Regions: divide between people and state widens
In 2013, the gap between the local governments, the citizens and the political opposition widened. As a result, social atomization has become even stronger.
Local authorities. In Minsk, trust levels toward the local government is in a critical state, i.e. the district executive committees virtually lost their credibility. The practice of making a collective appeal to the Presidential Administration regarding local problems (e.g. street paving or landscaping and improvements) has become widespread.
When asked, “What do you think of the people currently in power?” 44.4% respondents replied, “They are concerned only about their own well-being and career” (IISEPS national opinion polls held in August - October 2013, http://www.iiseps.org/analitica/556). Only 13.4% said “they are a good team of politicians, leading the country in the right direction”. According to our estimates, if such a question had been asked locally (district or regional level), the levels of trust in relation to the local officials would have been circa 5-7%.
In 2013, the Presidential Administration attempted to address this problem. The president announced and carried out administrative reform. The reform envisaged laying off 30% of public officials. In most cases, lay-offs affected functionaries of retirement age and low-level civil servants. However, other than lay-offs, the authorities are unable to carry out a full-scale administrative reform, because it would a) weaken the president’s position; b) change the management style of the entire system that is based on personality.
In 2013, the main trend in the staffing policy was the increased rotation of district executive committees’ chairpersons. This tactic meant to reset executives’ mistakes and to improve their credibility in the eyes of the local population ahead of the presidential election.
Opposition in the regions. In late 2013, the opposition’s confidence rating on the national level was 15.3 %. According to our estimates, on the local level (in towns with a population of less than 100,000) the opposition’s confidence rating would be around 5%-7%.
In 2013, the opposition was less active in the regions and considerably narrowed the geography of their activities. Currently, the opposition is active in Minsk and in towns with a population of over 100,000.
In 2013, the opposition launched several major regional projects, in particular, the ‘People’s Referendum’, which envisages collecting 450,000 signatures to call a national referendum. This project was promoted most in the Grodno region, where the initiative leaders paid four visits (Grodno, Slonim, Smargon and a village in the Slonim district).
The shortage of human resources in the regions is an even bigger problem for the opposition than for the authorities. The opposition has nothing to offer local residents. The lack of regional opposition opinion leaders makes the opposition activity in the regions less effective. Opposition leaders have to visit regions themselves to promote their ideas. Since they cannot do so frequently, the positive effects from their activities are reduced to zero.
Citizens. In 2013, labour migration or full migration was a major consideration for many Belarusian citizens. About 39.8% Belarusians would like to live permanently in another country, if they had the chance. Emigration potential increased to 65.2% among respondents aged 18 to 29 years old. 25.8 % of the population have at least one family member working abroad.
African swine fever was the largest challenge for residents of agricultural regions in 2013. In some regions, local authorities imposed a total ban on pig breeding. In response, instead of protesting, villagers used ‘partisan’ practices. They hid their pigs, transported them from one village to another etc. These practices demonstrated the true relations between the authorities and the population.
Forecast for 2014. Further atomization of society should be anticipated. Citizens will become more involved in the state’s socio-political ‘agenda’ if authorities continue picking people’s pockets (price hikes, unpopular taxes, etc). If the authorities fail to ensure economic growth in 2014 and continue patching up the budget at the cost of the population, protests similar to those in 2011 are likely to make a come-back.