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FRATERNAL COLD SPELL

As survey demonstrates, Belarusians’ evaluations of events in Ukraine didn’t change significantly. As before, majority shares Russian point of view on the annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Donbass. At the same time attitude to Ukraine and Ukrainians notably worsened compared to previous years.

In December 2014 survey materials we’ve noted that Belarusians attitude to “Crimeaisours” has slightly changed over half a year: the number of adherents of the Russian version of events became slightly lower, while the number of those who had an alternative point of view increased a bit. However, in March 2015 the trend is broken: the share of those who defined the annexation of Crimea as usurpation and occupation turned out to be minimal over the whole time of observation (Graph 1). However, the share of those who didn’t know how to answer was twice as big as last year.
The same peculiarity (increase of the share of those who didn’t want to answer) was observed in the evaluations of the conflict in Donbass as well. However, in the answers to this question we may observe a certain decline of the share of adherents of independence of the rebellious region. Nevertheless, the share of opponents of Novorossiya remains unchanged (Graph 2).
As you can see, we must be careful when talking about trends of respondents’ attitude towards the events in Ukraine; each next survey may break the trend. It would be more correct to speak of a stable ratio of opinions and oscillations around it.
The numbers on respondents’ attitude towards the neighboring country and its people is another confirmation of the fact, that a significant part of Belarusians doesn’t share Ukrainian estimations of the crisis, going on in this country (Graphs 3-4). It should be noted that Belarusians’ attitude to Ukrainians has always been very good: on the scale of social distance in IISEPS surveys Ukrainians were always the second closest nation after Russians.
In comparison with the five-year-old survey positive evaluations of Ukrainians as an ethnos and of relations between Belarus and Ukraine declined by approximately 20 (!) percentage points. At the same time negative evaluations changed insignificantly. For the most part these changes were due to the growth of neutral estimations of Ukrainians and unstable mutual relationships.
Tables 3 and 4 data correlate with Tables 1 and 2 data: opinion, that Ukraine is wrong about Crimea and Donbass, is extrapolated on the attitude to the country and its people in general. It doesn’t become really worse, but it becomes much colder.
Dynamics of attitude to the current Ukrainian leader also indirectly testifies on a cold snap in relations (Table 1).
Table 1. Dynamics of attitude to the President of Ukraine P. Poroshenko*, %
Variant of answer
06’14
03’15
Positive
12.0
7.3
Indifferent
36.0
36.6
Negative
21.2
47.4
I don’t consider him a legitimate President of Ukraine
15.0
–**
I don’t know who was elected
10.6
I don’t know who is this
3.8
DA/NA
5.2
4.9
* In June 2014 survey we asked the question “What is your attitude to the new President of Ukraine, elected on the 25th of May 2014?”
** A dash means that corresponding variants of answer were not present
At the same time respondents demonstrated a very moderate optimism in relation to a possible improvement of mutual relationships (Graph 5).
It is interesting to note that, despite this cold snap in relation to Ukraine and Ukrainians, the share of adherents of the ideologeme about the triune nation remains unchanged (Graph 6).
According to some people this ideologeme is a synonym of “the Russian world”, ideological basis for annexation of Belarus and Ukraine by Russia. Meanwhile in reality it correlates with geopolitical setups of respondents in a rather complicated way (Table 2).
Table 2. Connection between the attitude to the idea of a triune nation and the geopolitical choice and the attitude to Ukrainians, %
Variant of answer
“Are Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians three different nations or three branches of the same nation?”
Three branches of the same nation
Three different nations
If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, what choice would you make?
Integration with the RF
55.2
28.2
Joining the
23.2
48.8
How do you evaluate the annexation of Crimea by Russia?
It’s an imperialistic usurpation and occupation
12.6
45.1
It’s a restitution of Russian lands and reestablishment of historical justice
66.6
41.7
Which attitude to Ukrainians prevails in Belarus?
Positive
36.4
24.3
Neutral
52.2
50.1
Negative
7.7
19.2
As it was expected, adherence to the ideologeme of the triune nation is related to adherence to integration with Russia, but not as tight, as it could be: almost one quarter of “triuners” support Belarus’ entry into the EU. On the other hand, almost the same share of people considering Slavic people as three different nations supports integration with Russia.
In a way Americans and Englishmen or Germans and Austrians could also be considered as “twin nations”: there is as much of ethnic and cultural foundations for this as for the Easter Slavic “triplets”. However, this real proximity doesn’t results into a need of state unity.
Connection between the “triune” ideologeme and evaluations of attitude to Ukrainians turns out to be much more unexpected. If it was a synonym for “the Russian world”, then it would be logical if its adherents would give worse evaluations to Ukrainians who left this immanent and primordial unity.
However, the result is opposite. In other words, conception of the “triune nation” integrates people with a reverse logic: you cannot choose your kinsfolk, but they still are your kinsfolk.
However, you should pay attention to the fact that the question was asked not on respondents’ attitude to Ukrainians, but on evaluation of prevailing attitude in Belarusian society. Those, who think that Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians are three different nations, may reason out of majority’s evaluation of the current crisis in the neighboring country. And these evaluations may be seen in Tables 1 and 2.
In fine it should be said, that Belarusians’ attitude to Ukrainians is in the doldrums now. Estimations of what are the reasons and who is guilty for the crisis in Ukraine have been partially projected onto the attitude to the country and its people. This doesn’t mean that situation will never improve, but for the moment that’s it.
If we talk about political conclusions to draw out of this, politicians naturally should not follow every ripple of public opinion. At the same time they should at least take into account real moods in society.
These moods are contradictory, if one has enough will and resources, it is possible to break them, but it is important to know them.