Staunton, July 26 – Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s attacks on independent research organizations have attracted widespread attention because they recapitulate and extend his attacks on all independent though in Belarus. But his effort to create alternatives under his control has not, Tatyana Chulitskaya and Andrey Kazakevich say.
The director of the SYMPA school for young managers and the head of the Political Sphere Institute argue that the Belarusian dictator is making a profound mistake because he is cutting himself off from information about the real state of society and thus degrading his ability to control it (thinktanks.by/publication/2021/07/26/chto-budet-dalshe-s-belorusskimi-nezavisimymi-issledovatelskimi-tsentrami.html).
If the Belarusian leader closes down all the independent research centers and leaves only those he controls in place, Lukashenka and his regime simply will hear only what they want to hear however far removed from reality it may be; and that will lead to mistakes that could easily be avoided, Chulitskaya and Kazakevich say.
According to the latter, Lukashenka is pursuing two goals by means of his mistaken policy. On the one hand, he simply wants to monopolize the entire political field; and on the other, he hopes that new and loyal institutes will become as influential as those he is attacking and thus help him. Neither outcome is likely, Kazakevich says.
While few in the Lukashenka regime will acknowledge it, the work of the independent research organizations has often helped them. Until recently, officials regularly attended meetings with independent researchers and even drew on their research to come up with policies in less sensitive areas. But now that has come to an end.
Kazakevich says it is a mistake to think that even the best independent journalists can serve as a substitute. Few of them work with data bases and none of them conduct their own independent research on popular attitudes “according to scholarly methodologies.” As a result, they don’t report many of the most important things.
Any society can exist without independent researchers for a time, he continues. But for a society and its government to be effective, people need the kind of research that only independent research centers conduct and can offer. And attacks on it will only accelerate the brain drain from the country.
What is likely to happen, the two suggest, is that ever more independent Belarusian researchers will attempt to do their work from abroad, with only a much smaller cohort left in country. That will reduce their impact. But at a time when the world is paying more attention to Belarusian developments, it is the least bad likely option.