The analysis of changes of A. Lukashenko’s rating over the last year allows us to make a conclusion that it is on a downward trend. It is not a “collapse” (which is one of the president’s favorite catchwords), but neither is it a temporary thing. It is a stable and unswerving trend. Strange as it may seem, its insignificant fluctuations were not caused by domestic politics, but rather by the developments abroad, primarily in Russia: its economic default in August 1998, a NATO military operation in Kosovo and the second Chechen war. The latest fluctuation was probably produced by a submarine wreck in the Barents Sea and a fire of the Ostankino television tower – or, to put it more precisely, by the interpretations of those events offered by the Belarusian authorities and government-controlled mass media (the machinations of democrats, who “destroyed a great country and its military”). One may think that to keep his rating high, A. Lukashenko must be interested in various crises in Russia more than all imperialists and terrorists!

A rise of his rating in November, in our opinion, was chiefly caused by a loud propaganda campaign concerning wage rise for some categories of employees of the government sector and his promise to make the average salary in the country $ 100, as well as a new series of castigations in the executive branch.
This rise is not a stable trend, which is indicated by the increasing dissatisfaction with the way A. Lukashenko has ruled the country.
This has had an impact in people’s readiness to support the current political course (Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “If a constitutional referendum, which was similar to the November 1996 one, were held now, how would you vote?”

We considered the statements made by today’s jewels in the crown of the Belarusian state TV, who continually claimed that we “manipulate ratings”, and asked our respondents a very simple question: ” Do you want A. Lukashenko to be president of Belarus for another term?”. The situation is quite clear: the number of people who want A. Lukashenko to be head of state in Belarus for another term is less than the number of those, who do not want it to happen. However, this number is not big enough to allow us to make any forecasts, because almost 25% of respondents said they were not sure yet.
Our vision is also supported by the profile of the future president, as it is seen by respondents at large (Table 2).

Table 2. Expectations concerning Belarus’ future president

The future president should be:
– not older than 45 years of age
– older than 45
– it does not matter
– supporter of a market economy (a)
– supporter of an administrative economy (b)
– it does not matter
– supporter of a distribution of powers (a)
– supporter of a concentration of authority in the hands of the president (b)
– it does not matter
– supporter of Belarus’ independence (a)
– supporter of integration with Russia (b)
– it does not matter
– supporter of the current political course
– supporter of radical changes to the current course
– it does not matter
– representative of the authorities
– representative of the current opposition
– it does not matter
– city dweller
– rural dweller
– it does not matter
– independent candidate
– member to a political party (or the authorities)
– it does not matter
– believer
– unbeliever
– it does not matter
According to these data, the majority of Belarusians have a very clear vision, what the president should not be. However, when it comes to figuring out what he should be, they are not quite sure.
The general public has also noticeably understood, who is to blame for the deteriorating living standards (Table 3).

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “Who is to blame for the deteriorating economy in the country?”, %

