The Belarusan NGOs: plenty of leaders, but who are the authority? (Photos)

Elena Borel, EuroBelarus Information Service, photos by author

Who in Belarus is the most authoritative journalist, expert, opinion leader according to NGOs? The research on this issue has already been presented in Kaunas (Lithuania), and yesterday its presentation took place in Minsk.

Kalinkina, Matskevich, and Lukashenko

The scientific section “Belarusan civil society: status and prospects”, organized within the frames of the 4th International Congress of Belarusan Studies on October 3-5 in Kaunas (Lithuania), gathered a lot of famous experts for representation and discussion of results of laborious and curious research, a lot of which came as a share surprise.

Aksana Shelest

Aksana Shelest, the Senior analyst of the Centre for European Transformation, PhD in Sociology, told about results of the research of solidarity potential in the Belarusan civil society were. On October 7 the presentation of this research took place in Minsk.

— Anyone who is somehow interested in the social and political life of Belarus is well aware of the problematics of solidarity and depoliticization of the Belarusan society, lack of bright solidary actions, and mass support of initiatives.

This research was conducted by the Centre for European Transformation and the Belarusan Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) at the beginning of the year. It was aimed at assessing and giving intentional interpretation of the social and political solidarity in the Belarusan civil society.

All in all 150 organizations were selected, and in each of it we interviewed two persons — a leader and a beginner.

Almost 90 per cent of the respondents in a difficult situation are ready to rely on their family or friends. As to other informal groups only professional community has certain potential of trust: 44% of the respondents would ask their colleagues or professional community for help, while neighbors and church got less than 10% each.

38.8% of the third-sector activists would ask human rights organizations for help; 33.9% would turn to the mass media. With the catastrophically low level of people’s readiness to ask official institutions for help, these figures can be called rather high.

Cross-sectional analysis of the data demonstrates that by level of trust and expectations from public organizations respondents can be divided into three basically equal groups: a bit more than one third of the NGO activists rely on help from the third sector in any situations, one third will turn to the human rights organizations in the narrowly defined situation of human rights’ violation, and, finally, one third doesn’t see third-sector organizations as authorities that can be relied on at all. This is one of the most important conclusions of the research, as it demonstrates diversity and split of our sector on different grounds.

Sviatlana Antashkevich, and Alena Zuikova

One more task we tried to solve was the study of factors and possibility of Solidarity’s potential mobilization, as well as the thing that might enable its activation. The task involved two possibilities: to rely on the authority of opinion leaders or to assess objects, values, and persons of certain events so as to find out how they could be used for people’s mobilization.

Civil society representatives that can define daily general agenda, suggesting action strategies served as authority. These are the leaders whose opinions are being listened to and taken as reference points; journalists or bloggers, who are able to mould the public opinion on certain questions. During the research we asked respondents to name the experts, leaders, and journalists, who serve as reference point for them, as well as asked them to name the opinion leaders in the Belarusan society.

The results prove that there are plenty of leaders who are capable of mobilizing the solidarity potential in the Belarusan third sector; and at the same time, there are none.

Let me note two common tendencies in the answers to all questions: when talking about persons, almost half of the respondents was unable to name at least one surname or chose the variant “there are no such people”. Secondly, even though only half of the respondents answered the question about the persons, the lists of the surnames was quite long.

The respondents named the leadership among journalists and bloggers more clearly when it came to writing about the thing they work with. Sviatlana Kalinkina with 12.6% became the leader in this section.

Tatiana Vadalazhskaya

It came as a surprise that we got a significant list of 90 persons — third-sector activists who were called experts and analysts. The most popular person from this list, Uladzimir Matskevich, is trusted by less than one tenth of the respondents.

Answering the question “If tomorrow a contest on opinion leader is organized, who would become its winner?” the respondents named the incumbent President with 11.9% as a winner.

It is also symptomatic that 85 out of 102 opinion leaders who were named got 3 and less mentions. Almost one third answered “I hardly know” or “I’m at a loss”.

“Belarus has no opinion leaders” was the answer of 20.3%.

Unfortunately, even though we can mark out a number of people with authority in one of the statuses, their influence is very limited.

Belarusan third sector is a crowd of leaders no one of which has enough authority to set reference points and program of solidarity actions.

Grants, old folk, and disabled

Within the frames of the scientific section a number of other interesting reports on the state and prospects of the civil society were read.

The development of Belarusan civil society and how internal and external reasons influenced that became the subject of research for Petr Hlaváček, the PhD of political science from the Silesian University in Opava (the Czech Republic).

Tatsiana Kapitonava

Solidarity actions in the Belarus’ academic community, their state and prospects studies and presented Tatsiana Kapitonava, the PhD from the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

Uladzimir Korzh

The review of the sectorial research of the Belarusan civil society was presented by Uladzimir Korzh, the M.A. in Political Science from the Office for European Expertise and Communication.

Leonid Kalitenya

Interesting results of the quality of life analysis of the target groups exemplified by the program that works with the needs of senior citizens was published by Leonid Kalitenya, M.A. in Political Science from the Center for Social Innovations.

Sergey Drozdovsky

Transformation of principles in policy on disability in Belarus was presented by Sergey Drozdovsky, human rights fighter from the Office on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while the research on the role and place of the civil society in the system of EU donor help for Belarus in 2006-2012 was presented by Alena Zuikova, M.A. in Political Science from the Center of European Transformation.

Alena Zuikova