During the public discussion of the new union treaty between Russia and Belarus officials from the two countries said that both Russians and Belarusians unanimously supported the unification of the two countries. Survey data from Russia suggest that about 70 per cent of Russians support the idea of unification with Belarus. Belarusian society, however, is not as unanimous, which data from IISEPS national surveys prove.

Respondents were asked about their voting at a hypothetical referendum on the formation of a single state of Russia and Belarus. Data from Table 1 show the dynamics of the proportion of supporters and opponents of the idea throughout the year 1999.

Table 1. Voting at a hypothetical referendum on the unification of Belarus and Russia, %

An increase in numbers of the supporters of unification during the period from March to June could be explained by the so called Yugoslav syndrome: Belarusian public opinion, scared by the war in the Balkans, shifted towards Russia. From June to November a backwards trend was in place: the number of supporters of unification dropped, while the number of opponents increased. That happened despite the fact that the November survey took place in the middle of a new pro-integration campaign whereby state-run media aggressively advertised for unification. An aggressive marketing campaign usually brings about an increase in the demand for the goods advertised. Since that was not the case with the pro-unification campaign, there are other factors that neutralize pro-unification propaganda. These factors can be inferred from Table 2.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “Do you think that if Belarus and Russia unite in one state:”, %

As we can see, the Yugoslav syndrome was replaced by the Chechen syndrome, which had quite an opposite impact on Belarusian public opinion. Despite all promises by authorities, most Belarusians are afraid that in case of unification with Russia either they or their children would have to take part in military conflicts in Russia and an even greater proportion believe that war could come to Belarus in the form of terrorist attacks. Interestingly, 45.2 per cent evaluate the decision by the Russian government to begin military operations in Chechnya positively, and 25.9 per cent negatively. Another 4.4 per cent said they were indifferent. Thus Belarusians consider the war in Chechnya as a foreign military conflict and do not want to take part in it, but they do not unanimously condemn the war itself. Indirectly, the same is suggested by the answers to the question about a hypothetical president of the union (Table 3).

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “If the position of the president of the union of Belarus and Russia was established, who would you vote for at an election to that position?”*, %

* Other Belarusian and Russian politicians were named by less than 1% of the respondents

No Russian politician before Vladimir Putin enjoyed such a high rating in Belarus as a potential president of the Russian-Belarusian union. These data support the conclusion that Belarusian sympathize with “strong” politicians that, putting it in Putin’s words, are ready to “hit in the lavatory”.

Despite that a large part of the Belarusian population support unification with Russia, Belarusian public opinion about the problem is far from being unanimous on the issue. As data from Table 4 show, Belarusian state sovereignty is an important value not only to “a bunch of nationalists” but also for the majority of the population, including Lukashenko’s supporters and even those in favor of unification with Russia.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “Do you want Belarus to be a sovereign and independent state?”, %

* Figures in brackets correspond to the percentage of those ready to vote for Lukashenko and unification with Russia, respectively

The proportion of those who stand up for unification into one state drops significantly, if the pollsters are offered several variants of relations between Russia and Belarus (see Table 5). Thus the controversy of public consciousness allows authorities to manipulate it by promising “full unification” together with the preservation of “full sovereignty”.

Table 5. The preferred type of relations between Belarus and Russia, %

It should be noted that the general trend for unification with Russia is accompanied by quite moderate evaluation of the present situation in Russia (Table 6).

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question “Compare the living standards in Belarus and its neighboring countries. Where are those higher?”, %

As we see, despite state propaganda, which depicts “horrors of capitalism” in Poland and the Baltic states, Belarusians almost unanimously say that living standards in Latvia, Poland and Lithuania are higher than in Belarus. At the same time, most respondents believe that living standards in Russia are comparable to those in Belarus. Thus it is not impossible that speaking about their desire to form a single state with Russia, people here in Belarus mean something other than just unification with the neighboring country, with its problems and successes. What they might mean can be seen from Table 7.

Table 7. Attitude to the restoration of the Soviet Union, %

It should also be noted that the number of those who stand up for the restoration of the Soviet Union has dropped substantially over the course of the last two years. People have finally realized that regardless of how they evaluate the past, it is impossible to return.