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BELARUSIAN ELITE DOES NOT BELIEVE IN THE IMPROVEMENT OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC SITUATION IN THE COUNTRY

The fact that the current socio-economic situation in Belarus is, to put it mildly, far from ideal has been recently admitted at the highest official level. Leaders of public opinion and experts well aware of the real state of affairs in economics and who have long ago acknowledged that the so-called “Belarusian economic model” has no future consider further prospects really gloomy. About three thirds of the respondents expect deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the coming years (See table 1). Respondents from the private sector have unanimously rejected the probability of any changes to better life while the cautious stance of every fifth representative of the public sector resembles the professional optimism.
Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “In your opinion, will socio-economic situation in Belarus change in the near future?”, %

Prevailing of the pessimistic viewpoints in the ranks of the experienced elite raises the natural desire to compare them to the viewpoints of the general public. It is no secret that the estimations of the Belarusian elite and the public in general seriously diverge on many topical issues. However, there is no discrepancy as regards this issue (See table 2).

Table 2. Dynamics of answer distribution to the question “Do you think socio-economic situation in Belarus will change in the near future?”*, %

* Data of the national public opinion poll conducted by IISEPS

Although negative estimation of the country’s development prospects expressed by general public hasn’t yet grown to the elite’s pessimism (the latter possesses more information and have deeper understanding of the happening events), the tendency is obvious – most Belarusians don’t expect any positive changes from the current authorities. It is worth mentioning that our latest data concerning the electorate in general dates December of 2002. The “New Year present” in the form of new tariffs for public utilities will undoubtedly bring closer the stands of the general public and the elite. The issue in question is solely the degree of this approximation. Apparently, the president sharing elite’s pessimism and resolved to “defend his people from the native government” has found in this regard a vast field of activity.
IISEPS’s earlier opinion polls demonstrated that a considerable part of the Belarusians would like to move to another country for permanent residence, or emigrate (See table 3).

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “Would you like to move to another country for permanent residence?”, %

The emigration potential has in all times and in all countries been regarded as an indicator of the country’s ill-being, especially since the highest emigration potential is, as a rule, inherent to the most dynamic and educated part of the society – the youth. Germany has been attracting our fellow countrymen the most for several years already. However, experts and public opinion leaders are mostly the people who, first, have reached certain professional heights in their native country and, second, who quite well realize that the way of an emigrant even in the richest and democratic country is paved with more thorns than stars. Therefore, emigration due to the financial hardships or a professional uselessness is an uncommon event in this stratum. It is no wonder that 70% of the respondents said they won’t move anywhere. They would resolve to seek for better part abroad only in an extraordinary situation. However, a quarter of the respondents from the public sector is ready to move to another country, the majority saying to Germany. Their desire seems to have been imposed by the attitude of the Belarusian authorities that in all possible ways emphasize “the constructive stance of Berlin towards Minsk” vs. the American stance (how far this corresponds to reality is another issue) as well as the general image of Germany as the country with high social warranties.

It is interesting to compare the reaction of the electorate and the elite at the decision of the European Union to impose visa restrictions on President A.Lukashenko and the high-ranking officials. Although the decision has in no way affected the Belarusian citizens, only one fourth of the respondents was positive about it while over 40% negatively treated the decision (See Table 4).

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “The European Union has forbidden the Belarusian president and the top-level officials entering the EU countries. What do you think of the decision?”, %

* This variant of answer wasn’t offered to experts

The reasons for such attitude are different. President’s followers have always opposed the actions against their hero, some consider the policy of sanctions and restrictions generally neither justified nor effective and others feel simply “hurt for the homeland”. Every second expert and public opinion leader supported the decision, yet the viewpoints of the representatives of public and private sectors turned to be almost “mirror viewpoints”. In our opinion, such “mirror” reflects the controversy within the Belarusian elite concerning estimation of the Western strategy towards the current authorities. The opposition bloc mainly stands for toughening the position of the international community so as to force A.Lukashenko to change his policy. Representatives of the public sector take a negative stance on all kinds of sanctions and give their preference to the closer contacts with the West that will, in their opinion, foster mitigation of the current political regime. And although less than a dozen of high-level officials were imposed visa restrictions, the nomenclature is negative about the fact, as if the measure is applied to every state official.