«

»

CLIMATE OF TRUST. OR DISTRUST?

1. Political-psychological factor

Over the last years Belarus has constantly been criticized for human rights violations and non-correspondence to democratic standards. Official authorities reject this sort of charges, referring to their biased nature and political motivation. Thus, it would be interesting to know the opinion not only of the US State Department and domestic human rights groups, but also what common Belarusians think.

Seven years after A. Lukashenko came to power less than 20% of respondents consider Belarus a democratic state, whereas almost 40% think in the opposite (see Table 1). More than 70% of respondents believe (to this or that degree) that their fellow citizens are afraid of expressing political views (see Table 2). Observance of human rights in Belarus is also subject to wide criticism (see Table 3). Even 40% of A. Lukashenko’s supporters say that in Belarus human rights are not enough respected. To put it differently, Belarusians realize what country they live in.

Table  1. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you consider Belarus a democratic state?”

Table  2. Distribution of answers to the question: “What do you think about Belarusians’ readiness to express their political views?”*, %

* Read horizontally

Table  3. Distribution of answers to the question: “To what degree, do you believe, Belarus’s authorities observe human rights?”, %

 

These figures should not be abandoned during election campaigning. In this respect, most probably, radical forms of campaigning are unlikely to be efficient in this situation, when fear constrains behavior of millions.

At the same time, a positive factor shall not be omitted – the overwhelming majority of Belarusians says it should not be like this, and people who disagree with authorities must be able to openly criticize them (see Table 4).

Table  4. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you think it’s possible that people, who disagree with authorities’ actions, publicly criticize the president and the government?”

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question: “Are you satisfied with A. Lukashenko’s headed investigation into disappearances of people?”

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question: “Would information about involvement of a candidate for presidency in disappearance of well known opposition politicians affect you choice while voting?”

Table  7. Distribution of answers to the question: “Would information about involvement of a candidate for presidency in disappearance of well known opposition politicians affect you choice while voting?”, %

Regardless of fear to publicly express one’s views, respondents were rather critical about official efforts to investigate disappearances of well known opposition politicians (see Table5). On the example of G. Gongadze we could see what consequences for authorities information about senior officials involvement in people’s disappearances might entail. At the moment, 37.6% of respondents claim that information about involvement of a candidate for presidency in disappearances of opposition politicians will affect their vote (see Table 6). One could only imagine what figures would show up if such information appears. It is necessary to note that pickets and other actions to attract attention to the fate of the disappeared – is very good, but if there is a couple of tapes like those made public in the Ukraine, the effect will be incomparable to pickets and possible statements. And such information, as Table 7 demonstrates, would affect the majority of respondents ready to vote in favor of an alternative candidate as well as 18.5% of A. Lukashenko’s supporters.

2. Russian factor

Although pro-Russian moods are still strong in our society (see Table 8), in the eyes of the overwhelming majority of Belarusians sovereignty and independence seem absolute values (see Table 9). Table 10 also proves it: as compared to the previous poll, the number of those who consider unification into one state the best variant of Belarus-Russia relations dropped 12%. The ranks of those who would prefer neighborly relations of two independent states increased by 10%. The number of convinced supporters of integration went down 10% (see Table 11). And only 16.1% of respondents (see Table 12) asserted that the best future for Belarus is to become a part of Russia (21.5% of respondents advocate accession to EU).

Table 8. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question: “If a referendum on unification of Belarus and Russia has taken place today, how would you vote?”, %

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question: “Would you like Belarus to be a sovereign, independent state?”

Variant of answer

%

Yes

69.3

No

10.7

Table  10. Dynamics of distribution of answers to the question: “Which variant of Belarus-Russia relations you think the best?”, %

Table  11. Dynamics of numbers of convinced supporters and opponents of integration with Russia*, %

* Convinced supporters are those who at a referendum would vote for unification of Belarus and Russia into one state, and consider unification into one state the best variant of bilateral relations. Convinced opponents are those who would vote against unification, and consider neighborly relations of two independent states the best variant of bilateral relations

Table 12. Distribution of answers to the question: “What future for Belarus you consider the best?”

