Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Struggle over Identity

 | 
Nelly Bekus

Part III. Belarusian Post-Communism

Chapter 11. Prerequisites of Democratization and Authoritarianism in Belarus

Texte intégral

  • 1 Alexander J. Motyl, “Totalitarian Collapse, Imperial Disintegration, and the Rise of the Soviet We (...)

1In the early 1990s, the prospects of Belarus’s democratic transformation appear to be quite optimistic. Alexander Motyl wrote in 1991: “Virtually identical economic systems, common economic problems, and a shared cultural and historical legacy suggest that a new Eastern Europe, incorporating Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Belorussia, the Ukraine and Lithuania, will emerge in the new future.”1 However, the course of the systemic transformations in these countries has brought different results. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania have become members of the European Union. Ukraine has survived its orange revolution and remains in the state of uncertainty as to its further way of development. Belarus has become “the last dictatorship in Europe,” a country with an authoritarian mode of rule, command economy, and suppressed civil society.

  • 2 Holmes, Post-Communism, 344.
  • 3 Holmes, Post-Communism, 344.
  • 4 Holmes, Post-Communism, 344.

2The range of scenarios from which post-communist countries draw their future is not extensive. One scenario is stable pluralist democracy, or “becoming like the West,” which is typified by a general commitment to the “rules of the game.”2 Another scenario is an authoritarian regime, which may “emerge as a result of the will of a majority of citizens” or may be “imposed by a small minority.” Among authoritarian regimes “one should distinguish between regimes that opt for a basically capitalist system, albeit with a relatively high level of state involvement in the economy, and those that seek a return to many elements of the command economy.”3 The third scenario is “of an essentially directionless long-term transition, in which governments change with abnormal frequency, and keep attempting to change direction.”4

3The Belarusian choice has lead to establishing an authoritarian regime, and appeared “according to the will of the majority,” and in the economic part of the program it counts on the command economy model. Alhough, as Vl. Zviglyanich notes, the favorable factors that laid the groundwork for Lukashenka’s regime in Belarus are not entirely a Belarusian phenomenon. “The phenomenon of Lukashenkism could have a different name, a different area of localization, even different protagonists […] The social basis for Lukashenkism exists in almost every country of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltics.”5

  • 6 S. Haggard and R. Kaufman, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton U (...)
  • 7 Holmes, Post-Communism, 345–346.
  • 8 Holmes, Post-Communism, 14–15.
  • 9 Vasily Andreev, “Nationalist Currents in Belarus,” PRISM 3, no. 1 (1997), http://www.jamestown.org (...)
  • 10 Andreev, “Nationalist Currents in Belarus.”

4The rise of the authoritarian political regime can be considered the reverse side of the democratic project failure. Works that touch on the topic of “democracy prerequisites”6 mention, among others, such prevalent factors as standard of living and social inequality level, a certain level of urbanization and education, as well as experience in market reforms and liberalization. The list of most essential factors gives special attention to economy, political culture, and institutional legacy of a society.7 Such logic presupposes that a number of specific conditions affected the development of Belarusian society. Leslie Holmes writes that “post-communism grows out of communism as it was actually practiced, and is a product of the anticommunist, double-rejective revolutions of 1989–91 […] The first rejection was of what was perceived to be external domination (… in case of the USSR, it was by Russia) […] The second rejection was of communism as a system of power.”8 The dependence of “the formula” of post-communism on the peculiar implementation of communist formation in case of Belarus is especially clear. Between 1991 and 1994 Belarus exemplified the “standard” double rejection. It was predominantly displayed in the political layout of the country—in the alliance of ideas from the nationalist and democratic range. “Most of the nationalist organizations in Belarus arose on the basis of the republic’s democratic movements, created during the days of Gorbachev’s perestroika. This pertains, above all, to the Belarusian Popular Front [BPF], led by Zenon Poznyak, the Belarusian National-Democratic party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Gramada, and several other organizations.”9 At the same time, the “nationalization” of Belarusian democratic movements took place as a result of the activity of the so called patriotic forces, which after December 1991 advocated restoration of the USSR in various forms and were movements of an authoritarian type, and because of opponents of liberal market economy and democratic freedoms. Patriotic forces were united in the Slav Union “Belaia Rus” formed in 1992; another large imperially-oriented organization was the Belarusian People’s Movement (NDB), which was also created in 1992. The latter was a coalition of “Belaya Rus,” communist, and pro-communist organizations. In those circumstances, “many Belarusian democrats gradually began to associate the fight against the totalitarian threat and the fight for human and democratic values with an activity directed towards preserving and reinforcing Belarusian sovereignty.”10

  • 11 Huntigton, The Third Wave, 40–46.
  • 12 Bruce Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” in Democratic Changes and Authorit (...)
  • 13 Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” 11.
  • 14 Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” 11.

