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FROM A REFORMIST TO A CONSERVATIVE

Approaching exhaustion of mobilization resource is also confirmed by dynamics of A. Lukashenko’s ratings (graphs 1-2). Their growth gave way to a reduction. Electoral rating (percentage of votes, which a politician received in answers to an open question “If presidential elections were held tomorrow, for whom would you vote?”) dropped by 5.2 points in December compared to September. Despite that, the head of state’s “annual balance” turned out to be positive, and he should be thankful for this to Russian TV.
But propaganda efficiency is defined above all not by professional level of propagandists but by population’s readiness to accept this propaganda. If propaganda doesn’t concern some important layers of consciousness, there won’t be any notably influence on public opinion.
Why did Belarusians react so actively to the Russian TV-version of events in Ukraine? Which layers of national (Belarusian) consciousness were affected?
A typical representative of Belarusian majority still can be defined as a “homo sovieticus”, as we’ve mentioned more than once. And imperia complex is one of basic characteristics of this social type. Let us reinforce the above mentioned by the authority of sociologists Y. Levada, who defined main characteristics of soviet people as follows: forced self-isolation, state paternalism, egalitarian hierarchy, imperia complex.
That is why there is nothing surprising in the fact that TV series “Russia gets back its status of the great power” enjoyed popularity in Belarus. For a soviet man it compensated the misery of everyday life with permanent fears of price hike and ruble devaluation.
What was said about electoral rating of A. Lukashenko is also true for his trust rating. However, results documented in graph 2 should be read with a certain part of skepticism. You should remember that there are different types of trust. Thus, on the 18th of December A. Lukashenko brought up a topic of “exchange rate” during an economy conference. He resolutely stated that “we are not going to run after Russia”. This resoluteness of the head of state was perceived by Belarusians as a signal for massive currency purchase.
One thing is to trust A. Lukashenko as a symbol of system, as “batka”, but quite another thing is to trust him in practical questions. This is another example of two levels of reality perception. “Crimeaisours”-euphoria covers soviet people’s vision only partially. This is something that should be remembered of while analyzing survey results.
Topic of trust is continued by the question “Recently President A. Lukashenko has stated “Honesty and justice, that I have promised you, still define my policy”. Do you agree with this statement?” The shares of those who agree and disagree are equal – 42.3%, while 15.4% of respondents didn’t know how to answer. Thus, trust rating of A. Lukashenko exceeded by 7.6 points the share of respondents who believe in honesty and justice of his policy. This inconsistency once again confirms that social surveys’ results shouldn’t be approached mechanically. Public opinion is a mixture of setups, mythologems and current media topics. And this mixture is dynamic.
Women are more inclined to believe in A. Lukashenko’s honesty and justice than men (46.8% vs. 36.8%). But the leaders of “believers” are Belarusians with primary education – 76.8% (35.5% among people with higher education).
Answers to the question “Are you ready to personally protect Alexander Lukashenko from some threat?” let us distinguish declarative trust from instrumental trust in a first approximation. Let us remind you, that trust rating of the head of state amounted to 49.9% in December, but only 18.7% of respondents expressed readiness to protect him (32.2% among his supporters and 4.3% among his opponents), 62.2% of respondents refused to protect him and 19.4% of them didn’t know how to answer.
Let us remember the collapse of the USSR, when none of 18 million members of the CPSU volunteered to protect the country. The nature of support of authoritarian power and its personification hardly changed since that, so it is possible to affirm that today this support is virtual as well. People do not feel responsibility for their political idol.
Graph 3 data let us compare current level of discomfort in the country with the level of December 2011, when positive dynamics of artificial economy crisis recovery has just outlined.
Belarusians’ attitude to A. Lukashenko, unlike Russians’ attitude to V. Putin, are subject to great variations. Ratings of Russian national leader continue to remain “Teflon-made”. The reason for this is different scale of the country and different level of public opinion inertia in perception of social and political reality.
Belarusians are used to living under circumstances of economic instability, and they transfer their emotions (both positive and negative ones) on the top figure of the state. Thus the double difference in estimations in the first row of graph 3 and six-fold – in the third one.
The image of the permanent head of state gradually changes in Belarusians’ minds (graph 4). From a politician, who “slowly, but steadily pursues the aim by way of reforms” (–11.2 points over eight years) he transforms into a politician who “aims at maintaining current governance system” (+11.8 points). For a politician, who hits at the fifth presidential term, this transformation is quite natural. It’s no coincidence than in 2014 there was a reincarnation of 1994 rhetoric (strengthening of labor discipline, war on corruption and so on).
High trust rating level of A. Lukashenko traditionally influenced trust ratings of state institutions (Table 1). State mass media and state research institutes turned out to be absolute leaders by trust growth. Under the circumstances of Russian-Ukrainian hybrid war, which is based on “event interpretation war” between mass media, this lead shouldn’t be surprising.
Table 1. Dynamics of trust rating of state and public institutions, %
Variant of answer
12’13
12’14
Difference
Orthodox Church
63.0
67.2
4.2
Army
44.1
52.1
8.0
Business associations
39.7
35.6
–4.1
Bar association
39.4
51.9
12.5
Non-state media
41.0
41.7
0.7
Catholic Church
36.6
35.3
–1.3
International organizations (UN, EU, OSCE, European Parliament, Council of Europe and others)
36.9
36.9
Independent research institutes
36.0
44.9
8.9
President
37.7
49.9
12.2
KGB
33.9
42.0
8.1
Free and independent trade-unions
31.9
33.8
1.9
Human rights groups (Belarusian Helsinki Committee and others)
28.7
37.4
8.7
Courts
34.9
44.4
9.5
Public Prosecutor’s Office
34.5
42.3
7.8
Militia
34.9
41.4
6.5
Trade-unions, members of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus
30.0
36.2
6.2
National Assembly
31.5
37.8
6.3
State research institutes
31.5
46.6
15.1
Central Election Commission
32.0
40.4
8.4
State media
31.6
47.1
15.5
Local Executive Committees
28.6
36.4
7.8
Government
29.4
41.4
12.0
Local Councils of Deputies
28.9
37.1
8.2
Political parties supporting the present power
19.9
27.5
8.6
Opposition political parties
15.8
16.0
0.2
Protestant Church
10.9
9.9
–1.0
Still, the absolute leaders by level of trust are those institutions of power, which have a symbolical role, whose main function is to maintain social integrity (“spiritual bonds”, as they call them in Russia).
Structure of institutional trust reproduces characteristic split: symbolical importance of authoritarian institutions (President, army, KGB) on one side and distrust to institutions which define possibilities of citizens’ political participation (independent professional unions, oppositional parties) on the other side.
Anomalous dynamics of social moods in 2014 is caused by the unexpectedly high flexibility of simple citizens. TV, monopolized by the state, is beyond competition, as in Soviet times. It may seem that internet gives a possibility to find alternative information without difficulties. Almost two thirds of Belarusians use it. But mass consciousness’ ability to have critical views on TV-stories is still on a very low level.