Staunton, July 9 – Even though the West has imposed sanctions and Russia has promoted ties, Alyaksandr Lukashenka “fears Russia more than he fears the West,” according to Andrey Vardomatsky, a Belarusian sociologist who says this reflects a general inclination among his countrymen to overestimate Russia’s importance relative to that of the West.
And that pattern, he suggests, reflects less an understanding of the actual relative strength of the two, in which Europe is “incomparably” stronger than Russia, that of the impact of Moscow’s propaganda in Belarus both directly through its own broadcasting and indirectly through the “soft” version of Russian views offered by Belarusian channels.
As a result, Belarusians tend to view Russia as “a powerful young beast” which “does what it wants” and they think about Europe, they “do not see a large range of possibilities but rather a long line before [Western] embassies and the need to pay 60 euros for a visa”.
Vardomatsky draws these conclusions on the basis of a recent poll he conducted concerning the sources of Belarusian attitudes about Ukraine. Four out of five of them, he said watched Russian and/or Belarusian state television, while only 20 percent watched non-government television and only 20 percent used non-governmental Internet sites.
“Such a configuration of sources of information defines the configuration of mass consciousness,” he continues, with as many as nine Belarusians out of ten more or less regularly watching Moscow television. Moreover, he suggests, Belarusians overwhelmingly do not distinguish between government channels and non-governmental ones.
As a result, the opinions of Belarusians about events in Ukraine correspond with Moscow’s point of view. The Maidan was always viewed negatively with the share of those condemning it rising as Moscow’s coverage became more negative. And what is going on in eastern Ukraine now, he says, most Belarusians view as the fault of the Maidan, not of Russia.
His survey found that 65 percent of Belarusians support Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while only 15 percent think that action was illegal. And at the same time, 76 percent of Belarusians are certain that Russia will not annex their country in the same way. Belarusians see Russia as decisive, which they value, and Europe as “closed” to them while Russia is “open.”
“By the spring of 2014,” Vardomatsky says, “Belarusians were ceasing to listen to the weakened voice of the West.” That both reflected and reinforced their pro-Russian orientation. But there is evidence, he suggests, that indicates that the growth of pro-Russian sentiment among Belarusians has stopped. He says he will publish this in the near future.