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TACIT POLARIZATION

A growth in the positive mood accompanied by a growth in trust to the person personifying power did not lead to a decrease in the level of opposition attitude in March relative to December (Table 1). It is possible to talk about some increase in the level of polarization in the split Belarusian society owing to a reduction in the share of respondents who found it difficult to answer. The record since December, 2010 percent of Belarusians who do not consider themselves to be in opposition to the authorities (66 %) follows from here. This is a direct outcome of the anti-European and anti-opposition propaganda which has been actively discussed by state mass media since the beginning of the year.

Table 1. Dynamics of answering the question: “Do you consider yourself to be in opposition to the present authorities?”, %

Variant of answer

06’11

09’11

12’11

03’12

Yes

25.8

28.3

22.6

23.4

No

60.3

56.0

63.8

66.0

DA/NA

13.9

15.7

13.6

10.6

The data of Table 2 let us compare a number of socio-demographic characteristics of supporters and opponents of the authorities. As it was to be expected, women prevail among supporters of the authorities. It is a general rule for authoritarian political regimes with a paternalistic constituent. Women traditionally need external care to a greater degree than men, including care on the part of the state. They are more inclined to conformism than representatives of the stronger sex. It is no coincidence that precinct electoral commissions are staffed in Belarus mainly with women. It is more comfortable for representatives of the authorities to work with them in the informal mode. The same reason explains predominance of women-the-judges at state trials. In the last but one list of officials who are forbidden the territory of the European Union, there are 11 women out of 17 judges.

One should not forget that women’s average life expectancy in the country is 12.5 years longer than men’s, and the need for state paternalism increases with aging. The data of Table 2 definitely confirm the assertion. The number of Belarusians opposed to the authorities is 3.6 times larger in the age group of respondents up to 30 years old, than among those who are 60 and older (30.4% vs. 8.4%). However, less than a third of Belarusians attribute themselves to oppositionists even among the youngest respondents not burdened with family cares so far.

The opposition attitude level falls a little bit short of a third also among respondents with higher education. This is 6.3 times more than among those whose education was completed at the primary education stage (32.5% vs. 5.2%). Nevertheless, it does not differ in essence from the opposition attitude level of people with secondary education. A Belarusian with higher education has not gone far from a secondary school graduate in this sense.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you consider yourself to be in opposition to the present authorities?” depending on gender, age and the level of education,* %

Variant of answer

Yes

No

Gender:
Male

29.3

59.7

Female

18.4

71.2

Age:
18-29

30.4

61.4

30-39

28.7

59.3

40-49

27.6

57.0

50-59

23.6

66.0

60+

8.4

83.2

Education:
Primary

5.2>

88.5

Incomplete secondary

8.4

80.4

Secondary

22.3

67.2

Vocational

25.9

60.1

Higher

32.5

59.8

* The table is read across

When answering a direct question: “Are you personally ready to participate in politics more actively?” 5.3% of respondents announced their readiness, another 19.3% chose the option “To some extent, yes”. The majority found themselves on the opposite flank of political activity: “More likely no” – 33.8% and “Definitely no” – 39.3%.

The data of Table 3 let us assess effectiveness of various political actions from the public opinion point of view. Mass media addresses ranked first. Forbidden fruit, as they say it, is sweet, however it is virtually unattainable for the majority. Only 4.1% mentioned that they had had an opportunity in their life to give a talk on the radio, to write for the press, and to appear on television. 16.2% of Belarusians have experience of participation in meetings and demonstrations which is 8.3 points less than the share of those who declared effectiveness of this type of political actions. As for strikes, 10 times fewer respondents participated in them than declared their effectiveness.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “Which ways do you consider most effective for expressing your opinion and influencing the authorities, and what political actions did you participate in?”, (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

%

Talking on the radio, writing for the press, and appearing on television

32.4

Meetings, demonstrations

25.6

Strikes

18.9

Pickets

6.4

Hunger strikes

4.2

Other ways

35.6

DA

12.0

Answers to the question: “Are you ready to support the actions of Belarusian human rights advocates?” also testify to a low level of political activity. The absolute majority (71.4%) answered the given question with a vigorous “no”. 14.3% are ready to sign an appeal to government agencies, 10.7 % – to participate in spreading human rights information and 7% – to take part in protest actions (political meetings, pickets and other).

