Research by BISS (Belarus Headlines Issue IV)

By Inna Bukshtynovich, Stockholm

BISS` POLLING MEMO: Belarusians are in between - but no one is there to represent them

The prevailing displeasure of Belarusians has increased since June, reaching its peak in September, according to the latest public opinion poll of the Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS).
Two thirds of Belarusians believe their country is heading in the wrong direction (68.5%) and there is a national consensus that Belarus is stuck in an economic crisis (87.6%). A clear majority (61%) considers president Lukashenka responsible for the current crisis. While a considerable part of the Belarusian electorate continues to be loyal to Lukashenka, his rating constantly drops and his electoral rating fell from 53% in December 2010 to 20.5% in September 2011. This is Lukashenka’s lowest rating ever (see Figure 1 below).

Lukashenka lost about 10 points of his June electoral rating, but even more – 11 points of trust – was lost by the Presidential Administration, in the same period of time. In September, 24.5% of the respondents said they trust the President, while 62% did not. In September, only 25% of respondents trusted the state media (11 points less than three months earlier) – and 62% did not trust the state media.

Yet, this widespread displeasure has generated nothing more significant than even more displeasure. Although the rate of dissatisfaction of the Belarusian population has reached unprecedented levels, including three thirds of those who blamed Lukashenka personally for the economic and social problems, this tendency did not lead to an increase in the number of those who declared themselves “in opposition to the regime”.

The number of those “opposing the regime” has been increasing much more slowly (28% in September) than those who distrust Lukashenka.

The number of respondents calling for Lukashenka´s immediate resignation (35%) was about half the number blaming him for the country’s economic crises (61%). A bit less than the majority of Belarusians called for a “dialogue” – but there is nobody there to engage in one. The respondent’s readiness to take part in protests (mass demonstrations) remains low, and despite the distrust in Lukashenka, Belarusians stay loyal to the state.

Therefore, more people prefer not to respond to the question about their electoral choice. In October 2010, more than a third of respondents declined to state their election preferences.
Overall, we can say that the new polling memo of BISS identifies a break with the past. The formerly popular autocratic regime of Lukashenka (supported by the majority of Belarusians) is losing its balance. The current crisis brings the majority of Belarusians and the political “exhaustion” of Aliaksandr Lukashenka to the ‘political center’. Even though they want changes and reforms, there is no one to represent them. This outcome suggests that perhaps now is a good time to view Belarusian politics in a different light, away from the traditional “black and white”, i.e. for or against Lukashenka. One could even conclude that the time has come for a new political force to emerge.

The Full Version of the article in Russia with a Belarusian Passport

Ihar Drako of the Agency of Policy Expertise explores the export of the Belarusian labour force to Russia – a very obvious threat in the discourse of the absorption of Belarus by Russia. The author argues that the agreement allowing citizens of Belarus and Russia to seek employment in either country without work permits creates a significant bondage between Belarus and Russia. And the current economic crisis in Belarus is contributing to the influx of economic migrants to Russia.

Russia prefers migrant workers from Belarus over the local labour force because Belarusians are less likely to stand up for their labour rights.

Compared to the guest workers from Moldova and Central Asia, Belarusians, besides being legal, are more skilled and ethnically similar to “European” Russians thus preventing tensions with the local population. The European look of Belarusians is also a factor as to why they are preferred over Chinese migrants, who can otherwise compete in terms of diligence, qualification and legality.

Europe in the western direction is another potential employer of Belarusian economic migrants. However this option is not open and welcoming – visas and work permits to enter the European market are difficult to obtain, making the offer of Russian wages a much more attractive choice. This attraction, however, is purely based on accessibility and economic reasons.

The full version of this article in Russian appeared on BISS/APE website on October 13, 2011

The Politics of Oscillations or Luk_ault Pendulum a new tactical turn by Minsk towards a “dialogue” with the West, Janau Paleski of the Agency of Policy Expertise of BISS scrutinizes the political swings: from repression to liberalisation, from East to West, from “monologue” to “dialogue”. The analyst puts forward a thesis that the politics of the pendulum is first of all a systemic factor of the reproduction of the political regime, and secondly is a way to solve tactical problems related (in the current context) to overcoming the economic crisis and, in general, to keeping the political and economic situation under control.

Within the task of reproducing the system, the regime seeks to stabilize the political elite, preventing the formation of stable groups capable of monopolizing certain monitoring and control functions. Thereby, the security forces are balanced by a pool of civilian administrators. Another aim is to avoid institutional stability, which constitutes a threat to the stability of personal leadership. This is carried out by the redistribution of the presidential administration’s authority, the government and various committees and, thus, consciously imposing “structural blurring”. The politics of the pendulum also seeks to “stabilize” economic growth. The authorities are “making the economy” and the pendulum’s movement enables the elimination of accumulated imbalances in the economy through administrative means, which is done by crises in a capitalistic system. In the most general sense – the oscillating movements assist in avoiding extremes (and therefore threats to the system) of excess enthusiasm and apathy of both the political elite and citizenry. Here, the politics of the pendulum is hardly an invention of Lukashenka. Stalin practiced the strategy of the “artificial dialectic” by sequencing the periods of repressions and purges with “thaws”.

Within the tactical goals, the political swings seek to strengthen Belarus’ negotiating positions in trade and economic disputes with Russia.

Another objective is to extend the possibilities of international lending for the Belarusian economy buffeted by crisis. A more distant goal is the preparations for the 2012 parliamentary elections.
Finally, Paleski observes that the recent pendulum swings have become chaotic. Lukashenka is releasing political prisoners and jailing new ones at the same time (for example, the case of Ales Bialiatsky). One day Belarus denies the Eastern Partnership and the next is ready to appear a prodigal son.

The full version of this article in Russian appeared on BISS/APE website on October 11, 2011

Will Migrants Save Agro-Towns*? the mass attraction of low-skilled migrants to the Belarusian agricultural sector as proposed in a special section of the National Programme on Demographic Security, adopted in August 2011, become a solution to improving the country’s economy? Aliaksanr Chelin of the Agency of Policy Expertise of BISS seeks an answer in the study of the influence of migration flows on social and economic indicators in Belarus carried out by Aliaksanr Luchanok and Iryna Kalesnikava within the BISS project.

According to the official statistics Belarus has a positive migration balance. The figure, however, is not accurate enough, since not all departing for permanent residence abroad register in the relevant services. Furthermore, work migration exceeds permanent residence migration significantly, and the unofficial figure is estimated to be 30 times higher than the official figure of 67 thousands work migrants who left Belarus during 1997-2010.

Migration processes should not be seen only as a negative – remittances of work migrants are a significant source of foreign currency.

Luchanok and Kalesnikava estimate them to amount to $1bn in Belarus annually. However, the researchers conclude that work migration stimulates the economic growth of a country only in instances where a skilled work force is attracted, while low-skilled migrants can create an additional burden on social services and may lead to tension with the local population. In Belarus, however, two thirds of migrants leaving the country are skilled, while Belarus is attractive to low-skilled migrants arriving mainly from Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Thus, the findings of the study are not very favourable to the proponents of mass attraction of low-skilled migrants to the Belarusian agricultural sector. As the researchers suggest it would be more appropriate to address the problem of labour shortages in Belarus through the elimination of redundant employment in industry and in other spheres of the national economy.

The full version of this article in Russian appeared on BISS/APE website on October 12, 2011.