political analysts follow social and political changes in the countryGlobal Voices
This item by Elena Spasiuk was originally posted on Naviny.by and appeared on Online transitions on December 2, 2021. It is reposted as part of a content sharing partnership and has been edited to fit the GV style.
The August 2020 presidential election in Belarus sparked unprecedented street protests against Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s official victory. What has been happening in Belarus since summer 2020 and why? Was it a revolution? Political analysts shared their thoughts with independent Belarusian media Naviny.
Why did the Belarusians rise up?
Belarusian society entered 2020 amid a dramatic transformation of values, said Pavel Daneyko, economist and administrative director of the Belarusian Center for Economic Research and Awareness (BEROC), in an online meeting hosted by the group. reflection Center for New Ideas.
About 50 percent of the economically active population in Belarus is currently employed in the private sector. According to Daneyko, this was one of the reasons for popular activism during the 2020 election campaign.
People’s positive attitudes towards private business have also played a role, he said. This can be largely attributed to the fact that many companies in the country were started from scratch, with a significant number of them in the manufacturing sector, so that many people, especially those who are not employed in the public sector, “felt that they themselves were shaping their future,” he said.
He cited the findings of the Global Values ââSurvey that a significant part of Belarusians are ready to take responsibility for their lives instead of handing it over to the state, and many support private property.
âAs for the distribution of income, Belarusians, like the Swedes, believe that the state must support vulnerable groups. Overall, our configuration of values ââis similar to that of Sweden or the Baltic countries. Its essence is to take responsibility for your own life as well as to take on social and individual responsibility, ânoted Daneyko.
An important factor in this mindset has been the reduction in public spending on social programs, including education, health care and social assistance, coupled with changes in tax policy in 2005 and 2006, a said Gennady Korshunov, sociologist and senior researcher at the Center for New Ideas. At the same time, he said, these changes prompted the government to enable the development of private entrepreneurship, which coincided with the digitization of society accompanied by the rise of social media networks and the increasing accessibility of digital infrastructures. Overall, in Korshunov’s view, the government has eased restrictions on business and society.
Belarusians also began to travel abroad a lot, seeing different ways of life, while the Internet facilitated communications. As a result, many people have undergone a change in values, said the sociologist.
The transformation of values ââthat began 15 years earlier due to many factors has reached its climax. This happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the government demonstrated its incompetence or even categorically refused to deal with the crisis. The politicization of social processes has also played a role, with everything possible under strain.
Who supported the change?
According to Korshunov, supporters of change and their opponents vary little depending on the education, age or population of their hometown. âIt’s a divide in civilization, a difference in mentality. Some people want to be responsible for themselves, their families or the country, while others just don’t.
In psychological terms, we can speak of locus of control. Some people have an internal locus of control. They themselves determine their life. Others have an external locus, giving someone else the right to control their life. From the perspective of large-scale social change, a part of the population with an internal locus of control is the most progressive part of society and it has in fact evolved into a digital society.
However, Korshunov said, government policies over the past 25 years have spurred a return to traditional social models. This has mainly happened because a person fills the leading role in public life, and âothers are his subjects, his vassals. It all depends on that person’s will in this rigidly structured authoritarian system, âhe said.
A growing number of undecided
Besides the supporters and opponents of change, there are also people who remain neutral and express themselves indifferent to what is happening in the country. Unlike 2020, where their number was insignificant with a majority clearly divided between government supporters and opponents on the protestor side, this cohort “now forms a third vertex of the triangle, and it’s a natural process,” Korshunov said.
Those who weren’t sure which side to take have now joined a neutral group. Belarusians have been living with extreme stress for over a year, and it cannot last for long. Fear is another factor. According to a survey, 60 to 70% of the population of large cities are worried about their safety, which means that neutrality is a mechanism of self-defense.
Finally, said the sociologist, there is an economic factor as prices rise much faster than wages while the variety of products in stores decreases, forcing people to “think about survival.” âYou and your children should first have enough food. Only then can you think of strategic and noble things.
Can television propaganda influence the undecided? Belarusian television viewers, Korshunov said, are mostly opponents of the government rather than supporters or undecided. They watch “for information or for fun,” he said. âPropaganda fails to reach its target audience. “
Overall, state propaganda does not have a profound impact on the minds of the masses. This can only cement the opinions that those who watch Belarusian TV channels already have. However, it should be remembered that if you pull a pendulum too far to one side, it will travel the same distance when backtracking. Propaganda is a very subtle art where you have to know how to go from softness to roughness or extreme caution. There is no subtlety in the propaganda of the Belarusian authorities.
Fundamental social changes
Belarusians have undergone a major transformation, Daneyko said. They began to express their positions openly, which they had never done before. âOpinions were not expressed in passive society. The government had the passive support of the people, but it is gone now. “
Korshunov agreed. Politically speaking, he said, a revolution only takes place when the government is overthrown, but that is a narrow point of view because essentially, “a revolution is the transition of a system from state to state. another, which concerns a change in quality “.
This is what happened in Belarus, he said.
Not all people can change completely at once, he added:
Usually 5 to 10 percent of the population determines the country’s development trajectory. What is remarkable about Belarus is that more than half of the population is now ready for change, working in this direction. Belarusians have rethought their national identity, giving birth to a new civil society and reformulating social processes that generate new patterns of behavior. New economic practices have emerged. It is indisputable that the processes that took place in Belarus were in essence revolutionary.
There has been a âdigital social revolutionâ in the country, and now âBelarusian society is spread everywhere on the planet where there are Belarusians,â he said.
Although living on different continents, Belarusians act as a collective force, noted Korshunov, citing a protest organized by Belarusians outside the headquarters of Czech automaker Skoda, the main sponsor of the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship, demanding that the company withdraws its sponsorship. if the event took place in Minsk.
“Belarusians spontaneously joined forces to solve their problems using their strong human capital, new social capital and great intelligence,” Korshunov said.
They started to lobby for their interests all over the world. Itâs phenomenal. Our horizontal connections and the shared pain of the collective Akrestsina [a detention center in Minsk where anti-Lukashenka protesters were severely beaten] have built strong and partly painful bonds triggering processes that are still unfolding and God knows where they will take us.