Authorities tighten control over sociologists
The Belarusian authorities prepare preventive measures for cases when sociological services coordinated form abroad become active in Belarus. Most likely, these actions have less to do with the activities of the political opposition, and more with the growing risk of Belarus’ Eurasian integration.
According to Narodnaya Volya newspaper, on June 14 a draft law amending Administrative Code was submitted to the House of Representatives. Drafted by the Presidential Administration, it envisages a penalty for carrying out sociological polls without accreditation.
The initiative of the President’s Administration is obviously a safety preemptive measure against foreign sociological services. Sociological services officially registered in Belarus have a long established formal and informal framework and do not pose any significant threat to the authorities.
In particular, since 2002, carrying out of opinion polls needs to be formally approved by a special commission at the Belarusian Academy of Sciences and informal recommendations clearly regulate issues which could or could not be a subject for a public opinion study. In turn, informal links between some sociological services (Information and Analysis Center under the Administration of the President or the Ecoom centre) and the authorities allow the latter to censor the data, and thus control the public opinion.
Therefore, the Belarusian authorities attempt to insure against a possible “invasion” by foreign - mainly Russian - sociological services of the Belarusian political sphere. The precedent occurred in 2010 when a Russian sociological agency Inside, regardless of the lack of accreditation carried out exit-polls during the Presidential elections on December 19 and was the first to report about an extremely low support to a candidate Alexander Lukashenko.
Apart from the uncontrolled electoral sociology threat, the authorities may be wary of a greater penetration of Russian companies in the Belarusian public opinion research market.
With the development of the Eurasian integration project, the Belarusian leadership’s needs to refer to “people’s opinion” will increase, in particular, when dealing with controversial privatization issues, single currency introduction, and other political and economic issues. Therefore the vitality of control over sociological poll results is increasing.
If adopted, the amendment to the Administrative Code will increase the risks for carrying out unauthorized public opinion polls. Envisaged penalty for an individual will be a fine of Br 2 to 5 million, and for an organization – Br 20 million.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.