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TWENTY YEARS LATER

In April 1992 IISEPS held its first national opinion poll. Twenty years is a standard space of time during which a generation change occurs. However, one should not approach the question without thinking. In the opinion of the culture expert I. Yakovenko: “Generational change is set not so much by a natural process of replacing fathers with children, as by convulsions of our country’s history. New generations emerge in crucial, crisis times when the process of state leveling slackens, the maxim “left step, right step is considered an escape” temporarily forfeits its currency and a potentiality for diverse behavior comes into existence, an opportunity for to some extent unconventional self-realization”.

To understand the facts of twenty years ago, let alone comparing respondents’ answers received at the epochs’ turning point with the answers of our contemporaries who managed to adapt to the conditions of Belarusian stability, we will need a theoretical scheme. According to the sociologist Y. Levada, Russian society (we suppose, Belarusian one too) can find itself in two states – dormant and excited. Let us refer to Table 1 representing dynamics of answering a “neutral” at first sight question. Twenty years ago only 1.7% of Belarusians did not read newspapers! Today the share of non-readers makes up a quarter of the country’s adult population. At present Belarusians are more inclined to buy newspapers, hence the ratio of subscribers to buyers of periodicals is less than one (0.85). In 1992 the number of the former exceeded the number of the latter 10 times (!) in spite of the fact that 58.4% of respondents had reduced the amount of newspapers and magazines they had subscribed to in comparison with 1991, while only 5.4% had increased it.

Table 1. Dynamics of answering the question: “How do you usually receive newspapers?”, %

Variant of answer

04’92

03’12

I subscribe to them

86.0

31.2

I buy them in “Soyuzpechat” news stalls

7.8

33.2

I buy them from stalls in the streets, underground crossings, at meetings and so on

0.7

4.6

I borrow them from the library or from my acquaintances

3.8

7.7

I do not read newspapers

1.7

24.8

In the list of reasons that made Belarusians cut down on their spending on periodicals the “too high price” ranked first (52.8%), and the loss of interest: “all newspapers write the same things” (12.4%) and “the press is less important for me now than it used to bev (5.9%) ranked second and third with a great lag.

However, in general a demand for information became higher when society found itself in the excited state. Popularity of foreign “voices” follows from here: in 1992 23% listened to “Voice of America”, 22.5% – to Radio “Liberty”, 16.9% – to “BBC” and 9.8% – to “Deutsche Welle”. It is clear that audiences of western broadcasting stations intersected, and the cited percent cannot be added up. Today the size of the “aggregate” audience of foreign stations broadcasting from abroad and carrying alternative political information does not exceed 5%. To some extent it can be explained by the popularity of the Internet: over a half of Belarusians older than 18 used the “world web” in December with a various degree of regularity. However, one should not flatter oneself: political information is not a priority for Belarusian users (in November 2010 the site of Charter 97 was visited by less than 1% of the Internet users).

Answers to the question of Table 2 also testify to the excited state of Belarusian society in April 1992. Strictly speaking, it would be incorrect to compare the first column with the others due to the discrepancy of answers alternatives offered to respondents. Although the fact of the Belarusian language prestige value at the beginning of the 90s is unquestionable, it took only five years for Belarusians’ wish to communicate in their native tongue to decrease dramatically. If desired, such a considerable change can be imputed to a purposeful Russification which began in the country after A. Lukashenko’s winning the first presidential elections in 1994. Why did the share of respondents speaking Russian in everyday life also decrease considerably (–26.1 points)? A possible explanation of the revealed phenomenon lies in the fact that at the beginning of the 90s national mobilization (excitement) which spread over virtually all the republics after the collapse of the USSR was substantial in Belarus. National mobilization exactly made people self-determine their language preferences. That is why the share of bilingual citizens, as well as the ones speaking “trasyanka” (a mixture of the Russian and Belarusian languages), was so small.

