast their hypothetical votes then for joining the EU and 57.5% gave their votes for unification with Russia. What’s more, 33.6% of all polled (every third) spoke out for joining both Russia and the EU.
The article by IISEPS Director O. Manaev ‘Splitting of Belarusian Awareness: Globalism vs. Fundamentalism’ published this July in the newspaper Svobodnye Novosti Plus presented analysis of those data. Special attention in the article was paid to the group that stands for two-side integration. In the opinion of O. Manaev, such a numerous group of ‘unionists’ reveals global character of the Belarusian social awareness, psychological readiness and willingness of the Belarusians to live in a united world without border lines.
Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Adradzhenne Y. Khodyka spoke in that same newspaper with sharp criticism of Manaev’s conclusions and his sociological approach. He insists that concurrent integration with both the East and the West is incongruous and presence of the ‘unionist’ group is either the indicator of controversy and absurdity of the Belarusian awareness at the best or the result of a poor scientific methodology of IISEPS at the worst.
Disagreeing with the most theses of Y. Khodyko we nevertheless saw a rational seed in his criticism: According to Y. Khodyko, respondents should be offered the questions without an option of two-way integration. In our September polling we asked respondents two questions: one of them explicitly admitted possibility of two-way integration while the other explicitly excluded such a possibility (See Tables 4 and 5).

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “How would you vote if there is a referendum on choosing future perspective for Belarus?”
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Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question “If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, which one would you give preference to?”

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We believe Table 5 gives an irrefragable answer to Y. Khodyko’s question about the choice the Belarusians will make if put before the dilemma – either to the East or to the West. Almost every second Belarusian will give preference to the East, to Russia. Knowing the stand of Y. Khodyko on this issue we think it appropriate to mention here the proverb: “Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you.”
It should be also noted that the international context during the polling attended more to the opposite ratio of pro-Russian and pro-European forces: the opinion poll was conducted in September at the backgrounds of, first, enthusiasm in the Eastern European countries on account of their coming integration and, second, of a bloody conflict between Minsk and Moscow around gas problems and currency integration.
In fact, the choice offered in Table 5 appeared to be a hard one for many Belarusians. Growth in the number of Russia or EU integration supporters in Table 5 as against Table 4 (from 37.9% to 47.6% and from 23.4% to 36.1% respectively) happens mainly due to the large group of unionists (23.2%), i.e. those who spoke out for integration with both Russia and the EU while answering the question in Table 4. An additional survey shows that opinions of the unionists forced to choose one way of integration have been distributed in the following way: 46.6% of them choose Russia, 36.9% give preference to the EU in the situation ‘either-or’ and 16.5% refuse to make a one-side choice.
As we can see, majority of the unionists – unlike Y. Khodyko said – is quite rational in its geopolitical preferences and is not inclined to neurotic reactions: Russia and Europe aren’t for them mum and dad a child refuses to choose between. If they have to choose between Russia and Europe, they’ll make the choice (46.6% against 36.9%).
Remarkably, the ratio of pro-Russian and pro-European citizens among the unionists fits such a ratio to 1% along the sample.
The data of Tables 4-5 proves our previous conclusions: none of the groups standing firm for integration with the EU only or with Russia only makes the majority in the Belarusian society – even when citizens have to make a one-side choice neither of the groups makes 50% (integration with Russia – almost 50%).
The situation resembles a classic ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ from the theory of games. One of its interpretations goes as follows. Two men suspected in committing one and the same crime get imprisoned. There are only indirect evidences of their guilt. If both deny their guilt, they will be sentenced to one year of imprisonment each. If both confess to a crime, they will be condemned to five years each. But if confesses only one of them, he will be indemnified for his assistance to investigation and the second accused who didn’t confess will be given 10 years of imprisonment. The best variant for both is not to confess the crime. But each of them will most probably try to escape the worst variant – when the second will buy freedom with non-confession of the first one. Consequently, both will voluntarily and rationally choose confession.
Clearly, the example given is very conditional and, evidently, has little in common with real practice of the criminal world and the law machinery. It just illustrates the structure of the situation in which the participants absolutely reasonably and rationally give preference to the variant that is bad for all. ‘Prisoner’s dilemma’ is universal and therefore is often used in psychological and scientific-political researches. In particular, in the second half of XXth century it was a popular instrument of analysis applied to the scenarios of superstate’s nuclear confrontation. (e.g., See W. Poundstone. Prisoner’s dilemma. Anchor Books, 1992).
Turning back to the situation of Belarus as that between the West and Russia, it is obvious that pro-Russian and pro-European citizens mutually hold each other. As the result, there is no integration with either the East or the West. As Table 4 shows, only 6.5% (!) of the Belarusians consider this variant of development the best for the country – ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ in its pure form!
This analysis once again proves our thesis on the key role of the unionist group in the Belarusian society. These are them who represent country’s geopolitical choice that more or less suits the majority.
Results of the September opinion poll illustrate the geopolitical pattern described above (See Table 6).

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question “Fee visas are introduced for reciprocal trips of the Belarusian and Polish citizens since October 1 (free visas remain for the citizens under 16 and over 65 as well for some other categories). Will this measure have any negative consequences for you and your family?” (more than one answer is possible)

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Thus, only some 30% of respondents believe that tightening of visa regime with Poland won’t have serious negative consequences. And about 60% of respondents say they expect to face those consequences for themselves personally. Some politicians and experts claim introduction of visa regime with Poland could be averted if Belarus had resolved to establish visa regime on its eastern border with Russia. Indirect answer to the question on the probable consequences of this suggestion is given in Table 7.

Table  7. Distribution of answers to the question “Which of the countries listed below have you visited over the past 10 years?”(more than one answer is possible)

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Clearly, Table 7 doesn’t reflect frequency and importance of respondents’ trips. Thus, one and the same respondent might have visited his relatives in Russia only few times for the past 10 years and at the same time he might have been visiting Poland weekly as a shuttle trader. However, the opposite proportion is also probable. If supposing that these situations mutually compensate for one another and in average the number of trips the Belarusians go for to those countries is approximately equal, they still appear to visit more often Russia and Ukraine. And it is easy to predict reaction of those 50% of Belarusians in Table 7 to the introduction of ‘visa fence’ on the eastern border of Belarus since they have been going to Russia without visas.
Perhaps, integration of Belarus with the West and the East is really impossible in practice. However, Belarusian governing elite didn’t even show the political will to implement it. Declarative ‘multi-focus’ of the Belarusian foreign policy turned into such style of relations with the West including Europe that it is easy to suppose what urged the expanding EU to build a visa ‘wall’ on Bug.
Furthermore, in the light of aggravating relations with Russia and oppression of civil society by the authorities ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ as the factor estimating the state of things in Belarus is becoming more than a term from the theory of games.