Having examined these figures, some politicians and analysts would say: “So what? A. Lukashenko will again shift his guilt for the crisis on his own vertical. He will blame the main figures in power on a national and regional level (or even the government as a whole), and will again get off scot-free. We believe that it will hardly take place as in the conditions of the already started presidential race, Lukashenko has become much more dependent on the vertical (which is the only structure, which can provide him with “an administrative resource” during the election), than it was two-three years ago. If he begins “to betray” it – it will start “to betray” him. According to poll data, opinion leaders, who represent government and non-government structures are unanimous. Now, there is a rather rare moment in the modern history of Belarus: the president depends greater on his vertical, than it depends on him. This circumstance creates extremely favorable conditions for searching for a compromise between the opposition and part of the Belarusian nomenclature, which is dissatisfied with its position.
Therefore, the main question of Belarusian “agenda” for 2001 is how to achieve the victory of democratic forces during the presidential election? How to avoid a false start?
As we said before, the unswerving decrease of support for the current regime shared by the general public means that more people begin looking for possible alternatives to A. Lukashenko. However, the ratings of the current opposition leaders of all kinds are on a stable low level, both when they are viewed as party representatives and as personalities. This means that the proponents of change have to develop a new strategy, which can answer the needs of millions of Belarusians who are discontent with the present regime, and they have less than a year left before the presidential elections to do this. In our opinion, while this strategy is being developed, various combinations of several preferences must be considered. The preference of cooperation with the West, i.e. expectation of support from international structures, is still one of the highest priorities. Now let us speak briefly about the other two scenarios: “the opposition scenario” and “the state official scenario”.
The Belarusian opposition exists on at least three levels (or, if you wish, in three forms). The first level is the political opposition. It is composed of people, who are engaged in political activities (as a rule, as members of parties or allied structures) and, according to opinion polls, is not bigger than 2-3% of the adult population. The majority of the political opposition has clear views about their goals (which are, as a rule, political and ideological and are related to obtaining power and executing state administration). These people are ready to use various means to achieve these goals, including the most radical ways. The second level is the “civil” opposition. It is made of people, who work for various non-state structures: numerous NGOs, youth, business and other associations, independent trade unions, mass media, research centers etc. These people take an active part in social and political (or rather, civil public) processes and make up approximately 8-10% of the total population. They are also discontent with the current regime and openly express it, but have different goals (which are predominantly ideological or professional and include independence, democracy, market economy and law-abiding state). The majority of them prefer elections, legal initiatives, public debate and lobbying for their interests. The third level is the social opposition (widely referred to as the “kitchen” opposition). These people are dissatisfied with the current regime, but their goals are social and economical (they are expectations rather than goals, and include higher living standards, better order etc). The majority of these people never show their discontent in public (this is why they are the “kitchen” opposition), dislike radical actions and prefer the most traditional and idle means to achieve their goals, or realize their expectations – elections, appeals to government agencies etc. Opinion polls show that this kind of the opposition is made up of 30-35% of population (these are convinced opponents of A. Lukashenko’s policies – see the reference above).
It is understood that unless this largest group of the opposition becomes active in the social and political process, there is little hope for change in the Belarusian society (we do not consider such uncommon scenarios as a coup d’etat).
One of the reasons behind a decrease of the number of those who were ready to vote for democratic or independent candidates (this number went down from 53.5% to 44.0% during one month, while the number of respondents who were sure that most of the voters will make this choice went down from 32.1% to 22.9%), is that the strategy of total boycott (“whoever does not support us, is our enemy!”) strengthens the self-isolation of the political opposition in the eyes of the social opposition.

Table 4. Trust in leading opposition structures, shared by A. Lukashenko’s convinced opponents, %

11’97 (20.8)*
09’98 (17.4)
11’99 (28.2)
08’00 (36.5)
XIII parliament:
– trust
– do not trust
Political parties:
– trust
– do not trust
Independent trade unions:
– trust
– do not trust
Independent media:***
– trust
– do not trust
Independent research centers:***
– trust
– do not trust

* The share of convinced opponents to Alexander Lukashenko, who represent social opposition, is given in brackets
** These structures were not included in the questionnaire
*** Independent media and research centers are included in the table for the sake of comparison

The fact that the Belarusian opposition does not realize the hopes and expectations of the majority of Belarusians, is now obvious not only for journalists and analysts, but also for common people. Let us draw an example. This is how a reader of a leading independent paper reacted to an appeal from its reporter, who wrote “Enough words, high time we turned to street democracy!”: “As a common voter, I do not see any point in adjusting to somebody else’s views, joining an organization or fighting for something. If somebody strives for power, he should come to me, ask me what I want and promise me that. Only thereafter will a road to power be open to him” (“The opposition is strange to people”, Narodnaya Volya, September 22, 2000). This problem is the reason why the rating of the political opposition among the general public and among the social opposition is so low (Tables 4 and 5). In our opinion, attempts to explain this situation by the oppression of people by the authorities, total control over mass media, which offer a negative view of the opposition etc., are fair. However, they do not present a complete picture. Moreover, they complicate the problem farther. Now many opposition leaders look at Yugoslavian experience. But here is what L. Bogovic, director of the Belgrade-based independent Center for social and political studies said on the next day after S. Milosevic was overthrown: “Here is a very important thing – opposition candidates in the local, federal and presidential elections had a good program, which offered the society a way to resolve its problems, and which was in line with the goals, shared by the majority of the general public. This was the reason behind the victory, not the control over mass media ” (Radio Liberty, “On a long way “, October 6, 2000). We think that the main problem of the political opposition is that it fails to directly address the social opposition.

