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POLITICAL REGIME – MAJOR HURDLE FOR AN INDEPENDENT RESEARCH

Despite the humiliating criticism on the part of the authorities and skeptical estimations on the part of the opposition, growth of trust within the society to the independent research centers in Belarus cannot but impress. According to IISEPS opinion polls, in September of 1998 25.7% of the respondents said they trusted these centers, 15.9% – distrusted and 58.4% found it difficult to answer (didn’t know anything about them) but in April of 2003 48.9% respondents said they trusted the centers, 19.0% – distrusted and only 32.1% found it difficult to answer. In the rating of credence they now rank second after the Orthodox Church and leave behind two dozens of traditional state and public institutions like the government, courts, parties, trade unions, unions of entrepreneurs and even the mass media! Yet, this is hardly an argument for opponents and skeptics: “How can the Belarusians trust any results, they ask, if most of them know about independent researches at best through hearsay?”

As far as we talk about the public institution trusted by almost half of the respondents, the issue goes obviously beyond the scope of a professional discussion. Taking into account objections of the opponents, we decided to consider the opinion of those who are supposed to know about independent researches not by hearsay – public leaders and experts (See Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “Do you trust the research centers?”, %

Research Center
All respondents
Public sector employees
Private sector employees
Non-state:
Trust
74
61
84
Distrust
7
13
3
State-run:
Trust
13
26
3
Distrust
49
29
66
As it is seen, the level of credence to these institutes is much higher among the Belarusian elite than in the society in general. At that, the state research centers possessing vaster resources and, what’s essential, the support of the authorities are trusted far less than non-state centers. Remarkably, even representatives of the public sector give their preference to the independent expertise: evidently, they know what they say. Frankly speaking, we ourselves took such high level of trust with doubt: the results of independent researches and analysis are known to be generally ignored by the official structures or mentioned in a critical or even sarcastic context!
It turned out, the Belarusian elite often studies independent expertise (See Table 2). The source they usually study is the materials of these very centers published, first of all, in the independent media (See Table 3).

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “Have you ever studied the materials of independent Belarusian research centers (like the Analytical Center Strategy, the IISEPS, etc)?”, %

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Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “If you have studied such materials, in which form?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

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Quite frequently, public leaders and experts not just study but actively use these materials in their activity (See Table 4). Also, they involve independent researchers and analysts into their activity – to conduct various researches and develop projects mainly (See Table 5).

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “Have you ever used the materials of independent researchers and analysts in your professional activity?”, %

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Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question “Have independent researches and analysts been involved into the activity of your structure?”, %

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And to all appearances co-operation with independent researches and usage of their materials hasn’t passed away tracklessly (See Table 6).

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question “If you have ever studied such materials, did they influence your attitude to the social and political processes in our country (e.g., whether to participate in the election campaign, who to vote for, etc.?)”, %

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Nowadays it is often said that Russia’s “quiet expansion” is happening in many spheres of the Belarusian politics, economics and culture and that certain “shade” analytical groups of Russia help A. Lukashenko develop the course. We cannot say for the president and his immediate aids (unfortunately, they are beyond the reach of our interviewers) but the majority of the polled representatives of the Belarusian elite trusts the Belarusian and not the Russian experts (and the employees of the private sector also trust Western experts) (See Table 7). Moreover, for a more than 10-year-old history of independent expertise in Belarus, it has gained its own favorites (See Table 8).

Table 7. Distribution of answers to the question “Which independent researchers and analysts do you trust the most?”, %

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Table 8. Distribution of answers to the question “Name five best, in your opinion, independent researchers and analysts in Belarus?”, % (open question)

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As is shown, the most often mentioned experts represent five leading centers of the national public association Belarusian Think Tanks as well as major social spheres – economics (five experts), political science (three experts) and sociology (two experts). Thus, independent researches and analysis are highly estimated by the representatives of the Belarusian elite – in both public and private sectors. The main problem, as they say, is that the results of an independent research are ignored by the authorities and therefore almost does not influence (“influence” – 20%, “almost doesn’t influence” – 74%) political and socio-economic decisions taken in the country unlike in other countries including Russia. Only one third of the polled leaders and experts say that results of the polls conducted by independent research centers “are taken into account by the governing bodies while taking decisions” (to compare: “the results of the polls conducted by the state-run centers” – 45%, “information of special services” – 30%, “information of ministries and departments” – 26%).
The true reason of such a state is that, in the opinion of both respondents from the public sector and the private sector, the public opinion in itself “almost doesn’t influence political and socio-economic decisions in this country” (“influence” – 26%, “almost doesn’t influence” – 65%). Fancy, the authorities declaring themselves a popular rule in fact ignore the public opinion! This is why independent researches studying and reflecting this opinion are taken by the authorities as not an important and necessary source of information but as a hurdle and even a threat. This fact explains last year regulations of the government aimed at controlling public opinion polls and publication of their results in the mass media. Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the citizens doesn’t support introduction of such control (according to our latest national opinion poll – 62.1%, support – 18.1%), the proper commission have already being formed, legal mechanisms have already been developed and the “work” is about to drive. 68% of public opinion leaders and experts are convinced “this will have a negative impact on the activity of independent research and analytical centers”.
What do representatives of the elite pin the perspectives of independent researches in Belarus with and what is their advice? There is a partial answer to this question in Table 9.

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question “In your opinion, what should be done to strengthen the role of independent social research in Belarus?”, % (open question, more than one answer)

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We might try to wider distribute our results (although there are almost no unused resources taking into account the current control of the authorities over the media of communication), increase the quality (although the main procedure characteristics have been long ago publicized) and extend the research areas (although the most topical problems of social development are permanently studied by independent centers.) But increasing internal financing when the public sector of economics is slumping deeper into the crisis and the private sector is surviving harder pressure; changing political regime in the country when the opposition is marginalized and the most part of electorate is still drowsing – are the targets apparently beyond the possibilities of the social science. Many first-rate Belarusian professionals including those from the scientific and research stratum have lately migrated into politics striving to achieve this target. Have the potential of the political opposition consequently increased much? There are different opinions. But the potential of the social science has undoubtedly decreased. Here is a consensus of opinion. Therefore, despite steadily aggravating conditions, independent researches and analysts of Belarus will follow their major principles – “professionalism and civil responsibility.” The increasing prestige of the independent science in both the society and among the elite is an essential incentive and condition of its further development.