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HOW TO GET THINGS CHANGED?

1. Street actions – writer’s cramp?

Findings of our polls have more than once revealed the fact that in the Belarusian society there is serious discontent with the policies of the present state administration. In other words, one can be sure to say that not only the protest electorate exists, but it constitutes almost half of the body of electors. The demand for change is literally in the air. The main question now is how democratic forces can derive a maximum benefit from such a favorable situation. At the same time one should perfectly realize that the opposition’s well-practised and customary forms and methods, in particular, mass protest actions in their present condition, are not much suitable for this (see Table 1). In other words, considerable discontent of a large number of citizens does not mean that will be splashed out in the form of street democracy.

Our analysis of the evolution of Belarusian citizens’ attitude to mass protest actions proves that today such actions do not reach the goals, which their organizers declare. Sometimes it looks as though protest action were held out of habit, just because it was this way before, under the same unchanged slogans and the same sort of speeches made by the usual orators. As a result, not only has the number of march participants been reducing (let us remind that over the past few years it has never reached even 50 thousand people, although other figures are mentioned before staging protest actions), but public opinion’s reaction to such activities is sufficiently reserved.

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “What is your attitude towards mass actions of the opposition?”, %

* This variant was not offered
** Answer “Find it difficult to answer” was meant in this case

“Freedom March – 3” is a case in point. Even among Lukashenko’s ardent opponents only 30.5% of respondents evaluated this action as positive (see Table 2). In the meantime, 35.8% were totally unaware of the protest action in question. We would like to point out that this is the case with representatives of the opposition’s most dedicated and reliable electorate. Please, compare: 25% of Lukashenko’s opponents and 23.7% of the hesitating electorate were indifferent in their attitude to the aforementioned action.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question: “What is your attitude towards the opposition’s March of Freedom III, which took place on November 1 of 2000?”, %

Comparing the assessments of the two recent “Freedom Marches” with the previous protest actions, one can see that both positive and negative attitude to them has shrunk, however the proportion of those who did not hear anything about these actions has increased. And all this happens in spite of the organizers’ advertising efforts and the government’s active counter-propaganda.

Public opinion does not favor participants of street protest actions. In this respect replies to the question “Who participates in mass protest actions organized by the opposition?” are very demonstrative (see Table 3). Naturally, it is quite clear that in the eyes of ardent “lukashists” the participants of such actions are recipients of money from the West (41.6%), criminal elements (32.6%) and agents of foreign intelligence services (18.3%). However, here is an uncomplimentary reference, which the hesitating electorate gave to protest action participants (living off western money – 28.7%, criminal elements – 18.7%, foreign spies – 9.9%). This should be an alarming signal for the organizers and ideologists, for the hesitating majority is just the very no one’s electorate, which the opposition is going to struggle for.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “Who, in you opinion, take part in street actions organized by the opposition (March of Freedom III, Chernobyl Way, Day of Will etc.)?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Figures quoted above are another proof of the fact that organized by the opposition, street protest actions in their present condition have virtually turned into a ritual. They do not only fulfil the task of attracting opponents of the regime from the rows of the so-called “kitchen opposition” – those, who is neither satisfied with the policies of the government nor finds appealing slogans and methods of the opposition, but right on the contrary, they constrict the social base of opponents of the regime.

The above does not by any means mean that now one should totally abandon the practice of holding any street protest marches. Not at all, as a means of pressing on the authorities, as an indicator which shows support of the opposition by the serious part of society, and, finally, as evidence of the opposition’s ability to make use of this support, street actions may and must be applied when it is necessary. However, one should treat them as one, but not the only and most universal effective method of struggling against the regime. And, if one should decide to resort to it, he is supposed to do it in such a way, so that no one could doubt the expediency and effectiveness of such actions. With reference to this, we view the following scenario as the most optimal – staging mass actions as a weighty argument while transiting to an election scenario on terms which are most advantageous to the opposition. Let us remember that “Freedom March-1” was conducted under the slogan “For free and fair elections”.

2. Radicalism is out of favor

And what is the general attitude of Belarusian people to public forms of expressing their opinion? Or, perhaps, the reserved assessment of the opposition’s latest actions is just a special case, which is not typical of public mind? Or is this assessment linked to the insufficient radicalism of protest actions themselves?

Poll findings show that this is not the case (see Table 4). The numbers of adherents of radical actions was remaining quite stable late last year – slightly over 20% (see Table 5). Is it little or much? If one imagined for a minute that all who said they were ready to take part in armed struggle (5.9%) will really take up arms, then it would be easy to picture what it all will end up with. However, luckily, the probability that the situation will develop this way is fairly slight. Firstly, being ready for action does not at all mean that it will be automatically realized. Secondly, armed struggle is imagined by many as some sort of a disobedience festival, in which the pseudo-romantic entourage is all important rather than standing up for the principles of freedom and democracy. Thirdly, among those who are actually ready to stand up for their principles, automatic rifle in hand, there is an absolute majority of citizens, whose ideal is not pluralistic democracy but something absolutely different.