5Among the factors essential for successful post-communist democratization in many authors’ views is the country’s past democratic experience. Samuel Huntington’s research points out that twenty-three out of twenty-nine countries belonging to “the third wave” of democratization had a prior democratic experience. At the same time, the countries that did not follow the path of democratization had had no such experience.11 Having prior democratic experience affects a country’s present situation in different ways. If it is relatively new, “it may provide ‘human capital,’ that is persons with a first-hand understanding of democratic institutions and practice who can launch and maintain the new political arrangement.”12 But even if the experience had taken place in the historically distant past, “it may provide instructive lessons in the design of democratic institutions matched to the particular features of the country in question.”13 Moreover, previous democratic experience can help “legitimize new democratic institutions by protecting them against the xenophobic charge that they are alien cultural import.”14 The Belarusian experience confirms the latter scenario—the idea of liberal Western-type democracy as an alien form of organizing social life is actively exploited by the Belarusian official rhetoric.

  • 15 Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” 12.
  • 16 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus: Economy and Political Landscape,” 89.
  • 17 For example, Independent Belarus: Domestic Determinations, Regional Dynamics, and Implications for (...)
  • 18 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus,” 89.
  • 19 Vasili Leonov, Rabota nad oshibkami (Smolensk: Skif, 2003), 69.
  • 20 Christian W. Haerpfer, Democracy and Enlargement in Post-Communist Europe: The Democratisation of (...)

6One has to acknowledge that unfavorable conditions related to the lack of a real democratic experience are typical for nearly all post-communist countries. Unavailability of such “usable democratic past” in many countries was compensated with disgust of the repressive communist regime, a sort of negative learning became a potential source of aspiration for political transformation.15 But the negative experience factor did not work in Belarus in favor of democratization. According to Ioffe, “Despite the in grained flaws of the Soviet model of economic development, Belarus was an undeniable Soviet success story. All the impulses and/or driving forces of Belarus’s achievements, and their side affects as well, have been of Soviet vintage.”16 Many scholars attribute the Belarusian economic success within the Soviet Union to Russia’s contribution.17 But it did not diminish the significance of Belarusian economic development; rather, it made Belarusians aware of the fact that their economic success “was made possible by Belarus being a part of a larger entity, the Soviet Union.”18 The well-known comparison of Belarus with the Soviet Union’s “show-case” refers us to this status of the republic as the best-looking part of a large country. It was no accident that Vasili Leonov (a “partocrat” in the Soviet times, a minister of agriculture appointed by Lukashenka, and later an opposition politician) remarked that Belarusians did not experience stagnation, as the years of Soviet ‘decay’ were for Belarusians the years of rapid economic development, improvement of the lifestyle of the population’s majority.19 This state of economic affairs has affected the perception of the Soviet experience by Belarusians as a positive one. According to the opinion poll conducted by Christian W. Haerpfer, Belarusians viewed their Soviet experience more positive than any other Eastern European region: 68 percent claimed that the communist rule “was a good way of running things,” or at least tolerable.20

  • 21 Dawisha, “Democratization and Political Participation,” 45.
  • 22 Dawisha, “Democratization and Political Participation,” 45.
  • 23 At least, it is how the Belarusian tradition looks in the official history textbooks.