Table 5. Opposition’s standing in society*, %

Public opinions
Executive branch
Opposition politicians
Financial well-being:
– poor
– average
– excellent
Their living standards vs. their impact in social life:
– they live worse than they deserve
– they get what they deserve
– they live better than they deserve
Social respect:
– they are not respected
– they are somewhat respected
– they are highly respected
The influence they have on people’s lives:
– no
– some
– large

* The executive branch and journalists were included in the table for the sake of comparison

The organization of large-scale public actions is very noble of them, but history proves that this strategy is inefficient. It is necessary to set up an active interaction of the three levels of the opposition (maybe, addressing the social opposition through a larger and more dynamic “civil” opposition would be the most efficient way) – i.e. form an “opposition triangle”.
The “State official” scenario is based on the active cooperation of three political entities – the Belarusian opposition, state officials who are its potential supporters and the Russian establishment, who are dissatisfied with A. Lukashenko’s regime for various reasons. It is understood that continual threat of lustration and “fair trials” for Belarusian “traitors”, as well as accusing a nation of 150 million of “imperial ambitions” and the public burning of its national flag puts serious obstacles for the future of this second “opposition triangle”. We must admit that until recently only the establishment of cooperation between Belarusian officials and their Russian colleagues, part of whom also want change, was a reality. After the downfall of S. Milosevic, when the Belarusian issue has acquired a different meaning for Moscow (even the slightest chance, that the Yugoslavian scenario will be repeated in the neighboring Belarus is unacceptable for Russia), the favorable time to fom this “triangle” has at last come, or so it seems.
However, a successful start of the presidential race for democrats will depend not only on the indicated favorable circumstances, but, first of all, on the consolidation of the opposition, on the expansion of its social base, and the appointment of a candidate, who would be reasonable to wide opposition circles and the electorate, which supports it. From this point of view, it is impossible to call the starting conditions favorable for the opposition (Table 6).
People will only be ready to support an alternative to A. Lukashenko, when this alternative, shaped as a comprehensive and acceptable program to lead the country out of crisis, and a leader, who will be able to make it happen, is presented to the Belarusian society. Now the general public only sees one player in the political field. One of the reason why the Belarusian political field is “empty” is that opposition leaders known to the general public (M. Chigir, S. Shushkevich, Z. Paznyak) and to the elite (A. Lebedko, V. Vecherko, S. Bogdankevich, Yu. Khodyko) do not have real influence on the situation. Maybe if the opposition leaders manage to show the society some tangible and – most importantly – socially valuable result of their activities (for instance, a real project with the West or Russia, but certainly not “Freedom March #…”), i.e. show the public that they are indeed influential, they may be viewed as a real alternative. This assumption is indicated by the fact that the only social and political leader, whose influence exceeds his popularity (apart from the President, Secretary of the Security Council and Foreign Minister, whose influence is greater than their popularity as part of their job) is … the head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, Ambassador H.-G. Wieck, who is not a Belarusian politician! This may mean the following: the things that he does for Belarus are more important and more popular (although only for a small part of the population), than he himself is (during the survey conducted among opinion leaders, only V. Goncharik was seen in the same way as H.-G. Wieck).

Table 6. Popularity and influence ratings of contemporary Belarusian social leaders and politicians, %

