Social base of transformation programs in Belarus

Aksana Shelest

We present a sociological research report (abridged version) of social base of transformation programs in Belarus.

The research was initiated by EuroBelarus International Consortium.

The necessary condition of democratic transformations in Belarus is the formation of a strong civil society that should fulfill three main functions: 1) to act as a full-fledged party of the dialogue aimed at defining the country development agenda; 2) to produce the environment of appearing and implementing innovations in the country’s economic, technological, and socio-cultural development; and 3) to mobilize the intellectual and human potential so as to implement transformations.

In order to fulfill these functions, it is necessary: 1) to have self-determined subjects in the field of Belarusan civil society, which have their own program proposals and vision of necessary changes across the nation or in a concrete sphere; 2) to have a social base of support and distribution of these tenets and implementation of programs.

Despite all kinds of obstacles to civil society’s development (the authoritarianism and repressiveness of the Belarusan state system, the absence of the political field in Belarus, the donor policy, the all-European tendency to institutionalize civil society in the form of NGOs changing the function of a source of public changes and civil control into a place in the fully formed sector structure of public-economic relations), today we can name a number of spheres where there are subjects of civil society, which have program tenets with regard to these spheres and Belarus as a whole. These are the following spheres: university and higher education; national identity and culture; ecology; the rights of socially vulnerable groups (the disabled, patients, women, etc.).

It is much more difficult to characterize the social base of implemented programs. The data of various studies make it possible to characterize somehow the available level of Belarusan society’s perception and civil activity, but provide not enough material for practical conclusions. It has to do not only with the complexities and restrictions of the technique and methodology of implemented researches, but also with serious theoretical lacunae in the perceptions of Belarusan society.

Today’s condition of Belarusan society has not received any reasonable conceptualization yet. In the conditions of this theoretical incertitude, we shall use as a “creative hypothesis” the theory of “three worlds” developed by the Belarusan philosopher and methodologist Uladzimir Matskevich [1].

Uladzimir Matskevich builds his concept of dividing all countries and societies on the basis of such a criterion as the attitude towards innovations. The “first world” includes countries that produce innovations; the “second world” — countries that borrow and adapt them; the “third world” resists innovations and consequences of their introduction. It is said that the borders of these “worlds” do not coincide with the borders of national states and within one country, one state, there can live people belonging to different “worlds”. The belonging of a country to one of these “worlds” is determined by orientations of its “ruling class”.

The second important dimension added by Uladzimir Matskevich proceeding from the context of the globalization processes, which cannot be excluded, as well as proceeding from the task of seeking for agents of development in Belarus, is the scale of self-determination, the border of the world, within which people build their individual plans and strategies, career trajectories, etc. The hypothesis is that the agents of changes who are interested in and can join transformation processes in Belarus are people or groups of people who, on the one hand, are aimed at producing and consuming innovations and, on the other hand, have a national scale of self-determination, i.e. those who plan to build their life (as well as their children’s life) within the borders of the country.

An important factor of Belarus’ development and the only possibility to occupy a worthy place in the global world is the presence in the country of the human resource belonging to the “first world”, i.e. people who are in the forefront of the process of manufacturing and creating technological and social innovations, who possess the corresponding competences and the scale of vision. The problem is that such people are cosmopolitan more often than not when it comes to values and perceptions, as well as the way of life. As territorial criteria are practically losing their value in our high-mobility and more and more digitalizing world, people of the “first world” have “no binding to a place”. Accordingly, they are not interested in questions of national politics and countries’ problems as they exist in a world of problems, challenges, and transformations of another scale. Then, the next factor necessary for the country’s development is the presence of “reformers” — people with a high susceptibility to innovations and, at the same time, with a national scale of self-determination. The third factor (the most problematic one) is the necessity of interaction between representatives of the “first” and “second” worlds with a view of the country’s development; however, it is not so easy to cross the borders of the “worlds” — such interaction does not happen automatically.

We are far from the thought to translate at once this developed theoretical idea into the area of operationalization and empirical verification — the more so as the presence of different “worlds” in transformation processes is evaluated according to the presence of subjects who implement these or those strategies of activity and life. The task of our research is to describe Belarusan society from the point of view of the significant characteristics of this concept as a social base of support and implementation of actions in the logics of the “first”, “second”, or “third” worlds.

The research objective is to provide a substantial and quantitative description of Belarusan society as for the criterion of its attitude towards innovations and the self-determination scale.

The primary tasks of this research are:

  1. To reveal the basic characteristics of the Belarusans’ innovative behavior, susceptibility and tenets with regard to innovations and social transformations;
  2. To describe the Belarusans’ “self-determination loci”: the borders of the world in which respondents feel “at home”, as well as intercommunities and groups which they identify themselves with;
  3. To analyze the link between the susceptibility to innovations with way-of-life characteristics as a factor that influences the degree of this susceptibility;
  4. To analyze the potential and factors of the Belarusans’ activity participation in transformation processes by describing their world outlook and socio-political tenets, as well as their experience of participation in the public-political life and perceptions of civil society organizations as the subject of transformations.

This research was carried out by the Center for European Transformation in May-October 2016.

The empirical material of this research is basically the data of the national sociological poll, which field stage was implemented in August 2016.

The method of carrying out the poll is a questionnaire of respondents according to the place of their residence. The poll is representative for the population of Belarus starting from 16 y.o. Having carried out all control procedures, culled, and weighed the data array, the achieved volume of the sample is 1,988 people — with the confidence coefficient of 95% it gives the confidence interval of maximum 2,2%.

For more detailed analysis please consult the full report (available in Russian)

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[1] See, in particular (in Russian): Every Day Of A Belarusan. Uladzimir Matskevich's report at the conference of Flying University and the Center for European Transformation “Imagining Belarus: images and ideas, projects and utopias” (Minsk, 11-12 April 2016), Flying University’s YouTube channel, 14.03.2016; The Future Of Belarus: forecasts, projects, dreams, and fantasies. Uladzimir Matskevich's public lecture within the series of lectures of Flying University and the Center for European Transformation “Imagining Belarus: ideas and images for a joint future” (19 April 2016), Flying University’s YouTube channel, 20.04.2016.



About author:

Aksana Shelest is a senior analyst of the Center for European Transformation, PhD in sociology. She graduated from the Sociology Department of Belarusan State University and did her postgraduate studies in the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, where she later worked as head of the sector of operational research methods and practices, as an academic secretary, and as head of the department of sociological studies techniques. She is an expert of the analytical group of the Humanitarian Techniques Agency. She is a laureate of the Award of the International Congress of Belarusan Studies in the nomination “Social and Political Sciences” (2013).