The Belarusians are Ready for Changes but What about the Change in Power? Vital Silitski
Candidates for presidency in Belarus, who have started pre-election race, try to overcome the atmosphere of hopelessness which used to reign during the previous election campaigns. The Belarusians are ready for changes – is their main message to their supporters and fence-sitters as well as to foreign observers. But what are those changes that the Belarusians are looking forward to and will this desire for changes influence the opposition? To understand better the answer to this question it is necessary to pay attention to historical data which, thanks to work of the independent research centers and first of all our colleagues from Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, are enough for the comparative analysis.

Working at Uladzimir Hancharyk's headquarters in 2001, the author of these lines also used the data of IISEPS studies to encourage activists to work. Ironically the transformation of a world-outlook in the Belarusian society started a long time ago. The table shows the changes in views of the Belarusians on the policy that the president of the country should carry out. According to the answers the ideal president of Belarus is a market expert, a democrat and an advocate of the European way. The last point, by the way, has undergone a main transformation of public opinion during the past nine years – pro-Russian moods decreased while pro-independent and pro-European moods soared. However according to the inquiries in 2001 a democrat came into sight as well, and it was Hancharyk (a trade-union boss of the Soviet training), instead of Siamion Domash (a former Hrodna official who was supported by a network of non-governmental organizations and the majority of the opposition parties). But Hancharyk’s correspondence to the inquiries didn’t help him to win even the second place in a correct competition (his appointment as a unique candidate was designed by external actors), and as to his opposition with Lukashenka the elegant victory of the latter has entered folklore for a long time.

And what is now? The paradox of the situation is that as the society more and more makes for the policy which is usually promoted by democratic forces – it is this fact that reasons the thesis of the readiness of the Belarusians for changes – at the same time during the preceding nine years moods for preservation of the course which is carried out by the existing power have increased as well.


Not exactly. First, the perception of the policy of the state by mass consciousness can differ from the perception of it by politically engaged and advanced public. We would remind you that in 1994 the electorate punished democrats for social and economic consequences of the reforms that were absent in Belarus. But today the changes (liberalization, investments, the Eastern Partnership with EU) are talked about almost at every turn. In other words, the policy of the president is not necessarily perceived by all society as anti-market and anti-European, and as IISEPS data testify among Lukashenka’s electorate there appeared a layer of the so-called "Euro-enthusiasts" - though until now it is mostly oriented on state regulation, "a firm hand" and the East. Secondly, political orientations can play only a secondary role in defining of an electoral choice. The Belarusian electorate has exclusively a pragmatic attitude to the state policy and as Deng Xiaoping used to say, is ready to shelter any cat as long as it hunts mice. According to IISEPS data in 2010 a "restorable" post-crisis growth of social optimism in public moods occurred (the quantity of those who consider that their standard of life has risen lately, increased and accordingly the quantity of those who want it to be improved). Also the number of those who consider that the affairs in the country develop in a right direction increased (51 % in September, 2010; after elections of 2006 there were 56.6 % of respondents, in 2001 - only 38 %, which nevertheless didn’t prevent Lukashenka from his “elegant victory”). At last, the third possible interpretation is that the electorate is ready for changes but is afraid of reshuffles. Therefore an intimidated by uncertainty Belarusian who is not politically committed will sooner agree for changes that will be carried out by the authority.

In any case it seems that political preferences for the majority of the Belarusians are rather a question of aesthetics than that of motivation of an electoral choice. Sharp changes of electoral behavior (as it was in 1994) occur only as a result of an existential shock, a violent collapse of the established system that can’t be controlled by the government. During the last years Lukashenka’s opponents have set their hopes on the fact that such collapse will occur as a result of change in trade conditions with Russia concerning hydrocarbonic raw materials and world crisis - however the government managed to redeem the consequences of financial losses, naturally at the expense of accumulation of long-term problems. But they will become the reasons of the following electoral cycles only (unless the authorities agree themselves to economic reforms and unless both tendencies fixed by us - simultaneous increase of reformatory moods and orientation to preservation of political status quo - will intensify even more). Meanwhile the real social support for opponents of the government is rather among the disappointed by actual results of socio-economic course, led by the government, than among those who define it in accordance with a political science textbook.

A future president must (per cent)


June 2001

September 2010

Be an advocate of market economy



Be an advocate of planned economy



Be an advocate of separation of powers



Be an advocate of concentration of power in one individual’s hands



Be an advocate of independence (2001),   EU integration (2010)



Be an advocate of the union with Russia



Be an advocate of continuation of the existing course



Be an advocate of radical changes of the existing course



Would vote for Lukashenka