To all appearances, the reason of integration attractiveness has not changed – this is V. Putin’s phenomenon, whose rating jumped: while electing the president of the unified state, if there were such election, more than 40% of respondents would have voted for V. Putin (see Table 13). Almost 60% called him an ideal politician (A. Lukashenko – only 34.3%). Aside from that, along with personal factor publicizing of Belarus-Russian Union’s advantages plays its role. Economic benefits and security guarantee top the list (see Table 14).

Table 13. Distribution of answers to the question: “If there were post of president of Belarus and Russia, whom would you vote for?” (open question)

Variant of answer*

%

V. Putin

40.3

A. Lukashenko

24.4

* Other politicians received less than 2% of votes

Table 14. Distribution of answers to the question: “What are the most important advantages you think Belarus-Russia Union gives to our country?” (more than one answer is possible)

Supporting integration as idea, Belarusians are critical about its practical implementation. So, in particular, more than 35% of respondents think that the Union has remained a declaration of intentions, affecting life of Belarusians and Russians in no way (see Table 15). Almost 28% say the Union has improved life of officials working for its administrative bodies, and only 9.8% called it a really functioning structure, which has improved life of common Russians and Belarusians.

Table 15. Distribution of answers to the question: “As of April 2, 2001, Belarus-Russia Union has been in existence for 5 years. There are different opinions regarding the Union. Which do you agree with?”

Table 16. Dependence of choice of the best variant of relations with Russia and voting at a referendum on unification on voting at the presidential election*, %

Voting at the presidential election

Choice of the best variant of relations with Russia

Voting at a referendum on

Neighborly relations of two independent states (38.4)

Union of independent states (33.7)

Unification into one state (26.5)

In favor of unification (56.6)

Against unification (28.4)

For S. Gaidukevich (4.0)

36.0

38.9

23.5

50.1

35.3

For V. Goncharik (10.1)

47.6

34.0

17.4

39.0

52.2

For S. Domash (8.1)

64.5

25.5

9.0

25.2

58.1

For S. Kalyakin (2.8)

23.1

46.1

30.8

58.0

34.1

For P. Kozlovsky (4.8)

49.3

29.9

20.2

43.7

40.0

For A. Lukashenko (39.8)

24.9

39.6

40.5

79.8

11.2

For M. Chigir (17.9)

56.2

28.4

14.5

36.7

47.0

For A. Yaroshuk (2.6)

34.0

50.5

15.6

50.9

37.2

* Read horizontally. For example, among those who are ready to vote for S. Gaidukevich, 50.1% would support unification of Belarus and Russia, whereas 35.1% are against it

Table 16 reveals that pro-Russian voters are ready to vote for S. Kalyakin and A. Lukashenko. While supporters of M. Chigir and S. Domash, on the contrary, show little affection with integration.

3. Information factor

Several weeks before the presidential election the most important issue for representatives of all political forces is to convey their views to voters. No matter how correct these views, if there is no active and direct contact with target groups, effect is minimal.

In this respect, it is logical to suggest that access to electronic mass media – is one of success factors in a mass political campaign and one of demands from the OSCE and the opposition to official Minsk in order to have the presidential election recognized as free and fair. In fact, after voters’ own opinion and administrative resource (see Table 17), mass media, voters say, have the largest influence over election results, leaving behind influence of Russia, the West and political technologies, which are applied through mass media.

Table 17. Distribution of answers to the question: “What, do you think, will affect results of the presidential election most?” (more than one answer is possible)

There are other concerns: several weeks before the election more than two thirds of respondents have no enough access to information about the current political situation (see Table 18). Thus, there is a real threat that the parliamentary election scenario might recur: when many voters made their choice having no necessary information about candidates and their programs. We shall remind that regardless of an information deficit during the parliamentary election voters cast their votes in line with their political views, rather than voting at random. And attitude towards A. Lukashenko and his policy served a qualifying and identifying criterion.