In the split Belarusian society not only party opposition is perceived as a “fifth column” at the instigation of the head of state, but also independent trade unions (Table 4). 21.2% adhere to such an opinion among supporters of the authorities. Manicheanism (a conception of the Universe as a field for perpetual battle of two cosmic essences – the Light and the Dark, which can never be reconciled with each other and can never have a dialogue between themselves) is an important element of culture of the Belarusian majority. For a typical Manichean the world is colored black and white and consequently all fellow countrymen are divided into friends-or-foes.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question: “In January and February employees of some Belarusian enterprises withdrew from the official Trade Unions Federation and joined independent trade unions. What do you think about it?” depending on the attitude to the authorities, %

Variant of answer

All respondents

Attitude to the authorities

Opponents

Supporters

It accomplishes nothing; independent trade unions cannot protect the rights of the working people

35.7

26.3

39.3

It is a right decision; only independent trade unions can protect the rights of the working people

27.6

51.8

17.7

It is a wrong decision; independent trade unions are a “fifth column”, hostile agents of the foreign states

17.0

8.5

21.2

DA/NA

19.7

12.7

18.8

Belarusian public opinion is also split as far as the people convicted of participation in manifestation on December 19, 2010 are concerned. Even if adversaries of opposition and the West agree to discharging of the convicts, they are guided not by the “mercy to the fallen”, but by their own mercenary interests. Please, pay attention to the last but one line of Table 5.

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Western countries are trying to make Belarusian authorities release the people convicted for participation in manifestations after the election of 2010. Various opinions are expressed on this subject. Which of them do you agree with?”

Variant of answer

%

These people are not guilty of anything, they should be released regardless of the wishes of the West

44.5

These people are guilty and let them serve their terms of imprisonment; we should not yield to the pressure of other countries

21.4

These people are guilty, however they should be released in order to improve our relations with the West

17.8

DA/NA

16.3

In connection with the death sentence to D. Konovalov and V. Kovalev charged with committing an act of terror in Minsk underground a question about the attitude of Belarusians to the capital punishment was again included into the March opinion poll. Continuing to pass and execute death sentences Belarusian authorities refer to the referendum of 1991 in the course of which the people in a single burst declared for the right of the state to take a person’s life (according to the official data of the Central Election Committee – 80.4%). One should receive such a result with a grain of salt, as in the course of that earth shattering referendum the people refused to elect local executive authority in the same unanimous manner, as well as did not support the suggestion to carry out financing of all the branches of government “openly and from the state budget only”.

However, in spite of how the CEC headed by L. Ermoshina counted votes in 1991, one should not reject the very fact of wide public support of death sentences execution (Table 6). In 2010 the relative majority of Belarusians still declared for the capital punishment, and in 2009 the majority was absolute. However weird it might seem, but the trial of the Minsk terrorists’ case changed the ratio of supporters and opponents of the capital punishment in favor of the latter. It may well be so that the reason for the shift should be looked for not in the humanist enlightenment of the Belarusian society, but in the protest response to the decision of the authorities. A considerable growth in the supporters of the death penalty abolition among opposition disposed citizens testifies in favor of the above mentioned supposition (in June 2009 only 37.6% among those who did not trust A. Lukashenko supported the abolition of the death penalty, while among those who trusted him – 48.6%).

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question: “Are you for or against the abolition of the death penalty in the republic of Belarus?”, %

Variant of answer

12’09

10’10

03’12

All respondents

Opponents of the authorities

Supporters of the authorities

For abolition

36.8

42.4

49.7

68.8

43.8

Against abolition

54.6

48.3

40.8

21.3

48.2

DA/NA

8.6

9.3

9.5

9.7

7.8

Media activity of the authorities against the background of the economic crisis strengthened polarization of the Belarusian society. Exactly the authorities are directly responsible for this as they officially do not acknowledge presence of an opposition “minority” in the society. This way they are rocking the boat, as well as by means of attempting to shift the responsibility for the economic hardships onto the “fifth column”.