Late in 1998 presidents A. Lukashenko and B. Yeltsin signed a declaration on the further integration of Russia and Belarus. This declaration suggests the creation of a unified state, about which a referendum may be conducted in two countries. In February 1999 Russia’s Public Opinion Fund conducted a poll, willing to know how the Russians are going to vote in that referendum, if it is ever organized. During an IISEPS opinion poll, a similar question was asked. The results of the polls show that Belarusians are much less enthusiastic about integration than Russians (Table 1).

Table 1. If a referendum on the unification of Russia and Belarus were held today, would you vote in favor or against it? (%)

The majority of the queried Russians spoke in favor of integration. In Belarus, an almost equal number of respondents approved and disapproved of integration. Considering that a part of respondents does not want to participate in the referendum at all, the minority of Belarusians want integration, although it is a huge minority.

It is worthy of mention, that the percentage of young people who support integration ideas, is smaller than the overall percentage of integration proponents. This is an indicator of the trends and tendencies in mass thinking.

When the respondents to the poll were asked to choose one of the variants of the two countries’ relations rather than say what they think of the Union, the number of supporters of political integration was even smaller (Table 2).

Table 2. What relations must Russia and Belarus have (%)

The September poll was conducted when the Russian economic crisis was in full swing. Small wonder, at that time integration rhetorics were most unpopular. However, now that the Russian economy stabilized and the crisis hit Belarus hard, the proponents of integration into one state, which suggests a loss of Belarus’ independence, are in the minority. Their number is diminishing while the number of people who advocate friendly relations and equal rights of countries, which does not suggest a political union, is on the increase.

This results from lots of factors, but quite importantly from the Russian economic crisis, to which the data in Table 3 testify. As it is seen from the table, Belarusian people blame the Russian crisis for their economic hardships, following the Belarusian official propaganda.

Table 3. In late 1998 Belarus experienced economic hardships. What was the reason behind that crisis?

We would like to remind you, that only 41.8% of respondents said they were going to vote in the union referendum (Table 1). However, Table 4 shows that only half of them could clearly formulate, what they expect from the union. It is an indicator of the fact that something other than a desire of better living standards and economic stability makes people want Russia and Belarus to become one state.

Table 4. If you would vote in favor of the Union of Belarus and Russia, what do you expect from that union?

However, there is another important indicator of the loss of popularity of unification ideas in the Belarusian society. It is common knowledge that sometimes dominating views in society serve as a motivation for decision makers rather than personal views and ideas. People are oriented on the opinions of the majority, or rather on what they think the opinions of the majority are.

This effect, dubbed “Spiral of Silence” by a German researcher, Elizabeth Noel, is a powerful indicator of changes in public opinion. This is how it is changing (Table 5).

Table 5. Do you think that most Belarusian people want Belarusian-Russian integration? (%)

So, it is not only the number of integration supporters that goes down but also the number of people who think that the majority supports unification. It is known that opinions rule the world. So, if the integration referendum becomes a reality, it may produce some unexpected results.