Our latest research caused a real sensation. We interviewed people asking “A year ago the deputy group “Republic” was formed in the Belarusian parliament at the initiative of General V. Frolov. It sharply criticized A. Lukashenko’s policy. Some are positive about the fact, others – negative. What is your opinion?” One third of the respondents (33.1%) said “positive”, another third (33.6%) – “I don’t care”, 15.4% – “negative” and 17.9% found it difficult to answer the question. The result is, frankly speaking, unexpected. No more than 1% of the respondents mention the very General (as a probable presidential contender or a politician presenting voters’ interests.) Ratings of the opposition political parties are still low. To the question “Which political party is closer to you in its standpoints?” the most famous and influential parties received from 6.2% (Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus) to 3.0% (Belarusian Social Democratic Party “Narodnaya Gromada”). There are three times fewer Belarusians confiding in them (17.7%) than those confiding not (51.2%). As for this spring large-scale mass actions, only 13% of the respondents know of the “Day of Independence”, 9% – of the people’s march “For Better Life!” and 4.4% – of the all-Belarusian gathering of the intellectuals. Only one third of the respondents are positive to such actions, over half are indifferent or negative.

We have been registering such situation for several years already. Also, this is the foundation which the supreme authorities and their propagandists on the staff – from “serious newspapers for serious people” to “TV analysts” – use to propagate the dignity of personal “choice” and poverty of “political frauds living by foreign alms.” But how one would explain positive attitude of one third of Belarusians to activity of a handful of deputies not yet well-known even among the “old” opposition? To answer the question, let’s compare sociological portraits of the voters that give opposite evaluations to the activity of the group “Republic” (See Table 1).

Table 1. Sociological portrait of the voters who give opposite evaluations to the activity of the group “Republic”, %

