Belarus and the World: Geopolitical Choice and Security in the Light of Economy and Culture

The Belarusian society is pragmatic in its geopolitical choice; thereby, any policy based exclusively on public preferences will be unstable and subject to momentary fluctuations. This is the main conclusion of the study “Belarus and the World: Geopolitical Choice and Security in the Light of Economy and Culture” undertaken by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) and Axiometrics Laboratory NOVAK.

BISS and NOVAK conducted the study in the first half of 2010 to identify economic and cultural factors influencing the choice of external political alliances and security architecture. A national representational-sample poll (1071 respondents) was aimed at establishing the degree of citizens’ awareness of Belarus-EU relations and identifying the patterns governing Belarusians’ geopolitical choice, in particular, the dependence of “east” or “west” preferences on the types of political culture dominant in the Belarusian society, as well as on other, e.g. economic, factors of geopolitical choice. Having identified these patterns, BISS and NOVAK assessed the sustainability of geopolitical preferences, the feasibility of resulting choice scenarios, and ways of influencing this choice by means of ensuring access to information and freedom of movement.

The study has established the following patterns:

    * The awareness of institutional Belarus-EU connections remains extremely low. In particular, awareness of the European Partnership Program is extremely low despite the positive image of the program in official and alternative discourses.

    * The EU communication policy in regard to the Belarusian society has failed (if such a policy existed at all). The Belarusian authorities beat the EU completely in promoting their interpretation of the reasons for the introduction of sanctions in relation to senior government officials. The society viewed the suspension of sanctions as acknowledgement by the EU of its defeat.

    * ‘Bipolar’ geopolitical orientations persist in Belarus. The geopolitical choice is motivated by two factors – social dynamism of respondents (age- and education-defined ability to take advantage of opportunities that would result from a geopolitical turn) and, consequently, their assessment of economic risk-and-benefit balance that could result from this or that geopolitical scenario.

    * Access to alternative sources of information about the EU and the ability to travel freely within the EU provide for a 20-30 percent increase in pro-European attitudes in all social groups without exception. At the same time, we have established that attempts to “Europeanize” public consciousness via external electronic media (radio stations and TV channels broadcasting from abroad) have largely failed. The Internet – the more dynamic and networking-friendly mass medium - has assumed the role of the “Europeanizer”.

    * As to the compatibility of the Belarusian public’s political culture and “European values”, the Belarusian society is a lot more prepared to adopt the “political” European values (respect for political and civil rights and freedoms) than the “cultural” ones (respect for the autonomy of an individual, personal choice of lifestyle, faith, behavior, orientation, etc.)

BISS and NOVAK trust that the data and conclusions of the study will be useful to the widest possible range of stakeholders, in particular, the analytical community, political circles (especially those candidates for presidency who will be emphasizing foreign policy and trade in their platforms), journalists, and – primarily - the civil society, i.e. organizations working to expand contacts between Belarus and the EU. BISS stands ready to provide additional consultations to all interested parties.