7Especially significant for democratization of post-communist society is its pre-communist period; that is, the parameters of pre-communist social and political experience determine the success of transformation. “Those countries which are being ‘re-born’ after a period of communist suppression,” writes Dawisha, “would have an enormous advantage over states being established for the first time.”21 Countries with the experience of their own statehood possess a kind of institutional matrix, on which they can start building a new political and social system. That is why they can require less time to form institutions, adopt constitutions and other basic laws. Such states also have fewer problems in establishing a new format of relations between the state and society based on national unity ideas. But the newly founded states have no historical experience and collective memory that can contribute to harmonization of relationship between the state and society; memory that could nourish and support “the new nation.” A picture is different if the experience of statehood is limited by the communist epoch. One of the peculiarities of a socialist state is its repressive function in relation to society and nation. According to Dawisha, “nation in this case was often subordinated to the needs of the state and symbiotically tied to the state.”22 If a state has no “non-socialist” experience and legacy, after the epoch of “communism building” it faces a difficult problem of structural reconstruction of a fundamentally new base of relations among the nation, society, and state system. Indeed, one can assume that because of the lack of the Belarusian independent statehood outside the communist regime,23 a typically socialist model of relations between the state and society is often perceived by the major part of Belarusians as a variety, if not the main representation of a political norm.

  • 24 Silitski, “Explaining Post-Communist Authoritarianism in Belarus,” 37.
  • 25 Silitski, “Explaining Post-Communist Authoritarianism in Belarus,” 37. He refers to the analysis i (...)

8Meanwhile some authors question the exclusively negative influence of the country’s legacy in the choice of Belarusian development scenario. For example, Silitski writes that in order to understand the Belarusian phenomenon it is worthwhile to refer to the factors “which are usually considered as favourable to a country’s prospects for establishing a democracy.”24 In Silitski’s opinion, such potential prerequisites of democratization in Belarus, which nonetheless have not worked, can be “the high level of urbanization and educational attainment in society, the absence of serious ethnic or religious conflicts, the low degree of income inequality, and the fact that public attitudes at the beginning of the period of political change were not any more anti-democratic than they were in many other post-communist societies, many of which have undergone quite successful democratic transitions.”25

  • 26 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” in Contemporary Belarus, ed. E. A. Korosteleva (...)
  • 27 Haerpfer, “Democracy and Enlargement in Post-Communist Europe.” Within the frame work of this rese (...)
  • 28 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 94.

9As Christian W. Haerpfer has demonstrated, the Belarusian population cannot be simplistically characterized as antidemocratically minded. Haerpfer compares the support for democracy and the support for nondemocratic alternatives within Belarusian population with the democratic and non-democratic political behavior in six other post-Soviet countries: the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.26 This comparative analysis is viewed by the author as an individual example within a more extended crosscountry research conducted in fifteen countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The research monitors the general response of societies in post-communist countries to economic, social, and political transformations after the collapse of the communist system.27 For comparison Haerpfer devised the Index of Democracy, which displays assessment of the regime displacement in society. “The aim of this Index is to measure the extent of democratization at the level of the individual of societies in transformation from non-democratic to democratic regimes. […] This index does not measure the rating of the performance of the current government at a given time; it is supposed to measure the support for democracy as a principle and a form of regime, as opposed to other, non-democratic forms of political regime.”28

10The Index of Democracy proposed by Christian W. Haerpfer consists of nine different characteristics:

  1. Negative rating of communist political regime in the past;
  2. Positive rating of New Democracy or current political regime;
  3. Optimism about the future of democratic parliaments;
  4. Support for the democratic national parliament;
  5. Rejection of an authoritarian leader as an alternative to democracy;
  6. Rejection of a military regime as an alternative to democracy;
  7. Rejection of a monarchy as an alternative to democracy;
  8. Rejection of a return to a communist political regime as an alternative to democracy;
  9. Optimism about the future of democracy.29
  • 30 Only those people have been included in the calculation of the Index of Democracy who are in at le (...)
  • 31 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 97.
  • 32 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 95–96.

11The comparison between the Index of Democracy in the political lookout of Belarusian society and the electorate of other post-communist countries surprisingly shows that in Belarus there is “a political system with the second highest share of ‘democrats’30 within the national electorate amongst all post soviet countries (only behind Estonia). In 1998, it was found that 41 percent of the Belarusian population are ‘democrats’ in terms of their political attitudes and their political behavior.”31 On the whole, judging by the basic parameters of political outlooks, Belarus fits the framework of the “North bloc,” together with the three Baltic states, as it demonstrates indexes close to those of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. At the same time, the Russian population makes a different and much larger political compound, together with Ukraine and Moldova. In addition, Christian W. Haerpfer compares the indexes of political views of Belarusians in different years within the period of nine years (1992–2000) and finds the data remarkable: “In 1994, only 23 percent of the post–Soviet citizens in Belarus could be characterized as pluralistic democrats. In the four years between 1994 and 1998 the number of Belarusian ‘democrats’ almost doubled, reaching the level of 41 per cent.”32

  • 33 Society can be characterized as an “emerging democracy” if more than 40 percent of the electorate (...)
  • 34 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 96–97.

