Based on the results of IISEPS studies, with a high degree of probability we could assume that regardless of numerous statements, A. Lukashenko and his team are unable to carry out the “new course” (including Minsk’s unexpected readiness to receive even the Pope!), being actively promoted by the entire state propagandistic machine. First of all because the president has no electoral resources for that purpose. All the eight years of his presidency he has constantly exploited the image of the “gatherer of Slavic land”, Orthodox “adherent” and the last “bulwark on the way of western expansion”. As a result of such politics the political subjects and electoral groups which stood up for independence, democracy, denomination diversity and the European path of development were marginalized, driven into the periphery of the social-political process. That means at the moment the authorities have no electoral resources to rely on.

Although Belarus’ authorities (in the person of A. Lukashenko, L. Kozik, L. Yermoshina, etc.) claim today that there is no point (it is impossible, illegal, etc.) in organizing in Belarus a referendum on V. Putin’s proposals, many still wonder: but what if such referendum takes place? Of course, a lot will depend on the position of Belarusian authorities. The 1999 local election, the 2000 parliamentary election and the presidential election of 2001 showed that the authorities possess a powerful factor of political control. That means if they are really interested in “the national approval of the course for independence”, the necessary results would be demonstrated. If we disengage from the factor of political control and consider public opinion, it is not like that presented by the authorities (See Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “Russia’s president suggested to hold in spring 2003 a referendum on the following question: “Do you agree with Russia and Belarus uniting into a single state on the following principles:
а) ensuring parity of rights and freedoms of citizens of the united state;
b) parity of the regions of the Russian Federation and Belarus as subjects of the common state;
c) establishment of common governing bodies in line with the Russian Constitution?”
If there were such a referendum, how would you vote?”, %

* Convinced supporters are those who are ready to vote for A. Lukashenko at the Belarus presidential election and the presidential election of the Russia-Belarus Union, who trust him and consider him an ideal politician. Convinced opponents are those who distrust the president and choose another politician on all other issues

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “If as a result of the referendum Belarus becomes a part of the Russian Federation, how most probably would you act?” (answers of those who chose options “agree” and “would not take part” to the previous question), %

A deeper analysis shows that considering presumable reaction of the undetermined (according to a long-term monitoring of electoral behavior, the majority of those undetermined joins a dominant determined group at polling stations), if such a referendum were to take place tomorrow, at least 50% of Belarusians would probably support the proposal of the Russian president.
A comparative analysis of those who agree and disagree with V. Putin’s proposal on social-demographic profile revealed almost no critical differences (by which different attitudes towards the integration could be explained) between these groups of the Belarusian society. As we assumed, there are more women among those who agree, than men, people with low education level, aged people, pensioners, residents of towns and villages having low incomes. On the contrary, among those who disagree there are more people with a higher level of education, youth, students, residents of the capital and regional centers having higher incomes. If we do not take into account expected differences among pensioners (dominated by those who agree) and students (dominated by those who disagree), critical differences are revealed only among representatives of different religions (those who agree dominate among Orthodox believers, those who disagree – among Catholics, and especially Protestants) and respondents with different national identification. The respondents who believe that Belarusians do not differ from Russians are dominated by those who agree, while those who disagree more often see differences in language, culture, psychology and history. The same analysis of those who refuse to take part in the referendum or have not made their choice yet revealed no significant differences on these criteria – the social-demographic profile of these groups coincides with the profile of the entire representation.
The respondents’ attitude towards President A. Lukashenko and his policy is a more important characteristic of Belarusians’ attitude towards the integration with Russia. As we see from Table 1, A. Lukashenko’s convinced supporters dominate those who agree with V. Putin’s offer, among those who disagree – his opponents. Unlike three years ago, the given distribution is not mirror-like. That means that negative attitude towards A. Lukashenko is in no strict correlation to negative attitude towards the integration. We have repeatedly written that the most important factor of this fundamental shift in Belarusians’ mass consciousness is V. Putin and his policy (especially since the beginning of Russia’s active rapprochement with the West), which are viewed as a real and acceptable alternative to A. Lukashenko and his policy. Thus, with a high degree of probability we could assume that if Russia’s leadership openly and clearly gives Belarusians to understand that the policy of A. Lukashenko does not suit it any longer, positive feelings towards Russia are likely to grow even more in Belarus.
Therefore, national-democratic forces shall not flatter themselves that the dominant group of A. Lukashenko’s convinced opponents would have voted against the proposal of V. Putin. The hopes that those who disagree with such results of the referendum, guided by the national idea or appeals by the president, will come out in the streets, thereby “standing up to protect the Fatherland”, are rather doubtful (See Table 3).

Table  3. Distribution of answers to the question “Are you satisfied with A. Lukashenko’s ruling?”

Today the majority of Belarusians is ready to take part in the Union State parliamentary election, which, according to V. Putin’s proposal, could be carried out in autumn of 2003 (See Table 4).

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “If there were an election to the Union Parliament, would you take part in it?”

Strengthening Belarus’ independence, in our opinion, has nothing in common with a false and provoking dilemma formulated by some ideologists of the national-democratic movement five years ago (and currently upheld by many opponents of both national and democratic idea) – “dictatorship in independent Belarus is better, that democracy within Russia”. Clearly, in real time and place (i.e. with the present start positions) Belarus could hardly return to Europe, “escaping” from Russia, as countries of the Central and Eastern Europe did (and still do). Neither the majority of Belarusians, nor Russia itself would support such aspirations. That, however, does not necessarily mean that the future of Belarusian is only within Russia. Such variant seems acceptable (for different, sometimes diametrically opposite reasons) neither for many Belarusians, nor for many Russians. A real variant – which suits the majority of Belarusians and Russians, and the international community – is returning to Europe together with Russia by means of strengthening democracy, market economy, law-abiding state in both countries, good neighborly relations and coordinated actions on the international arena. And under President V. Putin, especially after his public statements about the future of the Russia-Belarus integration, this variant becomes not simply “more acceptable”, but quite real. First of all, because there is – for the first time! – a serious electoral resource for that purpose (See Table 5).

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question “V. Putin has recently harshly criticized the approaches of the Belarusian leadership to the integration of Belarus and Russia, and during the latest meeting with A. Lukashenko in the Kremlin he has offered to choose from two variants: to unite on the principles of the European Union (each state remains independent, and relies on itself), or Belarus shall become a part of the Russian Federation (and receive assistance on equal rights with other Russia’s regions).Which of these variants do you support?”, %

Since “the integration on the EU principles” seems not quite clear to many Belarusians and Russians, (how two countries could efficiently cooperate on such principles, if they are unequal in their resources, character of public-political and social-economic system? Why creating another Union on the border with the existing European Union Russia tries to join?), aspirations of the majority of Belarusians to enter Europe could be used for the integration in line with this variant (See Table 6).

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question “If tomorrow there were a referendum on Belarus’ accession ot the European Union, how would you vote?”, %

We could assume that in case an alternative to A. Lukashenko is found and realized, if a centrist, who will not trade in sovereignty, but will ensure stability of Russian interests here (in particular, pipelines, branches of Beltransgaz are meant) comes to power, Belarus will suit Russia as a good neighbor and a reliable ally, and talks about the total unification would cease. In this case the integration of Belarus and Russia would become a part of the European integration process with support of both nations, as well as peoples of other countries.