President A. Lukashenko is a populist. This is not the news, nor a state secret, nor a definition to disgrace or disparage the head of state because the president himself agrees with this definition. Yet in August of 1994, soon after his election, he explained his inclination to populism to Russian TV journalist A. Karaulov: “By the way, I don’t think populism is an extremely negative characteristic for a politician. Perhaps, it derives from the word popular.”

Political populism is not a new phenomenon but it started surviving a boom only in the beginning of 20th century. Before that it was constrained by weak demand on the part of political audience. Before formation of industrial society and mass media politics was mainly the business of the elite. The general public rather kept silence and very seldom burst into cruel and senseless revolts. It all changed upside down in the 20th century. His Majesty the man from masses came down from political gallery and demanded a seat in the stalls. Traditional theatre buildings with columns and reared up quadrigae already couldn’t fit in all newcomers. Hereditary aristocrats who scanned the people through monocles appeared absolutely not ready to such developments. Unfortunately, it tears where it is the thinnest, and soon Field-Marshal Hindenburg pressed by uncontrolled nationals had to pass over the power to a lance corporal from a neighboring state. The outcome of this event isn’t the subject of our research. We are now more concerned in the following: political populism must not be taken as an unfortunate deviation from progressing. The very idea of this progress which we inherited from Enlightenment is no more than a myth.

The question about who leads who – a politician-populist leads his adherents or vice versa – hasn’t been finally settled so far. That’s exactly like in the dialectic puzzle about the hen and the egg. Of course, a successful populist should go at least a half step ahead forward, or he/she will mix up with the common ruck. However, to be ahead doesn’t mean to lead forward. The direction may as well be backward.

Furthermore, much depends on the position in the race for power. It is one thing when a politician is in the opposition, even in constructive one (this is A. Lukashenko’s favorite definition), and it is quite a different thing when race for power comes to power retention. Pure populism is here supported by Army, militia, KGB and other equally disciplined and loyal agencies. Their presence takes down the need of accounting public opinion and moves sociological data to the background. It is much more important that the votes of discontent don’t make one single voice. Atomized countrymen expressing their indignation in front of their TV sets are not a jeopardize. The decision about construction of a nuclear plant in Belarus is a bright example in this regards. These are experts to decide if there’s any need for this but the nation-elected power should have explained its decision. Or may be not? It seems, it just didn’t need to do this in Belarus. Now, this is what’s going to happen in the country that survived the Chernobyl disaster and where, according to the nation opinion poll of 2006, nearly every third citizen (31%) buys foodstuffs depending on their ability to accumulate radionuclides and 85.3% of citizens believe that consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe negatively affect their health!

Let’s look at the results of the latest opinion poll (see Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “The Government of Belarus has taken decision on the construction of a nuclear plant in the Mogilev region. Some people support this idea and others not. What is your attitude to this decision?”, % *

Variant of answer

All population

Supporters of authorities

Opponents of authorities

I support construction of a nuclear plant in Belarus




I don’t support construction of a nuclear plant in Belarus




It doesn’t matter








* Table is read down

Thus, the majority of Belarusians don’t approve construction of a nuclear plant in Belarus. The results we received in June are as well very close (“against” – 52.2% and “for” – 30.0%). However, the question about nuclear plant construction appeared non-political and didn’t take to the customary split in public opinion. The number of those approving and disapproving this idea among supporters and opponents of authorities is almost the same. The hint in the question wording (“The Government of Belarus has taken decision…”) didn’t work. This means that the Chernobyl issue stands above the power issue for Belarusians, so they don’t get into any political dissent.

Here is another example. (See Table 2).

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question: “Speaking two years ago in the Parliament A. Lukashenko said, “Adoption of children by foreigners is a shame for the state and we need to eliminate this once and forever.” At the same time, according to official data, there are over 80,000 orphans in Belarus and the state doesn’t have enough funds to support them properly. Don’t you think that the citizens of foreign countries able to provide proper support to these children should be allowed their adoption?”, %

Variant of answer

All population

Supporters of authorities

Opponents of authorities

Yes, adoption of orphans by foreign citizens should be allowed




No, adoption of orphans by foreign citizens should not be allowed








Obviously, the opinion of authorities radically differs from the opinion of majority. However, unlike on nuclear plant construction, the question about orphan children unexpectedly turned out to be politicized: in their majority supporters of authorities agree with the above opinion. What is the reason? First of all, this is active promotion of the issue by the president. He many times addressed the idea of adoption of orphans by foreigners over lately. Second, supporters and opponents of authorities take differently the nature of “shame for the state” as they proceed from different criteria. For the first, this is the very fact of adoption by foreigners which is the shame for the state (“I feel hurt for my country!”). The second feel hurt for the orphan children whom the state cannot support properly. They take this ban as yet another attempt to conceal true ‘achievements’ of the regime in the social field from the society. Therefore, their answers are a kind of a political protest.

Transfer of the main support of A. Lukashenko’s power onto the forces didn’t lift up the need in populism. On the contrary, the latter became a constituent part of the state ideology. It became a part of the planned work of hundreds of experts catering for the regime. However, every time when A. Lukashenko stands the choice to rely on popular support and lose some of his powers, he chooses power. Mass conversion of the Belarusian society to contracts of employment is a bright illustration.

The opinion of Belarusians on the contractual system is not a secret either for the society in general or for its authors. The true situation is reflected in Table 3.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question: “What is your attitude to mass involuntary conversion of employees at state-owned enterprises and organizations to short-term contracts of employment carried over lately?”*, %

Variant of answer










* According to the data of opinion poll conducted in June of 2006

Speaking at the Third All-Belarusian Assembly, right before the presidential election, A. Lukashenko refused to compromise his voters and aired his standpoint very straightforwardly: “I won’t cancel the contracts.” He referred to the experience of so not-favored West to explain this position: “Be it popular or not, contract is the agreement between two sides. Contract is practiced everywhere in the civilized world and in the Western Europe first of all.”

A politician populist addresses his/her supporters directly. He/she is a chief resource of mobilization campaigns. This accounts for absence of alternative for this person. Belarusian voters keep asking one and the same question to the opposition which the latter cannot solve: “Who can replace him?” What’s more, there isn’t any bright figure either in the opposition or among top officials and elected representatives of the people sitting in the representative bodies. Has the Belarusian land become really so exhausted or is this the nature of authoritarian power which is the reason? As everybody knows, the nature doesn’t bear emptiness. However, an authoritarian leader doesn’t bear competition, in his circle first of all. He has only two instruments in his power arsenal. These are the stick and the carrot. Their combination helps A. Lukashenko stay in power at the moment.