This means that a consolidation of the opposition in all of its actions, which are targeted at the general public, including the choice of a single candidate for presidency, who will share views, acceptable for most of the electorate, is the top priority for the near future. Until now, the opposition has not resolved a question whether an alternative to A. Lukashenko during the presidential elections must be nominated by a political party (or an alliance of political parties) and have a clear political and ideological profile (be a national democrat, liberal democrat, social democrat etc.) or should he be an independent candidate and have a social and political profile (be a Belarusian “Kostunica”).
As it can be observed, the chances of the oppositional leaders, who are the most known, and who are backed by real structures, are almost feeble. Some politicians would say that the low rating of the oppositional leaders does not matter, because when this or that leader will really be a contender to Lukashenko during the presidential election, then people will vote for him based on the principle “just not for Lukashenko” (as in the summer of 1996, many of the Russians voted for Yeltsin not because they liked him, but against Zyuganov). To clear this relevant question, we proposed respondents “to vote” for couples of challengers, who are considered by the present opposition.
The result, as it can be seen, is unfavorable: in all the combinations even now, Lukashenko wins over his would-be contenders from the opposition. Even if half of those who have doubts (i.e. who have provided no answers to these questions) would join the majority (we have already mentioned “the spiral of silence”), the victory of the present president would be obvious. Meanwhile, it is clear even today, when the “informational-propagandistic”, “administrative”, and other resources of the authorities have not been applied to the presidential race. What will be, when they will be “switched on” like on the eve of the parliamentary election?
Politicians, who continually disagree with or ignore the results of opinion surveys (much as any other outside assessments and recommendations) have a counter-argument. Maybe, they say, each individual opposition leader is supported by a little number of voters, but if we sum up all of their supporters, we will see that the united opposition has an advantage. The sum of supporters of all opposition leaders in a close-end rating (Table 7) is 31.0%, which is almost twice as much as 16.7% for A. Lukashenko. If we add all supporters of opposition leaders, we will have 36.5%, which is almost equal to 36%, collected by A. Lukashenko in any combination. We will have to work a little, they say, – and the victory will be ours! To answer this argument, we conducted simple research by figuring out which respondents supported A. Lukashenko in all six choices. We must admit that we got 35.5%, i.e. almost the same figure, as it was in each of the pairs. It is worth mention that this situation happens very seldom when sociological data is processed: normally, when there are three or more choices, the cumulative figure is a lot lower than the one in each single choice. To put it bluntly, A. Lukashenko enjoys a very consolidated and stable support: his electorate is ready to vote for him, whatever the other option is. Now, let us guess how many people are ready to vote for an opposition candidate, thinking that this may be anyone, but not A. Lukashenko. The figure is not the expected 36.5%, but …0.4%, or 100 times less!

Table 7. Distribution of answers to the question: “For which real Belarusian celebrity politician would you vote in the presidential elections?” 

(respondents had to choose from a list of candidates)* All other politicians got less than 0.2% each
** The candidature was filled in an empty line

When we singled out the respondents, who said they were ready to vote for an opposition candidate choosing between the last three pairs, we did not get 26.2%, but only 3.5%. And so on, and so forth. This means, that contrary to the electorate of A. Lukashenko, the electorate of potential candidates of the opposition is composed of many minor groups: very few democrats, who support N. Statkevich, are ready to vote for A. Lebedko and vice versa.
Similarly to the poll conducted six months ago, this survey showed that A. Lukashenko and his would-be competitor have roughly equal chances to win (Table 8).

Table 8. Distribution of answers to the question: “Whom would you like to be president of Belarus?”

Single candidate of the democratic opposition parties


Independent candidate
Candidate who represents a different political party
A. Lukashenko
I do not know/NA
However, “the spiral of silence” in the Belarusian public opinions is still strong: using the traditional Soviet catchphrases we may say that “the silent democrats” let the “loud conservatives” have the hypothetical victory, thinking that they are in the minority (Table 9).

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question: “For whom will the majority of Belarusians vote during the forthcoming presidential elections, in your opinion?”

