Public appeals to the local authorities
The number of those who believe that the Belarusian economy is in crisis fell from 87.6% in September 2011 and 81.5% in December to 77.2% in March 2012, the survey revealed. This stabilization resulted in a noticeable increase of “social and economic optimism”: in September the number of those who expected deterioration of the socio-economic situation in Belarus in the coming years, and those who anticipated its improvement was 52.7% and 12.9% accordingly; in December the ratio was 45% vs. 17.1%, and in March 22.5% vs. 32.7%, the survey says. At the same time, researchers note that this optimism is very cautious - only 34.7% of respondents believe the promises of wages reaching the pre-crisis level.
Indirectly, the results of sociological polls are confirmed by the issues addressed to the authorities via “hot lines” and other forms of citizens’ appeals to the local authorities. If in October 2011 we reported that housing and infrastructure issues gave way to insoluble economic problems, and the tone of citizens’ complaints was rather demanding rather than requesting, by the spring of 2012, the overall situation normalized.
“Hot lines” of heads of departments and local authorities were conceived as elements of “direct democracy” and in theory provide every citizen with an opportunity to communicate directly with government officials, including top-managers. “Hot lines” exist in the local administrations of cities, regions and oblast levels, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Emergencies, Ministries of Health and Education and other executive bodies. Executive heads answer the “hot lines” during certain hours on certain days, which are advertized in local newspapers in advance. During the rest of the time these phones also function and redirect citizens’ complaints to the authorities responsible for addressing specific problems.
Regardless of the formal nature of the “hot lines”, issues that citizens raise give some idea about the nature of problems of particular concern for the population. For instance, in the late summer and autumn of 2011 officials often acknowledged their incapability to address issues of concern of the local population they voiced via “hot lines” (a sharp decrease in earnings, frozen housing construction, lack of foreign currency) and demonstrated confusion. Now it appears that the general situation is improving with the only exception of Vitebsk Oblast, where tensions remain.
As compared with 2011, in 2012 there is a new issue of concern raised by the population, namely the shortage of so-called “social cost” foodstuffs (i.e. foodstuffs at lower prices).