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“THE HESITANT” LOOK TO THE EAST

Russian-Belarusian relations is the old but always urgent problem, which needs attention of all Belarusian politicians, who want the electorate to trust them. The opposition needs to understand that their views of this problem, as well as the views of all other “elitists”, representing the state and non-state sector, make a lot of difference from the views shared by the majority of the electorate (Tables 1-3). This difference between their own views and the opinions of their potential supporters needs a speedy and efficient resolution.
Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “Would you like Belarus to be a sovereign independent country?”, %


Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “Which variant of relations between Russia and Belarus do you consider best?”, %

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “If a referendum on the unification of Russia and Belarus were held today, what would you vote for?”, %

The number of integration proponents reached its maximum in June 2000 and has been on a substantial decline ever since (Table 4). In August only 52.9% of respondents said they were ready to vote in a referendum about a unification of Belarus and Russia (in June 61.9% answered this question positively). The number of people who said that a merger into one country was the best course that the relations between the two countries may take has also been on a decline (August – 22.5%, June – 36.7%). It is worth mention, that during that period no event in Russia could trigger negative reaction (the tragedy on the submarine “Kursk” and a fire of the “Ostankino” television tower in Moscow happened after the August poll). Perhaps, a reason behind the trend is in the latest rhetorics of A. Lukashenko, who repeatedly said that although a lot of statements were adopted and piles of documents were signed, no real integration has taken place outside the military sphere. Moreover, a reverse process in under way. Russia is unilaterally building up customs and taking decisions, which make life harder for Belarusian businessmen etc.

Table 4. Structure of the electorate, depending on people’s attitude to integration, %

Although the integration rating is on a decline, the support for V. Putin is getting stronger. More than 40% of respondents said they were ready to vote for him in the elections of the president of Russia and Belarus (Table 5). It is interesting that 49.6% of those, who neither support A. Lukashenko, nor are his opponents, i.e. of people, for whose support the opposition will have to fight sooner or later, support V. Putin as a candidate for presidency. Moreover, in August 56.9% of respondents said the Russian president was an ideal contemporary politician (in June, they were 56.6%). For the sake of comparison, the corresponding figure for A. Lukashenko was 31.3% (36.8% in June) and Bill Clinton 21.4% (26.2%).

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question “If a post of the Russian-Belarusian president was introduced and elections wee held, whom would you support?”, %

The conflict in the Belarusian society, which was first spotted long ago, also reveals itself through the attitude to integration with Russia and the vision of the future of Belarus, shared by representatives of various social groups. The difference here obviously depends on the attitude to A. Lukashenko.
His supporters traditionally adhere to close integration, even merger with Russia (Table 6). At the same time, they are against Belarus’ integration into European structures and are pessimistic about the future of the neutral status of an independent country for Belarus.

Table 6. Attitude to integration with Russia depending on attitude to A. Lukashenko*, %

Structure of the electorate
Attitude to integration with Russia
Supporters of integration (21.0)
Hesitate (58.2)
Opponents of integration (20.8)
Staunch supporters of the president (13.5)
38.0
58.3
3.8
Hesitate (50.0)
24.5
62.7
12.5
Firm opponents to the president (36.5)
9.5
52.0
38.4

* The table is read horizontally

As far as the parliamentary and the presidential elections are concerned, it is the opinion of Belarus’ future shared by the “hesitant majority” which gains extra importance. Their views about the topic in question are as controversial, as they are about most other questions. However, we need to mention that when the “hesitant” part of society is given a choice of a vector of development (whether to “go East” or “go West”), they still look to the East (Table 7).

Table 7. Attitude to the future of the country depending on attitude to A. Lukashenko*, %

Answer
Supporters of the president (13.5)
Opponents to the president (36.5)
Hesitate (50.0)
Which future do you think is best for Belarus?
Belarus must join the European Union (20.6)
3.2
35.7
14.3
Belarus must be in a union with Russia but remain an independent country (38.0)
50.2
25.9
43.4
Belarus must become part of Russia (15.2)
26.8
7.9
17.3
Belarus must remain a neutral independent country, which must not enter any political unions (14.2)
6.5
21.9
10.6
NA (14.7)
14.3
12.2
16.6
Which forms of integration with the Western Europe should Belarus should Belarus strive after?
Membership in the Council of Europe (30.3)
29.4
37.3
25.5
Membership in the European Union (32.2)
22.3
43.8
26.3
Membership in NATO (2.6)
1.2
4.4
1.7
Other (0.8)
0.8
0.8
0.7
NA (39.6)
25.6
47.0
47.7

* The table is read horizontally

At the same time, they choose a more flexible form of cooperation with Russia and see the independence of Belarus as a tangible value (Table 6).
Although a tale of integration as a cure of all diseases must be debunked, the opposition is very unlikely to be able to attract more people by issuing statements where Russia is referred to as a criminal empire, which will fall anyway. The hesitant majority needs other ways of persuasion, it does not want Russian flags to be burned and other radical things to be done.