We are not trying to judge how true this line from Kipling is. Nor are we arguing about whether Belarus belongs to the East or to the West. Let’s try instead to answer the question of how Belarusian public opinion sees the country’s place in the world.

Belarusians’ sympathies towards Russia are quite well-spread and known. However, even given Belarusians’ desire to form a single state with Russia, they still look to the West, too. And Germany, the leader of new Europe that moves towards unification, is liked almost as much as Russia, which is confirmed by data from IISEPS national surveys.

Most Belarusians see an example to follow in Germany and the United States (Table 1). The almost unanimous condemnation of NATO military operation in Yugoslavia by Belarusians must have resulted in a decrease in people sympathies towards the United Sates during the June 1999 poll. However, by November 1999, the number of those who like America increased again, which means that the aftermath of the Yugoslav syndrome has begun to disappear. Incidentally, Belarusian public opinion seems to overlook the European participants of the Ally Force: the war in the Balkans had no impact on the respondents’ attitudes towards Germany. There is an impression that such an “exclusion” of European countries from NATO has to do not only with the war in Yugoslavia but also is a structural characteristic of Belarusian public opinion.

Table 1. The distribution of answers to the question “What country do you want Belarus to be similar to?”, %

* Other foreign countries were mentioned by less than 1% of the respondents

A negative attitude toward NATO and its eastward expansion is quite well spread in Belarus, which can be explained by many years of Soviet propaganda as well as modern propaganda, which has inherited a lot from the Soviet past. However, the November survey saw an improvement in the respondents’ attitudes towards NATO compared to the June poll (Table 2).

Table 2. The distribution of answers to the question “Do you think that NATO eastward expansion may pose a threat to Belarus?”, %

Survey data clearly show that Belarusians’ ideas about a NATO threat are largely determined ideologically (Table 3).

Table 3. The distribution of answers to the question “What states do you think are posing a threat to Belarus?”, % (the respondents could name more than one state)*

* Other countries were stated by less than 1% of the respondents

Very revealing are data on what countries Belarusians consider as a potential threat to Belarus. German fascism killed millions of people in Belarus during World War II, and now Germany is the most powerful NATO member in Europe in economic and military terms. However, Belarusians see neighboring Russia and remote China as potentially much more dangerous countries to Belarus, than Germany. Very revealing is that fact that the number of those who see NATO as a threat is 14 times greater than those who see Germany as a threat. This confirms the above mentioned phenomenon of public consciousness in Belarus: it ignores the European NATO member states and mainly associate NATO with the United States.

Almost hilarious is the fact that those who consider the United States as a potential source of threat are twice as low in numbers as those who see NATO as a threat. Thus a large proportion of the pollsters (about 15 per cent) do not associate NATO with any member states at all. For them, NATO is some independent threatening entity, “a monster,” according to Alexander Lukashenko. As a result of ideological propaganda, people are scared of an alliance of states, not being scared of any of those states separately.

However, propaganda has been unable to destroy people’s sympathies for Western nations. indirectly, this is suggested by the answers to the question about preparedness for emigration (Table 4).

Table 4. The distribution of answers to the question “Would you like to emigrate to another country?”*, %

* In addition to the above listed, 38 more countries were mentioned by the respondents as a place of desirable emigration, but each of them was mentioned by less then 1% of the respondents

As we see, among the countries people would like to emigrate to, Germany is the leader. The comparative analysis of Tables 2 and 5 shows that the number of those who consider Germany and the United States exemplary countries is almost twice as much as the number of those who say they are ready to emigrate to those countries. In other words, quite a number of people would like to become part of the civilized world, but together with Belarus rather than by their own. In addition, data from Table 5 reveal a substantial emigration potential of the Belarusian population, since almost 40 per cent of the pollsters said they would like to leave the country.

Belarusians’ sympathies for Western nations are largely explained by pragmatic considerations. 74.1% of the respondents say that an improvement in Belarus’ relations with Western Europe and neighboring countries would be conducive to an improvement in the economic situation in the country. At the same time, the respondents are rather cautious about the prospects of organizational cooperation with Western Europe (see Table 5).

Table 5. Distribution of the answers to the question “What forms of integration with Western Europe should Belarus seek, in your opinion?”, %

Belarus’ external policy is “multi-vectorial” in words only, while in fact it is, as Lukashenko himself said, characterized by an “enormous inclination” towards the East. Belarusian official often say that Belarus’ international isolation is caused by its desire to form a single state with Russia. However, as survey data suggest, Belarusian citizens do not believe in such statements. 66.1 per cent of the respondents think that it would be possible to establish good contacts with Russia and Western Europe at the same time.

Indirectly, people’s attitudes towards a country are shown by their attitudes toward the leader of that country. The restoration of President Clinton’s rating in November 1999 is another proof that the Yugoslav syndrome in Belarusian public opinion has been overcome. Notably, foreign political leaders who are most liked by Belarusians are leaders of the states most Belarusians consider exemplary. In this respect, a growth in the rating of German Chancellor G. Shroeder, who has not yet been in office for a long time, is revealing.

The decrease of S. Milosevic’s popularity must have to do with that Belarusians tend not to sympathize with political losers. At the same time, a slow but steady growth in popularity of Eastern Europe’s leaders, such as V. Havel, V. Adamkus and A. Kwasniewski, could mean the beginning of a dramatic shift in public consciousness: it seems that people are beginning to realize that Belarus will have to go to the West in the same long and hard path as eastern Europe.