Table 18. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you have enough access to information about the current political situation in Belarus?”

Variant of answer

%

Yes

31.0

No

68.4

NA

0.6

It is noteworthy that the lack of information is seen even when the authorities want the opposite and spare no efforts. Almost 30% of respondents heard nothing about All-Belarusian Congress, though in A. Lukashenko’s election campaign it plays a significant role (see Table 19). Compare – 50% of respondents know nothing about the Day of Will action (see Table 20). Undoubtedly, clumsy work of the Belarusian TV brings results – only 40% of respondents trust state television, whereas more than two thirds distrust it (see Table 21).

Table 19. Distribution of answers to the question: “The Second All-Belarus Congress is scheduled for May. There are different opinions in this respect. Which of them could you agree with?”

Table 20. Distribution of answers to the question: “How do you view the opposition action Day of Will which took place on March 25, 2001?”

Table 21. Distribution of answers to the question: “Do you trust Belarusian television?”

Variant of answer

%

Trust

39.3

Distrust

33.6

Considering a great difference in information and PR possibilities of the authorities and the opposition, efficiency of official propaganda shall not be exaggerated, and indifference towards politics and apathy of part of society must not be underestimated.

Clearly, FM radio stations are becoming increasingly popular, their audiences are second after the central Belarusian radio and equal to audiences of local stations (see Table 22). It is widely known that all FM stations avoid politics, and for opposition politicians it is more difficult to appear in the air or even dwell upon acute political problems, than to give an interview to non-state newspapers. As for availability degree and efficiency of influence upon voters, FM stations and Russian radio stations seem much more available, than the Belarusian state radio, and more efficient than foreign radio stations.

Table 22. Distribution of answers to the question: “Which radio stations do you listen to?”, %

Independent newspapers, which are less politically engaged and pay less attention to politics, top trust ratings among non-state press (see Table 23).

Table 23. Distribution of answers to the question: “Which newspapers do you trust?”, %

Variant of answer

Trust

Distrust

Index

“Argumenty i Fakty” in Belarus”

42.4

10.8

+0.334

“Komsomolskaya Prauda” in Belarus”

34.1

13.6

+0.222

“Sovetskaya Belorussia”

34.7

20.7

+0.150

“Trud” in Belarus”

20.9

15.3

+0.061

“Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta”

18.7

13.9

+0.053

Local non-state newspaper (“Brestsky Kurier”, “Vitebsky Kurier” and oth.)

15.9

15.7

+0.003

“Izvestiya” in Belarus”

15.5

15.8

–0.004

Local state newspaper (“Gomelskaya Prauda”, “Magilyovskaya Prauda” and oth.)

17.0

18.7

-0.020

“Svobodnye Novosty”

14.7

17.5

–0.031

“Narodnaya Volya”

16.1

20.1

–0.044

“Belorussky Rynok”

10.5

15.7

–0.057

“Belorusskaya Gazeta”

9.8

16.7

–0.076

“Nasha Svaboda”

8.9

18.3

–0.104

Summing it up, the following conclusions could be drawn. First, the majority of voters does not consider Belarus a democratic country and is critical about human rights respect. Thus, creation of trust climate during the run-up to the presidential election is not a freak of the West or a whim of the opposition, but people’s urgent requests. Public opinion is sensitive to information about disappearance of well known opposition politicians. Possible show up of evidence (not at the level of fantasy and suggestions) in form of concrete facts about authorities’ involvement might entail negative consequences for the present authorities.

Second, as for relations with Russia – the number of integration supporters dropped, however, there are pro-Russian moods in society. Therefore success chances of anti-Russian candidates are equal to zero, unlike those of other candidates, who would offer a clear program to develop mutually beneficial bilateral relations.

Third, two thirds of voters have no enough information about the current political situation. Authorities are unlikely to provide democratic candidates with full access to electronic mass media. Even if this happens, possibilities and image of traditional Belarusian electronic mass media should not be overestimated. It might be logical to pay more attention to domestic FM radio stations, Russian TV channels and “direct” – door-to-door – campaigning.