Characteristic features of electorate’s sociological portrait
Regard in positive (33.1)
Regard in negative (15.4)
Has your financial position changed over the past three months?
Has improved
Has not changed
Has deteriorated
What concerns you the most in the country’s development?
Increase in tariffs for public utilities
Increase in prices for staples
How will socio-economic situation in Belarus change in the coming years?
Will improve
Will not change
Will deteriorate
Lukashenko have recently accused the government of “having picked citizens’ pockets without putting anything into them”. Some agree with this, others claim he is responsible himself as the government only follows his instructions.What is your opinion?
Government is responsible
President is responsible
To which extent are you satisfied with the development of democracy in Belarus?
Fully/rather satisfied
Rather/absolutely dissatisfied
Are the human rights observed in Belarus?
Yes/rather yes
Rather no/no
I believe that after the election of 2001 A. Lukashenko’s rating:
Has increased
Has decreased
If there were a referendum to amend the Constitution of Belarus to allow Lukashenko be elected president again, how would you vote?
Would vote for such amendment to the Constitution
Would vote against such amendment to the Constitution
Do you think in general A. Lukashenko quite well governs the country and should be again elected president in the upcoming election or another candidate should take this post (receive an opportunity to do this better than him)?
Elect again A. Lukashenko
Another candidate should take the post
Did Belarus or Russia achieve greater progress in building democratic states and a civil societies?
If tomorrow we had a referendum on Belarus’ joining the EU, how would you vote?
Your age
Under 30
50 +
Your education
Elementary/ incomplete secondary
Secondary vocational/higher
Social status
Employee of the public sector
Employee of the private sector
As we see, the electorate positively treating activity of the group is:
  • chiefly young, the most active and well-educated part of the society;
  • concerned about the decline in their financial position as well as in country’s economic and political climate in general, and first of all – about regular violations of democracy and human rights;
  • well aware that the main cause of this deterioration is neither the mythological “domestic and foreign foes” nor even the government and local authorities but the president himself stubbornly not willing to change his policy;
  • convinced that, on the one hand, Belarus should develop mutually beneficial and permanent co-operation with Russia that has achieved greater progress in its economic and political development and, on the other hand, it should closely co-operate with Europe. They would even readily cast their votes for joining the European Union at the referendum;
  • convinced that another politician should become president and, if there is a referendum, they are ready to vote against the amendment to the constitution allowing A. Lukashenko be again elected president.
In other words, the Belarusian opposition still relies on that same electorate but by now the electorate “doesn’t respond its aspirations.” The reasons for the lack of “reciprocity” are many and they have already been much spoken about. Among them are: steady discrediting of the opposition by means of the state’s powerful information and propagandist instruments; serious mistakes of the opposition (What the boycott of the parliamentary election alone cost!) and the most important – ousting of the opposition after November 1996 out of not only the governing bodies but the state system in general. Out of system, the opposition lost the instruments of its effective influence at not only the government but also the society and has been since then taken – even by those within the state structures and the society who are discontented with the current policy – as weak and marginal, on which almost nothing depends.
This is a true reason of positive attitude of many Belarusians to the activity of the deputy group “Republic”. Despite the rather modest outcomes of their activity (in most cases they fail to enlist the support of the majority necessary for passing or turning down a decision), the “republicans” have been drawing attention of both the officials and regular voters to what the “old army” of opposition missed – its belonging to the system of state power. Using their status, members of the group have been addressing the government with deputy requests, speaking in the parliament and at other official events (initiating speaker’s dismissal, challenging the General Prosecutor to report on the political disappearances and other), have been maintaining their contacts with the electorate, meeting heads of different governing bodies and not only in Belarus but also abroad (in Russia and Europe). They are not alien for many people working in the current system despite the rapidly acquired image of the “new opposition”. There are even grounds to assume that one of true reasons why OSCE PA has recently recognized the Belarusian parliament is to legalize the “Republic” and thus enter it into the system of co-operation with Europe. Theoretically, the group can become a “point of support” and further – of consolidation and growth of all forces interested in the changes in Belarus.
This theoretic assumption has been turning into reality. Two weeks ago at the initiative of Republic’s founder V. Frolov a new public organization “Union of Citizens” was formed. It incorporated not only the insurgent group but also famous trade union associations (the leaders are A. Bukhvostov, G. Bykov, A. Shumchenko), the influential at the national and international arena the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, organizations closely related to the world of business (including Russian) – “Business Initiative” of M. Narinich and “For Renewed Belarus” of V. Leonov as well as a series of regional structures. While participation of trade unions, particular small entrepreneurs from the newly formed “Perspective”, impart the “Union” the features attracting regular voters (13% of our respondents know of the “Independence Day” and 46.6% – of the recent entrepreneur strikes), participation of other organizations impart the features attracting professionals from the public sector, NGOs and business structures at the national and regional levels.
Majority of the political parties “covered with the seams from the long years of combating the regime” are so far suspicious of this initiative and repeat it over and over again that the parliament is not legitimate and the activity of the “republicans” hasn’t brought up any real results. There are also talks that the traders not enlarge the opposition but mostly gain over party members. We’ve already mentioned the outcomes.
As far as the second accusation is concerned, the very fact that “soldiers of the old army” participate in the new structures and initiatives should only be welcome. First, because these people are offered a new motivation of political activity and, second, because the number of political activists in any country doesn’t exceed 10% of its population, so their sharp increase is just a myth. The analysis indicate that the principles stated by the “citizens” in their Declaration are quite compatible with the program principles of the most acting political parties and their co-operation can become the long-awaited new force that will bring forth changes.
We offered the project that, in our opinion, can become a foundation of such co-operation. Answering our question “Do you know a candidate who could successfully compete with A. Lukashenko at the presidential election?”, only 13.1% of the respondents spoke out in the positive and 85.9% – in the negative. Clearly, the figures are not encouraging for those awaiting changes. What encourages is the following ratio: among those who arwe negative to Republic’s activity the ratio is 5.7% vs. 93.8% while among those who are positive to it the ratio is 21.2% vs. 77.4%. This means positive attitude to the activity of disagreeing deputies several times increases president’s awareness of the possible alternative! Republic’s founder and Union of citizens’ Chair V. Frolov can, in our opinion, become the most perspective presidential contender at the forthcoming election. Besides the advantages he receives having formed these structures, he has undoubtful personal merits in the eyes of the Belarusian electorate. General of tank forces that went through all stages of military career (in the rating of trust the army along with the church steadily ranks the third), grown wise with life experience (most of the Belarusians have already tried what the “young and hot” are able to) and a courageous man (there are few those who dare to openly speak out their disagreement with the “farther” without any political or economic rear) who came from the masses and is not “stained” with his belonging to either the intellectuals-democrats or the officials-bureaucrats greatly disliked by the masses and maintains relations with the Belarusian and Russian establishment – all these traits can win the sympathies of millions of the Belarusians.
Of course, one body is nobody. Members of the 1994 presidential election campaign claim before the second tour A. Luakshenko’s team listed about 2,000 people. Yet, the General is not alone – leaders and activists of the structures incorporated in the “Union of Citizens” can well become the basis of his headquarters at the election and of his administration or government after the victory. The experience of the 2001 campaign showed that the earlier an alternative candidate enters the field, the more chances for victory he has. Therefore, it is no worth waiting up to 2006. If the potential of the leading democratic structures, dissatisfied officials and the electorate manage to consolidate around this figure and become a new force, the chances for victory can become very real.
Many may take the project for a regular head in the clouds or a PR action. But there is already one politician in Belarus that has seriously taken the project. Following is his literal evaluation: “The country should be consolidated. The authorities should be consolidated, especially in our country… A well-known deputy group got involved into political games aimed at destabilizing situation in the society. Under the pretext of “round table discussions” and seminars it attempted to carry political campaigns of anti-state orientation within the precincts of the parliament and pass provocative addresses… What has the president had nowadays from some in the parliament, including those wearing heavy shoulder-straps? Have you forgotten that you are military men? Take off your shoulder-straps and fight hard against the commander-in-chief. I have many times said the people trying to wind up political situation in the country are neither democrats nor reformers but most often – simply demagogues”.
As far as the author of these lines knows better than many others what rabble-rousing is and how the politics is done but reckons with the force only, we believe there’s sense in his words.