Liberal Club Discussion Paper

Aliaksandr Filipau

The ideology of the Belarusian state is a subject of numerous discussions among experts and scholars who specialize in Belarusian studies. Such discussions have become more intensive with the recent political and economic changes in the country, especially the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union, the events in Ukraine, the deterioration of the relations between Russia and the West, as well as further decline of the Belarusian economy. 

This discussion paper deals with the main changes that have occurred in ideology and ideological work in Belarus during the fourth presidential term of Aliaksandr Lukashenka.

Strengthening the “Ideological Vertical”

Ideology and ideological work are considered among the main areas of all agencies’ activities in Belarus, as well as one of the assessment criteria for evaluating the heads of all public agencies.Nevertheless, compared to the early 2000s, when the ideology itself occupied a significant place in the Belarusian public media space, the period of 2011-2014 witnessed much less of the authorities’ attention to the ideology as a set of ideas. However, some important changes in the organization of the ideological work occurred.

These changes were influenced by the so-called optimization of the public administration system in 2013. Two main legislative documents should be mentioned:

  1. The Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus No. 168 dated April, 12, 2013.

  2. The Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus No. 264 dated June, 6, 2013.


The first decree, “On certain measures on optimization of the system of public administration agencies and other state agencies, as well as the number of their employees,” strengthened significantly the so-called ‘ideological vertical’ due to the unification of the departments responsible for ideological work, culture administration and youth affairs. In spite of the external simplicity of this step, the unification has a serious political meaning.

The ‘ideological vertical’, headed by the President’s assistant and Head of the Chief Ideological Department of the President’s Administration Usevalad Yancheuski, subdued completely the youth affairs, as well as cultural policy on local and middle levels of the public administration system. It has also assumed control over human resources management and financial allocations in these spheres.[1] The unification itself became a result of conflicts between different groups inside the Belarusian nomenclature and strengthened significantly Yancheuski’s positions.

Moreover, the ‘ideological vertical’ and its patron-client relations were among a few branches in the public administration system which did not suffer because of the personnel cuts in 2013.[2] The changes among the high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Communications and Informatization in February 2014 were also Yancheusky’s great success, which allowed him to strengthen his influence in this important sphere. The appointment of Ihar Buzousky, the former head of the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, as a Deputy Head of the Administration of the President, was also beneficial for Yancheuski. Finally, the resignation of Natalia Piatkevich, who is considered as one of the main competitors of the head of the “ideological vertical”, again played into the hands of Yancheuski. The only considerable failure which can be mentioned was the loss of control over the Information-Analytical Center of the President’s Administration.

The second decree, ‘On certain issues of the activities of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Belarus’, preserved the existing structure and functions of the ‘ideological vertical’ inside the President’s Administration. Moreover, no significant changes among high-ranking officials in the ‘ideological vertical’ were introduced in this period.

Ideology without Ideas

One of the main reasons of this special attitude to the ‘ideological vertical’, which in many aspects can be compared with the attitude to the security forces, is that the main task of the ideological block is not to promote ideas as they are but to control the public sentiments and resolve the current problems via social and economic regulations. An elaborated mechanism for manipulating this process has been developed during the last twenty years. This mechanism has become much more in-demand due to the profound changes in the social and economic situation in Belarus. These changes influenced the set of ideas which are promoted within the official governmental policy in Belarus.

In spite of publishing several books, such as “The Belarusian Path” (2010, 2012)[3], and numerous editions on the ideology of the Belarusian state, the president himself admitted that none of them presented a real national idea. In general, it is almost impossible to formulate any clear set of ideas which are part of this ideology. The content analysis of the president’s speeches in 2009-2014 reveals that Lukashenka’s only permanent and non-flexible idea is that of his unlimited presidency and power. Two recurring minor ideas found within the analysis of his speeches are the priority of agriculture above the other sectors of economy and the necessity to protect children.[4] In all other issues, the ideology in Belarus is extremely flexible and is able to promote any idea which will be adopted by society in the current political situation.

The main reason for this situation is that the president and, in general, the elite groups in the country deny the concept of strictly adhering to any particular idea, be it communism or capitalism, nationalism or extremely pro-Russian views, etc.

In many respects, in recent years the legitimacy of the ruling government has been provided due to the effectiveness of public goods provision, i.e. due to the system of so-called social contracts[5], which is considered a common phenomenon in the modern world.[6] The core element of the social contracts system is the amount of wealth, such as public goods, which improve the general populace’s quality of life.[7] During the first decade of the XXI century, the core of the state ideology discourse was centered on the gradual increase of the people’s welfare (the famous formula was “cup – pork rind – a foreign-made car – a flat in Minsk”).[8] It is necessary to emphasize that preserving the welfare has never been a matter of stagnancy.

Nevertheless, in 2011-2014, due to the emerging crisis of the Belarusian economic model, the President’s Administration (as the main political and ideological institution) had to propose an ideological response which would be accepted by society. In 2012, it tried to compensate the decline of the socially-oriented model with a new idea or motto which would see a dramatic decrease in the state’s social policy.[9] In 2012-2013, such an idea/motto was conceived in the concept of modernization, which for a short period of time became a universal remedy for all problems in the development of the Belarusian society.