12Haerpfer considers one of the main results of his comparative analysis to be the statistical demonstration of the fact that the Belarusian electorate “does not fulfill the popular expectations nourished by international publications and media, which suggests that Belarus and, by implication, its population are non-democratic and somehow politically backward. In an empirical ranking of the six post Soviet countries analysed, the population of Belarus came second behind Estonia with regard to a support for pluralistic democracy. Only Estonia and Belarus fulfill criteria of an ‘emerging democracy’33 with a share of more than 40 percent of the electorate being ‘democrats’ in a very strict definition.”34

13Another factor of a positive development of the democratic reforms in the country was the degree of political mobilization of the population in the early and mid-1990s. It is an evidence of the society’s readiness for transformations; in March and April 1996 the BPF organized mass street demonstration, attracting 50,000 participants. By comparison, the number of participants in the protests following the 2004 referendum, which allowed the president to hold the office for indefinite number of terms, did not exceed 5,000. The political protest against the falsification of the presidential election results in March 2006 attracted close to 20,000, but the level of the population’s political involvement at the time did not reach that of the mid-1990s.

  • 35 Robert Legvold and Celeste A. Wallander, “Conclusion,” in Swords and Sustenance, ed. R. Legvold an (...)
  • 36 Silitski, “Explaining Post-Communist Authoritarianism in Belarus,” 36.
  • 37 Beverly Crawford and Arend Lijphart, “Explaining Political and Economic Change in Post-Communist E (...)
  • 38 G. de Palma, To Craft Democracies: An Essay on Democratic Transitions (Berkeley: University of Cal (...)
  • 39 S. Haggard and R. Kaufman, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton U (...)

14Many authors write about the responsibility of the political elite for the Belarusian “course of events” and the failure of democratization. “What counts most is what political leaders and elite make of the past, of economic dependency, and of the Russian factor,”35 write Legvold and Wallander. Silitski believes that “an explanation of post-communist political development in Belarus should […] account for the factors and events that have influenced its transformation in the last decade, rather than being exclusively focused on the legacies of the Soviet past or of even earlier historical periods.”36 Such analysis of the dynamic political process and not the structural objective data enables us to seek the subjective factors dependent on the behavior and choices of the political actors. Silitski believes that following “the process-oriented approach,” which states that actual processes are able to neutralize the negative legacy and affect the results of democratization helps to avoid the “spirit of predestination” characteristic for the studies of the Belarusian transformation in the context of its cultural and institutional legacy. Crawford and Lijphart point out that “the imperatives of liberalization” may become the tools for over-coming the communist legacy: “new institutions can be crafted and new international pressure can be brought that shut out the negative influences of the past.”37 The key concept in the process-oriented approach is “crafting,” which can be understood as a consistent, purposeful set of actions undertaken in order to initiate the transformation (or destruction) of a political regime.38 However, when isolated from the cultural, historical, and institutional data such an approach “fails to address the factors that shape actors’ political preferences, the conditions under which these preferences change. And even the identity of pivotal actors.”39

15The interconnection between the legacy’s different manifestations and the process of building a democratic system by definite people with their ideas and skills “to craft” democracy has a sophisticated design. Legacy— whether cultural, historical, or institutional—not only affects the state of the social landscape, but it also shapes political forces, and, in some sense, predetermines their political identity. At the same time, the way the elements of the legacy function is very much determined by the strategy selected by the political actors.

16The political strategy chosen by the Belarusian nationalists is to a large extent based on a certain concept of the Belarusian identity. Thus, Belarus gives an illustrative example of a dialectical interdependence between society’s legacy and the strategy of its use by political forces. National identity as a state of society’s self-consciousness and a part of legacy, national idea as a basis for the political ideology articulated by the politicians and nationalism as a groundwork of political movement is one of the key factors of the Belarusian democratization’s failure.

