Negotiations between authorities and the opposition that the OSCE is trying to initiate, was one of the most important political themes of the year 1999. However, as survey data show, a rather low proportion of the respondents – only 19.9 per cent were aware of the initiative to begin negotiations. Meanwhile, the respondents express their attitude toward the idea of negotiations quite strongly (see Table 1).

In the period from June to November 1999, supporters of the idea increased in numbers, while the number of those who for various reasons oppose the idea, dwindled. Notably, the proportion of those who believe that there is no need for dialog between authorities and the opposition because the latter is weak and does not represent anyone, decreased substantially (almost by 50 per cent). It could be explained by various factors, including the Freedom March, which showed the opposition’s organizational potential. The opposition’s behavior during the negotiation process, such as its ability to act in concert, might have also had an impact. Many observers voiced the concern that a negotiation project initiated by the OSCE would weaken the opposition, but the outcome was the opposite: the opposition only strengthened its position by participating in the negotiation process.

Data from Table 1 suggest that political views are not a factor to determine the respondents’ attitude toward the negotiations. Supporters of dialog between authorities and the opposition are quite numerous among Lukashenko’s supporters and opponents. The proportion of those who support the idea of dialog is slightly higher among Lukashenko’s opponents than among his supporters.

Table 1. Distribution of the answers to the question “Today various opinions are voiced about the necessity of negotiations between authorities and the opposition. Which of the following opinions do you share?”, %

* Groups in columns 3 and 4 are singled out from the entire sample for the November 1999 survey. Convinced supporters of A. Lukashenko are those who are ready to vote for him at an election of the Belarusian president and at a hypothetical election of the president of the union of Belarus and Russia, trust him and consider him as an ideal of a politician. Similarly, his convinced opponents are those of the opposite opinion on all four issues. Supporters of Chigir and Paznyak are those who chose one of them form their pair. Figures in brackets correspond to the proportion of the groups in question in the entire sample

Political preferences have an impact on the dominant motivation of opponents of dialog. Lukashenko’s supporters who reject the idea of negotiations often use the alleged insignificance of the opposition as a reason, while Lukashenko’s opponents who also oppose the idea of dialog explain their position by the dictatorial nature of Belarusian rule. Among pro-Lukashenko pollsters this dominant motivation is expressed much weaker: every tenth of them believes that authorities in whom they trust, practice arbitrary action and lawlessness. This might be explain by that people who don’t know much about politics support authorities out of tradition. Often their attitudes are ambivalent: they set hope for authorities and, at the same time, know from their personal experience that nothing good could be expected from authorities.

At the beginning of 1999, on the eve of local election, the OSCE AMG in Belarus made the conclusion that the election could not be considered free and fair, based on the analysis of the legislation on elections and the course of the electoral campaign. If dialog between authorities and the opposition fails, a similar conclusion could be made in regards to the parliamentary election of 2000. Data from Table 2 help to answer the question how a conclusion of that kind could influence the decision of Belarusian to take or not to take place in the election.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “If international organizations decide that a free and fair election in Belarus is impossible under the current conditions, will you take part in the parliamentary election of 2000?”, %

As we can see, an assessment from international organization is unlikely to have a critical impact on people’s decision to vote or not. Even among the convinced opponents of the present authorities, almost 40 per cent are ready to take part in voting that might be considered unfair. It might be so because they have not yet had an opportunity to vote in a free election. It looks like Belarusians still believe that they will be able to express their opinion in a conventional way.