Single candidate of the democratic opposition parties


Independent candidate
Candidate who represents a different political party
A. Lukashenko
I do not know/NA
One of the reasons why democrats lack self-confidence is that they do not believe that presidential elections in Belarus can be free and fair. Only 32.2% of respondents gave a positive answer to the question: “Do you believe that the 2001 presidential elections will be free and fair?”, 28% gave a negative answers and almost 40% said that they were not sure.
It is evident, that mainly the authorities themselves formed this vision of elections, specifically by numerous grave breaches during the recent parliamentary elections (only 28% of respondents said that these elections were democratic). On the other hand, this pessimism may have been amplified by the boycott campaign: only 8.1% of respondents thought that it worked out (45% said that it did not work out, and the rest were not sure). This, however, does not mean that the majority of Belarusians do not recognize boycotting as a suitable political procedure at all: almost 50% of respondents said that voters have a right to boycott elections, if they are not satisfied with their conditions or the registered candidates. However, almost 50% of those, who share this view still said that the opposition boycott campaign did not work out!
At the same time, a new reassuring tendency has emerged: the lack of democrats’ confidence in their power is on a substantial decrease. In August 60.4% of respondents said that the majority of Belarusians was going to vote for A. Lukashenko and 36.8% – for independent candidates. In November the balance was only 44.5% vs. 35.9%. If this trend continues during future surveys, it will mean that the democrats, who had lacked self-confidence, begin to realize their real place in the Belarusian society. Maybe one of the reasons of this change is that the public learnt about the phenomenon of the Belarusian “spiral of silence”. This undoubtedly creates additional favorable conditions for democrats to win the presidential elections.
These data clearly indicate that only an independent candidate, who is not associated with political parties, or the opposition at large has real chances to win (at least now). However, in the present political conditions, such a candidate cannot get sufficient publicity without the support of the opposition or the authorities (we already know what a victory of “a candidate from nowhere” means). This argument is also supported by other results.
This leads us to a number of very important conclusions. First, the opposition has to unite, leaving their ambitions and even party programs behind for the period of the election race (at least, by joining the efforts of the Coordinating council of the democratic forces and the Consulting council of the opposition parties). It also has to stop being the political opposition, and create a civil coalition, in which the most trustworthy and influential civil society structures will also be represented (including the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions, Independent Trade Union of Entrepreneurs, Belarusian charitable foundation “For the children of Chernobyl” etc.). In the framework of this coalition the “political glitter” of the Belarusian opposition should not scare away voters. By the way, a possible conflict concerning the choice of one alternative candidate from several equally popular leaders, who represent different opposition groups (for instance, M. Chigir, S. Domash and V. Goncharik), can be resolved by nominating a group of two or three people as president, prime minister and vice-premier in charge of economic reform. In the eyes of the general public, which longs for change, this team approach would not split the democratic electorate, but make the candidates’ position stronger and their chances to win more likely.
Second, if the opposition wants to win, it should not only change its tactics, but also introduce a new strategy. It is known that a scenario, which was offered by the “convinced” opposition in the framework of the Coordinating council of the democratic forces, included a consolidation of the leading opposition structures, whose programs are close to each other, and the coordinated (by primaries, “soft elections” etc.) nomination by a single candidate for presidency from their ranks. The attempts to do a similar thing, but on a wider basis (i.e. not only include the members of the Coordinating council into the coalition), for instance, the efforts to set up a public association “Elections-2001” met a lot of skepticism. The principles of coordination, suggested by the BPF, which is one of the most active and influential parties on the Coordinating council, were recently published by the newspaper “Narodnaya Volya”. Basically they are as follows: a candidate should have no connections to the present state officials, he should make public speeches only in Belarusian etc. Logically, the next requirement should be that a candidate for presidency should not only abide by the 1994 Constitution, but also observe the Statute of the Great Duchy of Lithuania.
A civic coalition should be left centrist rather than centrist. It should necessarily rely on trade unions (not only free trade unions) and numerous NGOs. It also should represent the interests not only of the voiced opponents of the present regime, but also of the hesitant majority, and maybe of a part of A. Lukashenko’s electorate. A leader, nominated by such a coalition must have wide relations (or, at least that kind of image) with various professional groups (professionalism was mentioned by our respondents as the most important quality of a potential candidate), Belarusian state officials (this is why M. Chigir, and lately V. Leonov, firmly occupy top places in the rating of opposition candidates for presidency), and the Russian establishment, which is discontent with the present regime in Belarus for a variety of reasons (more than 50% of respondents said they were ready to vote for the unification of Russia and Belarus). Currently the Belarusian opposition fancies discussions about a possibility to repeat the Yugoslavian scenario in Belarus. However, let us remind you that hundreds of thousands Serbs went out to the streets of Belgrade after numerous opposition structures jointly nominated V. Kostunica (who did hardly satisfy more than a couple of those structures separately, but satisfied them all together), not vice versa.
Anyway, the leaders of the opposition on all the three levels – political, civic and social – need to begin negotiations and come to a compromise. Otherwise, a false start in this race is inevitable.