Notes

1 Alexander J. Motyl, “Totalitarian Collapse, Imperial Disintegration, and the Rise of the Soviet West: Implication for the West,” in The Rise of Nations in the Soviet Union, ed. Michael Mandelbaum (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1991), 54.

2 Holmes, Post-Communism, 344.

3 Holmes, Post-Communism, 344.

4 Holmes, Post-Communism, 344.

5 Vl. Zviglyanich, “The Lost World: Belarus as a Model of Political Necromancy,” http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[swords]=8fd5893941d69d0be3f378576261ae3e&tx_ttnews[any_of_the_words]=Zviglyanich&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=6883& tx_ttnews[backPid]=7&cHash=13625cc017.

6 S. Haggard and R. Kaufman, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); S. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991); D. Rueschemeyer, E. Huber Stephens, and J. Stephens, Capitalist Development and Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

7 Holmes, Post-Communism, 345–346.

8 Holmes, Post-Communism, 14–15.

9 Vasily Andreev, “Nationalist Currents in Belarus,” PRISM 3, no. 1 (1997), http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=19500&tx_ttnews[backPid]=219.

10 Andreev, “Nationalist Currents in Belarus.”

11 Huntigton, The Third Wave, 40–46.

12 Bruce Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” in Democratic Changes and Authoritarian Reactions in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, ed. Karen Dawisha and Bruce Parrott (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 11.

13 Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” 11.

14 Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” 11.

15 Parrott, “Perspectives on Postcommunist Democratization,” 12.

16 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus: Economy and Political Landscape,” 89.

17 For example, Independent Belarus: Domestic Determinations, Regional Dynamics, and Implications for the West, ed. Margarita M. Balmaceda, James I. Clem, Lisbeth L. Tarlow (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

18 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus,” 89.

19 Vasili Leonov, Rabota nad oshibkami (Smolensk: Skif, 2003), 69.

20 Christian W. Haerpfer, Democracy and Enlargement in Post-Communist Europe: The Democratisation of the General Public in 15 Central and Eastern European Countries, 1991–1998 (New York: Routledge, 2002), 16.

21 Dawisha, “Democratization and Political Participation,” 45.

22 Dawisha, “Democratization and Political Participation,” 45.

23 At least, it is how the Belarusian tradition looks in the official history textbooks.

24 Silitski, “Explaining Post-Communist Authoritarianism in Belarus,” 37.

25 Silitski, “Explaining Post-Communist Authoritarianism in Belarus,” 37. He refers to the analysis in A. Finter and E. Mickiewicz, “Redefining the Political System of the USSR: Mass Support for Political Change,” American Political Science Review 86, no. 4 (1992): 857–74.

26 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” in Contemporary Belarus, ed. E. A. Korosteleva, C. W. Lawson, and R. J. Marsh (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 85–99.

27 Haerpfer, “Democracy and Enlargement in Post-Communist Europe.” Within the frame work of this research the author conducted over 10,000 interviews between 1992 and 1998.

28 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 94.

29 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 94.

30 Only those people have been included in the calculation of the Index of Democracy who are in at least seven out of nine items, which ensues very strict definition of “democrats.”

31 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 97.

32 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 95–96.

33 Society can be characterized as an “emerging democracy” if more than 40 percent of the electorate are identified as “democrats;” as “consolidated democracy”—if there are more than 40 percent of democrats in it; less than 40 percent—society is defined as “transforming society.” According to Haerpfer, the outcome of transformation in the societies defined as “transforming” is uncertain and does not lead necessarily towards democracy. Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus compared,” 95.

34 Haerpfer, “Electoral Politics of Belarus Compared,” 96–97.

35 Robert Legvold and Celeste A. Wallander, “Conclusion,” in Swords and Sustenance, ed. R. Legvold and C. A. Wallander (Cambridge: MTI Press, 2003), 229.

36 Silitski, “Explaining Post-Communist Authoritarianism in Belarus,” 36.

37 Beverly Crawford and Arend Lijphart, “Explaining Political and Economic Change in Post-Communist Eastern Europe: Old Legacies, New Institutions, Hegemonic Norms, and International Pressures,” Comparative Political Studies 28, no. 2 (1995): 172.

38 G. de Palma, To Craft Democracies: An Essay on Democratic Transitions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

39 S. Haggard and R. Kaufman, The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 5–6.

© Central European University Press, 2010

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Acheter

Volume papier

amazon.fr