In spite of the domination of this concept in the Belarusian media in 2012-2013, the idea of the modernization was rather vague. In the economic sphere it was understood mainly as re-equipment of enterprises, whereas in the political sphere vague discussions about a reform of the state apparatus were initiated.[10] Predictably, no significant results were achieved. The modernization of the economy failed and resulted in numerous corruption scandals, while the consequences of the governance reform were reduced to public administration personnel cuts and a decrease in the state apparatus effectiveness.[11] As a result, the concept of modernization was gradually removed from the public discourse during 2014.

The Frames of New Social Contracts

With the decline of the idea of modernization, the discussions about the necessity to reduce social policy in Belarus (with undoubted preservation of its description as “a socially-oriented model”) were becoming more apparent in 2014. Such ideas appeared both in the speeches of public officials of different levels and in publications by the state media, as well as in comments of pro-governmental experts. Usually, such discussions concerned particular issues but they also started forming a framework. The best word to reflect it is the word “mobilization”.

Contrary to “modernization”, the concept of “mobilization” is not very often used by the Belarusian officials. Nevertheless, its essence is becoming increasingly present in the media. As with modernization, mobilization encompasses both economic and political spheres. In the economic sphere it means certain decline of the social policy and, therefore, the wellbeing of the people. In the political sphere it means further limitations of rights and freedoms and an increase of state regulations and control over all kinds of activities.

The concept of mobilization has a solid ground in the Belarusian society. Numerous studies reveal that even contrary to a popular stereotype about a permanent interconnection between the people’s revenues and President Lukashenka’s political rating[12], society is ready to stick to the social contracts system even in case of significant declines of social welfare.[13] Several explanations can be offered here. Some of them concentrate on the specific Belarusian mentality[14], others points to the elaborated system of informal relations within the Belarusian society, including “black market”, illegal revenues, smuggling, etc. [15]

Irrespective of any explanation, the phenomenon itself is absolutely clear for the Belarusian authorities. Different explanations can be proposed as an excuse for significant and essential changes in the social contracts, including the events in Ukraine, the economic crisis in Russia, the world plot against Belarus, the expansion of the “Russian world,” etc. The peculiar feature of such explanations is their temporal character, which is loosely connected to real political changes and inclinations of the Belarusian authorities. At any point, when it is politically suitable, these explanations can be replaced with others.

 

[1] Розенбаум А. «Размывание» вертикали власти как один из результатов реформы государственного управления. Аналитическая записка «Либерального клуба» №31/2013. – Режим доступа: http://liberalclub.biz/?p=13895#more-13895

[2]Burov, N. The Administration of the President: personnel shuffling does not change anything while the trumps are still in the former hands // Belarusian Yearbook 2013. – Minsk : I.P. Logvinov, 2014. – P. 11-18.

[3] Белорусский путь / под ред. О.В.Пролесковского. – Мн., 2010 (2012). - http://www.elib.bsu.by/bitstream/123456789/31291/1Белорусский%20путь%%202010.pdf – 416 p.

[4]Реформа системы государственного управления в Беларуси // http://liberalclub.biz/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/LC_Public_administration_reform_2014.pdf

[5]See the research conducted by the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies: СоциальныеконтрактывсовременнойБеларуси. Под ред. К.Гайдука, Е.Раковой, В. Силицкого – http://www.research.by/webroot/delivery/files/books/socialcontract2010r.pdf

[6]See, for example: Legitimacy in the Modern World // American Behavioral Scientist. – November 2009 53. P. 279-288.

[7]Ibid.

[8]In Belarusian: «чарка – шкварка – iнамарка – кватэраўМiнске»

[9]Burov, N. The Administration of the President: Between Scylla of the socially oriented economy and Charybdis of the “wild” oligarchy // Belarusian Yearbook 2012. – Minsk, 2013. – P.13-19.

[10]According to the author’s analysis of the “ИнформационныйбюллетеньАдминистрацииПрезидентаРеспубликиБеларусь” for the years 2012-2013.

[11]Реформа системы государственного управления в Беларуси // http://liberalclub.biz/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/LC_Public_administration_reform_2014.pdf

[12]Some experts, for example, Yury Drakohrust, believe that this interconnection is not so permanent, direct and strong as it is generally considered: Дракохруст, Ю. Приключениярейтинга: обвалилиотскок? - http://news.tut.by/politics/430475.html; Дракохруст, Ю. ОпровержениеГераклита? - http://nmnby.eu/news/analytics/5110.html

[13]See, forexample, Пикулик А., Артеменко Е. «Социальный контракт»: двойная стратегия. - http://belinstitute.eu/sites/biss.newmediahost.info/files/attached-files/BISS_SA03_2014ru.pdf

[14] Фабрикант, М., Царик, Ю. Белорусский народ как реальность. Особенности и проблемы национальной самоидентификации белорусов // Беларуская думка. – №8. – август 2009. – С. 62-67.

[15]Николюк, С., Чернов, В. Особенности формирования среднего класса в Беларуси // Палiтычная сфера. - №9. – 2007. – С. 23-39.