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THE DYNAMICS OF ECONOMIC VIEWS OF THE BELARUSIAN SOCIETY

The results of the polls show that people consider social and economic problems to be among the most vexed. Table 1 shows that the most important problems are price growth, impoverishment, unemployment and economic recession. At the same time, their aggregate importance slowly decreases: during the last two years it went down 5.7%. At the same time, the importance of legal problems, keeping order and observation of human rights increases (by 7.0%). Notably, the importance of each problem of the set is on an increase, especially the observation of human rights (more than twice).
Table 1. The most acute problems, which the country and the people face, %

Problem
09’98
06’99
11’99
08’00
Social and economic problems, total:
including:
61.5
56.8
56.5
55.8
– prices grow
26.1
21.0
19.1
20.1
– people become poorer
17.3
18.6
18.5
17.9
– unemployment
9.9
9.1
10.3
9.6
– economic recession
8.2
8.1
8.6
8.2
Legal problems, total:
including:
27.4
31.0
32.1
34.4
– crime
9.3
11.3
9.9
11.6
– corruption, bribery
7.6
7.5
8.9
8.2
– absence of order, law
7.0
6.3
6.6
7.4
– violations of human rights
3.5
5.9
6.7
7.2
Other problems, total:
including:
11.1
12.2
11.4
9.8
– overcoming of the Chernobyl disaster
7.1
7.5
6.8
6.1
– international isolation
3.1
2.3
2.4
2.3
– threat from the West
0.9
2.4
2.2
1.4
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
The population still believes the authorities regarding the social and economic problems, when it is told a story of the world economic crisis, disintegration of economic relations and a conspiracy of Chubais and Berezovsky. However, law order and human rights obviously have nothing to do with these – all these problems can only be resolved by the government. This fact is another indicator that the dissatisfaction of the activities of the authorities is on an increase in society. According to Table 2, people feel no improvement of the economic situation, unlike the authorities and the state-controlled media. Moreover, the share of people, who think that the economic situation has improved, is decreasing: it during all monitoring period, it has hit a record low in August 2000.

Table 2. Change in the Belarusian economy over the last year*, %

* Here and in the tables below the total in each column many be less than 100% because the lines “No answer” and “Do not know” were omitted

People’s views about their private welfare show a similar tendency (Table 3).

Table 3. Change in personal living standards over the last year, %

We can see that people are increasingly pessimistic about that: during the last poll, an unprecedentedly small number of respondents said their personal well-being improved.
It is obvious that in this economic situation people are likely to search for somebody to blame. According to Table 4, respondents think that the government, president and local authorities are guilty for the deteriorating economy. That is, the majority of the population believes that the regime (from the president to petty officials representing the executive branch) is to blame for the current economic problems. The number of people who think so has rapidly increased in the last few years. In 1996 the total negative rating of the authorities totaled 44.9%, and in August 2000 it was 65.4%, or almost 1.5 times as much.

Table 4. Responsibility for deteriorating economy in the country, %

It is notable, that the president’s “rating of guilt” increases slower than the other two indicators. This indicates that some people cannot give up the idea that the president is ideal. They believe that the economic woes are the result of low discipline of officials, carelessness, bribery and larceny in the executive branch “We have a good president, but bad people do not allow him do everything he wants…” As a rule, they are unable to tell, how the president of a country, where officials do not do anything without first getting instructions from their boss, cannot have it his way.
Table 4 also shows that the number of answers, which blame others for economic problems is on a constant decrease. Fewer respondents blamed business people, the West, mass media and Russia. Even the notorious Mafia, which no one has ever seen, but of which everyone is aware, is blamed by fewer people, than four years ago.
According to the results of the latest poll, people do not yet know the extent of authorities’ responsibility for economic failures, but have a better knowledge of the reasons behind the failures. Table 5 shows this. The latest polls show (the difference of results is insignificant and does not exceed the margin of error), that the overwhelming majority of respondents think that to get out of the crisis this economy requires measures, contrary to A. Lukashenko’s current policies.

Table 5. Positive answers to the question about measures, which need to be adopted to improve the economic situation in Belarus, %

To put it bluntly, the majority of the population does not approve of the basic concepts of the “market socialism”, imposed by the regime. The polls, which were conducted recently, clearly show that more and more Belarusian people develop a liking for the market economy, although they may not know it themselves, while their optimism for the building of a new socialism clearly vanishes. All respondents’ answers to questions about their attitude to the market economy indicate this.
During the last three years the share of proponents of the administrative economy became smaller than the share of senior citizens in total population figures. Therefore, even their liking for socialism disappears. Table 6 shows that during the last three years the number of respondents, who prefer a liberal market economy went up by almost 40%, but the number of proponents of a social democratic market economy even decreased somewhat. This may be respondents’ reaction to the frustrating results of the government’s stronger grip on economic developments. In other words, the more the authorities interfere with the economy, the more people dislike it.

Table 6. Preferred type of economy, %

According to Table 7, since the year 1999 the number of respondents who consider private property a more efficient form of ownership than state property has been more than 50% of respondents. The proportion most significantly changed in this direction after 1997.

Table 7. Distribution of answers to the question “Which form of ownership is more efficient?”, %

Table 8 also testifies to this fact, showing the same growth of the share of respondents, who prefer private property. At the same time, the economic policies of the government, which do not allow normal market relations to develop, suppresses the private sector, making people think that it is unreliable.

Table 8. Distribution of answers to the question “Which company would you rather work for?”, %

As for answers to other questions, the results of the survey are very plain and do not require any comments (Tables 9-15).

Table 9. Distribution of answers to the question “Should the government impose limitations on people’s incomes?”, %


Table 10. Distribution of answers to the question “Should the government regulate the prices of goods and services?”, %


Table 11. Distribution of answers to the question “What do you like better?”, %


Table 12. Distribution of answers to the question “Do you think that money earned by buying things cheap and then selling them at a higher price is the money earned honestly?”, %

* The answers “Yes” and “No” also include “Not sure, but I’d rather say “yes” and “Not sure, but I’d rather say “no” respectively

Table 13. Distribution of answers to the question “Would you like your children to become private businessmen, and spend their lives doing business?”, %

Table 14. Distribution of answers to the question “What do you think about Belarusians who have high incomes?”, %


Table 15. Distribution of answers to the question “What do you like better?”, %

Answer
06’95
06’96
06’97
11’97
09’98
08’00
A wide offer of quality goods and services, which have free marker prices
60.6
59.4
77.9
83.9
87.1
87.3
Constant deficits and limited offer of low quality goods and services, which have prices fixed by the government
39.4
35.8
19.4
12.2
10.5
11.2
Therefore, the results of the analysis let us indicate a progress of economic beliefs of the Belarusian people. The public thinking steadily begins to prefer normal market relations. The economic policy led by the authorities gives a contrary result in some cases: the more the regime sticks to the old ways, the more it oppresses private initiative, the fewer people support the authorities.