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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.