Table 4. Dynamics of answers to the question about attitude towards participation in public protest actions, %

Type of action

Took part

Ready to take part

Not going to take part

DA/NA

04’00

08’00

11’00

04’00

08’00

11’00

04’00

08’00

11’00

04’00

08’00

11’00

Rallies, demonstrations, pickets

7.0

6.3

5.7

12.8

17.1

17.9

54.7

61.3

60.2

22.8

15.3

16.2

Strikes

1.9

2.1

1.8

11.5

14.4

13.5

64.0

67.3

67.1

22.6

16.2

17.6

Hunger-strikes

0.3

1.0

0.2

3.8

5.1

3.8

75.7

79.8

80.4

20.1

14.1

15.6

Armed struggle

0.4

1.1

0.3

6.0

6.7

5.6

73.0

76.6

77.6

20.6

15.5

16.5

Table 5. Dynamics of voters’ attitude towards participation in public protest actions, %

* Supporters of radical actions – are those respondents who took or are ready to take part in one of mass protest actions such as rallies, demonstrations, strikes, hunger-strikes or armed struggle. Opponents of radical actions – are those who are not going to take part in such actions. Total sum exceeds 100%, because types selected partially cross

One must admit that Belarusian society still renders no support to radicalism. And it is by no means the case that this aversion to radicalism stems from the electorate’s ideological background. Both among the President’s ardent opponents and among his supporters there is approximately an equal share of those who disapprove of radical actions (see Table 6). The fact that this share is around 90% in both cases leaves a minute chance of success to those who adhere to a revolutionary scenario of brining down the regime by means of mass street actions.

Table 6. Attitude towards radical actions depending on attitude towards A. Lukashenko, %

Table 7 gives the answer to the question why citizens are not ready for public actions in order to express their opinion. As we can see, 25% of those polled do not accept radical actions in principle; more than a third believe that under present conditions such actions will not get you anywhere. Another 20% fear clashes with law enforcers and the likely consequences at work, at school or at university.

Table 7. Distribution of answers to the question: “If you are not ready to participate in public protest actions to express your opinion, then why?” (more than one answer is possible)

One very often hears accusations of an incorrect use of the term “adherents of radical actions”, as all forms of public actions mentioned in the poll (except for armed struggle) are legal; moreover, the right to use such actions is legally guaranteed.

Nevertheless, it was observed long ago that there exists a contradiction between public mind’s stereotypes in respect of certain things and events and technical terms of law with reference to these same things and phenomena.

The above explains why a participant of a sanctioned meeting, march of strike is not making any unlawful activities from the point of view of criminal law, but Belarusian public mind still mainly brands him as a radical.

3. The stake is on election

As we have seen, society is ready for change and waiting for it, but the radical scenario of achieving it no longer enjoys public support. So, which ways do Belarusian people consider acceptable for replacing the present authorities, which obviously do not meet their requirements? In general, noticeable preference is still given to the traditional ways of government replacement (by means of referenda and elections). The radical way, i.e. using any actions, which make it possible to achieve the goal, has been chosen by a far smaller number of respondents, although, to tell you the truth, we should point out an increase in the number of people who suppose one should not be too delicate when it comes to the choice of means (see Table 8).

Table 8. Dynamics of answers to the question: “If authorities do not meet requirements of people, how, in you opinion, they should be changed?”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Notably, even among Lukashenko’s ardent opponents there is just 25% who would throw caution to the winds for the sake of achieving the goal (see Table 9). In the meantime, Lukashenko’s opponents are more inclined to take up an evolutionary scenario, which implies using a mechanism of people’s will expressed at polling stations. It is peculiar that there exists quite an insignificant gap between opponents and supporters of Lukashenko’s second mandate in respect of replacing the government by all means (see Table 10). At the same time, 34.8% of those who are against Lukashenko’s becoming president a second time suppose that the power replacement should be effected by means of elections.

Table 9. Choice of way to replace authorities that do not meet people’s requirements depending on attitude towards A. Lukashenko, %

Findings listed in Table 11 prove the fact that the protest electorate is in favor of the usual democratic mechanisms of power replacement. Everyone is aware of international community’s absolutely fair assessment of the recent elections. But even during these elections citizens who want changes came to the polling stations. They went there in search for an alternative to the current political policy. Among those taking part in the second round or the parliamentary election not only there was almost a half of citizens, who support Lukashenko’s becoming president one more time, but also 33.5% of those, who do not want him to rule the country for another 5 years.

Table 10. Choice of way to replace authorities that do not meet people’s requirements depending on attitude towards A. Lukashenko’s another term of presidency, %

Table 11. Attitude towards A. Lukashenko’s second term of presidency depending on participation in the second round of election, %

The electorate’s attitude to the campaign aimed at boycotting parliamentary elections is also indicative (see Table 12).

Table 12. Assessment of success of the parliamentary election boycott depending on attitude towards A. Lukashenko’ second term of presidency, %

Only nearly 15% consider the boycott was a success, whereas 39.2% adhere to the opposite point of view.

Summarizing what has been said, we can point out that, firstly, not only there exist protest sentiments in Belarusian society, but they cover large social strata. Today, however, such sentiments are predominantly spontaneous. Belarusian people are tired of the present authorities, but figuratively speaking, they would not go to the barricades to get rid of them. Today the best way to replace the authorities, as viewed by the electorate, is by means of elections. The radical way, i.e. the so-called popular street revolution – does not enjoy social support.

Secondly, one must admit that street actions in their current fashion no longer bring the desired result and do not contribute to expanding the social base of democratic forces. Participants of such activities have a fairly negative image in the eyes of the electorate. And here one cannot do without seriously changing the framework of actions themselves – the slogans, pretext for holding them, scenarios and so on and so forth. Besides, bearing in mind the fact that 25% of those polled do not accept radical actions in principle and more than a third believe that under present conditions such actions will not get you anywhere, it would be expedient to focus on enlightenment activities, conducting democratic studies and things like that, which may create a positive effect. Thirdly, in order to take a maximum advantage of the situation by directing the electorate to where democratic forces what them to go, there must be a candidate apparently uninvolved with the opposition. Findings listed in Table 13 act as a proof of the statement above.

Table 13. Choice of president depending on attitude towards A. Lukashenko’s second term of presidency, %

Data listed in Table 13 speak in support of this statement: among those, who does not wish A. Lukashenko to be President for a second time, there are twice as many adherents of an independent candidate, rather than of a single candidate of democratic forces.