Table 2. Dynamics of answering the question: “Which language do you mostly use in your everyday communication?”, %

Language of communication

04’92

11’94

03’99

Belarusian

27.1

16.4

3.3

Russian

63.0

68.0

41.9

Russian and Belarusian

–*

6.7

26.5

Mixed

–*

6.0

27.1

Other

9.4

1.8

0.5

* This options were not offered

In spite of the popular today conceptions about the inability of Belarusians to protest, in 1992 about 30% of the adult population participated in political meetings and demonstrations, and approximately the same number of people (33.9%) believed in their effective influence on authorities. 8.1% took part in strikes, but 31.7% agreed that they could be effective. At present the level of protest activity is considerably lower. At that it is not ruled out that a part of citizens who mentioned their participation in protest actions meant their protest experience of the beginning of the 90s (Table 3).

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “Did you personally have a chance to:”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

04’92

03’12

Participate in meetings, demonstrations

29.4

16.2

Sign a declaration, an appeal, a collective letter and so on

17.9

17.3

Participate in strikes

8.1

1.7

Speak over the radio, write for the press or appear on television

6.0

4.1

Participate in collecting signatures under an appeal, declaration, petition and so on

5.2

7.9

Participate in pickets

1.1

2.3

Four months after signing the agreement in the Bialowieza forest, 45.5% of Belarusians announced their desire to return to the USSR (Table 4). Twenty years later every fourth respondent announces the same desire, and among supporters of authorities even more – almost every third respondent (29.8%). Attention should be paid to the last line of the table. The number of those who did not define their attitude to the “greatest catastrophe of the XX century” decreased three times which is quite natural; these are mainly supporters of authorities among whom the proportion of people with a low level of education is large. As a reference let us note that according to the first opinion poll of IISEPS, 55.2% of Belarusians voted for preservation of the USSR at the referendum on March 17, 1991, 11% – against, and 32.9% did not participate in voting.

Table 4. Dynamics of answering the question: “Do you consider restoration of the USSR necessary?”

Variant of answer

04’92

03’12

All respondents

Supporters of the authorities

Opponents of the authorities

Yes

45.5

24.6

12.2

29.8

No

24.1

65.4

85.8

57.8

DA/NA

30.4

10.0

2.0

12.4

Declaring for restoration of the USSR Belarusians simultaneously did not support the idea of returning the communist party its former role of the “leading and guiding force of society”: 13.6% – for, 57.8% – against. Thus a peculiar reincarnation of the civil war slogan “For Soviets without communists” took place at the beginning of the 90s.

Under the conditions of the post-perestroika chaos Belarusians anchored their hopes for overcoming the crisis on foreign capital, the government and businessmen alike (Table 5). At that time the president was not yet referred to as the main factor of hope. As for democratic institutions (the parliament, parties, law courts, mass media) playing a considerable role in the life of western societies, Belarusians did not cherish illusions regarding their real anti-crisis abilities. During twenty years not much has changed in this respect, only the government (19.9%) has been pressed by the president (35.9%), and foreign capital which at the beginning of the 90s could come only from the West has been pressed by Russia (25.2%). Opposition (8.6%) and trade unions (3%), i.e. civil society bodies, traditionally remain at the end of the list.

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Who do you center your hopes for a way out of the crisis on?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

%

On attraction of foreign capital

33.1

On the government

33.0

On Belarusian businessmen

31.4

On heads of state enterprises, collective farms and so on

15.7

On the Supreme Soviet

14.1

On the army, security bodies

7.8

On political parties and movements

5.4

On the judicial system

4.7

On somebody else

3.2

On mass media

2.7

The Soviet economy collapse inspired Belarusians with faith in the advantage of market over planned economy and the first opinion poll registered a confident win of “marketers” over “planners”: 57.2% vs. 38.7%. The Belarusian economic model with its administrative governing methods did not undermine the faith in the advantages of market. Today the share of supporters of market economy with a slight government control makes up 46.1% in Belarus, while the share of planned economy supporters decreased to 13.5%. Representatives of a peculiar economic “swamp” settled themselves between these extremes (supporters of market economy with a considerable government control) – 24.1%.

