Staunton, Oct. 1 – Belarus is the most urbanized country in Eastern Europe with approximately 80 percent of its people living in cities. One result of this is that the differences between urban and rural Belarusians are declining in most respects, and that the remaining differences have more to do with educational attainment and age than with place of residence, Gennady Korshunov says.
The Belarusian sociologist says that in the past, people in cities and people in rural areas were very different in terms of the work they did and the way they lived. But now most rural people work in plants much like those in cities and live in many ways like their urban counterparts (newbelarus.vision/podcast/hlybnarods02e04/ and thinktanks.by/publication/2021/10/01/chem-gorodskie-belorusy-otlichayutsya-ot-derevenskih.html).
For example, Korshunov says, in the past, the Internet was mostly to be found in the cities; but now, “according to official statistics, 88.5 percent of the rural population go online daily, a figure that is even greater than the share of urban Belarusians who use the Internet for various purposes.
That is just one of the ways that the rural Belarusians and urban Belarusians are becoming ever more similar, he continues. Now, if one wants to highlight differences, one needs to focus on different age cohorts and on different levels of education in both places rather than contrasting the city and the village as a whole.
“I would say,” Korshunov says, “that urban residents of the older age groups and lower level of education will be more similar to rural residents. The difference here lies not between village and city but between different age groups and different levels of education.”
The sociologist’s observations are important both in terms of Belarus itself and in terms of its relationship to the situation in the Russian Federation. In Belarus itself, it means that the attitudes of urban Belarusians are not that different than those of rural ones regarding Lukashenka, union with Russia, or democracy and freedoms.
Consequently, the current regime in Minsk does not have a wellspring of support among rural Belarusians any more. Lukashenka, a former collective farm chairman, may have had that support a generation ago; but it has disappeared as the people who lived in Belarusian villages either migrated to the cities or became like their urban counterparts.
And as far as relations with Russia are concerned, Korshunov’s insights may be even more important. Russia is far less urban than Belarus and the differences between urban Russian and rural Russia are still real and important politically. The Kremlin likely assumes that Belarus is like Russia with regard to some urban-rural divide.
But if it constructs policies on the basis of that assumption, Moscow is likely to discover that its approach will either fail or backfire with rural Belarusians behaving like urban ones rather than like rural Russians.