Motherland is Not for Sale? Belarusians’ Attitude toward Geopolitical Alternatives: Suspicion and Mercenary Motives

Vital Silitski, BISS

Geopolitical choice, relations with neighbors and maintenance of economic stability are a few issues that invariably top the agenda during political campaigns. No wonder: Belarus

is a small country with an open export-oriented economy, and there is an obvious direct correlation between our ability to promote external relations, find reliable partners and preserve marketing outlets, and the well-being of Belarusian citizens.

These issues tend to gain more focus at times when external players start shaping political processes inside Belarus – the current political season is marked by Russia’s stepping up its efforts in a somewhat unusual role, as compared with previous presidential campaigns in Belarus. Until recently, the relations with Russia were virtually monopolized by the authorities: despite the seeming intimacy of mutual ties, the format and dynamics of the bilateral relations were shaped exclusively by the moods and decisions of the chief executives, and everything else stemmed from these decisions.

This state of things used not to suit primarily those political opposition figures who sought partners and allies in Russia in an attempt to gain Moscow’s support with a view to democratizing Belarus. Their messages sounded something like this: Lukashenka is ready only for empty and senseless unions, whereas we, on the other hand, will negotiate and agree on specific issues, such as the economy, energy, transit, banks, investments, etc. This agenda – a meaningful and businesslike dialogue – was advertized to both Belarusian and Russian societies as an alternative, a sort of way out of the brotherly deadlock. However, once the foreign political framework changed, some alternative players started competing for the attention of the Kremlin’s officials and state media.

How large is the electoral potential of these proposals and tactics? On a broader scale, what are Belarusians ready to sacrifice in order to preserve stability and wellbeing? BISS attempted to answer these questions in two of its studies. In the first half of 2010, just
two months apart1, BISS, in association with NovAK axiometrical research laboratory, asked Belarusians two similar sets of questions to explore the foreign political concessions or integration moves that Belarusians were ready to make for the sake of improving the economic situation in the country. A few integration options (political union, financial, economic and military integration) were suggested in both the east and the west.

We added a few catches in what seemed to be identical sets of questions. In the framework of the study “Social Consequences of the Global Economic Crisis”, we asked to what extent the suggested measures aimed at promoting economic improvements in the country were acceptable, that is, the keynote of the study was to learn the respondents’ evaluation of the efficiency of various measures in promoting positive economic changes.

The study conducted a bit earlier, namely “Belarus and the World: Geopolitical Choice and Security in the Context of Economy and Culture”, was to identify what the respondents would trade for specific benefits, such as investments, loans, cheap raw materials. This time, we offered a bit different set of answers. In the April study, the respondents were to choose from “quite acceptable”, “acceptable to some extent”, and
“absolutely unacceptable”. Two months prior to that, we not only offered a bigger package of benefits, but also assured the respondents that between the admission and rejection there was a chance to negotiate some additional terms. As we see, this slight shift in the focus brought about some tangible changes.

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