Answers to the question of Table 6 are evidence of the mass faith in an opportunity to acquire one’s share of the “public ownership”. As the further events proved, those who had sold their share turned out to stand to relative gain. The majority of new owners who exchanged their privatization vouchers for the shares of Belarusian enterprises are not always able to buy a one-way ticket for a ride by the urban public transport for the accrued dividends.

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question: “How would you like to dispose of your share of privatization in the republic?”, (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer

%

Bequeath to my children

40.9

Purchase a place to live, build a house

39.6

Invest into my own business (buy a farm, a store, a workshop, equipment, etc.)

29.5

Buy land

21.4

Become a co-owner of the enterprise where I work

15.5

Buy securities (shares and so on)

9.2

Sell it for cash

5.6

Other

1.2

Another illusion is registered in answers to the question of Table 7. The forbidden fruit of western life seemed sweet from behind the “iron curtain”, and in April 1992 63.3% of Belarusians announced their desire to enjoy it. However, time arranged everything back to order. “Nobody is waiting for us there” – this truth has been mastered by the majority; on the other hand, the relatively high percent of those who today would like “to work abroad”, should be perceived as declaration of intentions rather than real readiness to accept “such an offer”, and all the more so because western employers are not inclined to initiate hiring Belarusian guest workers. Nobody will lift a finger to help those in trouble – this popular wisdom is also true of searching for work abroad. It is another matter that for the last years Belarusians have got a real opportunity to find work in the East. In 1991 there was no question of that.

Table 7. Dynamics of answering the question: “If you were offered an opportunity to work abroad, would you:”, %

Variant of answer

04’92

03’12

Accept such an offer

63.3

39.3

Refuse

13.4

49.4

DA/NA

23.3

11.3

The question of private ownership of land splits Belarusian society, all the more so when the matter concerns selling land to foreigners. As it follows from Table 8, the number of opponents of selling the land has not changed much for two decades, while the camp of land cosmopolitans has grown 2.5 times. The imbalance became possible owing to a decrease in the number of respondents who avoided answering. There is nothing surprising that the question about the attitude to selling land to foreigners is politically loaded. That is why the number of positive answers is two times smaller among supporters of authorities, i.e. among those whose material well-being directly depends on the state’s generosity, than among opponents of authorities. Such attitude of authorities’ supporters to the question of land privatization should be recognized as rational: if the state parts with its main assets how will it manage to feed its subjects?

Table 8. Dynamics of answering the question: “Do you think it is acceptable for foreign citizens to own land in Belarus?”, %

Variant of answer

04’92

03″12

All respondents

Supporters of the authorities

Opponents of the authorities

Yes

14.5

36.3

59.4

28.3

No

62.7

58.0

36.4

65.9

DA/NA

22.8

5.7

4.2

5.8

However, absence of dynamics in answering the question of Table 9 was surprising. For a society formed under the conditions of universal goods shortage a firm choice in favor of affluence, even on market terms, seems natural. For twenty years of living on scanty to European measures income and after its considerable decrease in 2011 Belarusians’ need for returning into the world of cheap hard-to-get things has not grown, though. Last year we had an opportunity to convince ourselves more than once it was really so watching the painful response of the population to a recurrent disappearance of some goods from retail trade.

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question: “What would you choose?”, %

Variant of answer

04’92

03’12

A wide choice, abundance of expensive high quality goods not affordable to everyone

70.8

71.6

A small range of goods, constant shortage of goods with affordable, fixed prices

26.1

27.4

Ratio of the first line to the second line

2.7

2.6

In the XX century society transferred from the dormant state to the excited one twice: the first time was in 1917, and the second time – at the boundary of the 80s and the 90s. Both times its excitement ended with a collapse of the statehood. However, it is important not to confuse the cause with the effect in this case. Did excitement of society lead to the collapse of the statehood, or did the collapse of the statehood excite society? We are more inclined to the second option. In autumn of 2011 historical lows of all three social indices registered by IISEPS were recorded. However, it did not lead to a growth in protest moods. It is not difficult to understand the given paradox within the bounds of what has been said above. The financial crisis did not lead to a split of the political class. The state monolith withstood, and hence no reason for mass excitement was formed.