Saturday, August 25, 2018

Russians Increasingly Accept that Belarus is a Separate Country and Belarusians a Separate Nation, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 25 – In the course of a wide-ranging interview with Radio Svoboda’s Belarusian Service, Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Center, says that Russians increasingly accept that Belarus is a separate country and that Belarusians, while culturally close to Russians, are a separate nation as well (

            Gudkov, on the basis of polls he and his colleagues have taken in Russia over several decades, makes five other points that are of critical importance:

            First, he argues that it was precisely the authoritarian nature of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime that caused Russians to first make these distinctions, given that in the 1990s, Russians viewed themselves as a people on the way to democracy and Belarusians are mired in an authoritarian past. Those differences, Gudkov says, caused Russians to see Belarusians and Belarus as different.

            Second, in the 1990s, some Russians viewed Lukashenka in a positive light and even believed that he should be the president of the union state between the two countries, but “Putin has squeezed Lukashenka out of [Russian]mass consciousness” as the Kremlin leader has become more authoritarian.

            Lukashenka has been reduced to the second tier of leaders and is now considered in Russia as “a capricious dictator who tries to play his own game between the West and Russia in order to preserve relative independence from the Russian leadership.”  Far fewer than ever before view him in a positive light.

            Third, Russians if not yet Putin at the level of declarations increasingly reject the idea that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians are one people, Gudkov says.  The whole notion is “a survival of the Soviet system of education when everything was traced back to Kievan Rus. Today this remains more a memory of a common past than a future of various peoples and countries.”

            “Today, the idea of restoring a common state has been reduced to naught after the annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbass,” at least with regard to Ukraine but to the extent one can judge from the limited attention this issue has received to Belarus as well.  When Kremlin propaganda eases, Russians recognize that the Russians and Ukrainians are different peoples and should have different fates and different states with their own borders.”

            “If the idea of open borders but independent states was popular,” Gudkov continues, today, the popularity of closed borders with customs and border controls has gained in popularity. Today, the understanding that the empire will not be restored has been strengthened,” again among Russians with regard to Ukraine.

                Four, Russian attitudes about Belarus are less clear; but it is certain that Russians see the Belarusians are much closer to them than the Ukrainians are.  In Gudkov’s own opinion, if Russia were in some unlikely event to invade, “there would not be much resistance” on the part of the Belarusians.
            Five, the impact of Russian attitudes on the Kremlin’s foreign policy is limited. Under Putin, Russia’s “foreign policy is conducted as a special operation, prepared in secret and there is no broad public discussion of it.  That in turn means that the shift in Russian attitudes about Belarus and Ukraine will have less of an impact than many might think.

No comments:

Post a Comment