Staunton, June 24 – Belarusians are beginning to overcome their Soviet mentality and to demand democracy and a law-based state, Olga Dryndova, editor of the Bremen-based BelarusAnalysen says. Indeed, except for the three Baltic nations, they are far ahead in this inevitably long process.
Over the last decade, she says, Soviet-style paternalistic values have seriously weakened among Belarusians. “People have become more responsible for their lives and have significantly reduced their expectations about what the state should do,” although obviously this is a long process and many decades will be needed to complete it.
But what is critical is this, Dryndova says. “The demand for democracy in Belarus now is much higher than it was in the 1990s. After the disintegration of the USSR, democracy and in large measure independence was associated in the minds of Belarusians with chaos and economic collapse” (thinktanks.by/publication/2021/06/23/pochemu-belorusy-nachinayut-preodolevat-sovetskuyu-mentalnost.html).
Because that was the case, Lukashenka was able to play on such attitudes and build his dictatorship. But now, “the majority of Belarusians do not associate it with the stability and security they wanted.” Instead, they see it as a threat to legal rights, justice and respect for human life, the Bremen-based Belarusian analyst says.
“In the future, this could become a good foundation for democratic transformations, although a change in the rulers in Belarus of course will not mean immediate democratization. After that, most likely, will only begin a public discussion on where the country should be headed next.”
In many respects, Belarusians have made more progress in escaping from Soviet mindsets than any other people in the region except for the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians. What the last 30 years have shown is that “it is not difficult to establish” democratic institutions “but a democratic political culture develops only after decades or even centuries.”
Moreover, while Western countries came to democracy largely on their own, those in the East received it in many cases as a result of the promotion of democracy from outside. What that meant, Dryndova argues, is that when difficulties arose, many of those whom the West had urged democracy on blamed both democracy and the West for.
In that too, Belarusians who under Lukashenka did not have much experience with forced democratization are an exception. And consequently, today, they are less willing than many others, including the Russians to reject democratic norms and Western values. That gives hope for their future if not immediately then eventually.