Adaptation without borders. Full-year 2015 results

Andrei Vardomatski


Belarusians are demonstrating unprecedented achievements in adapting to the constantly worsening economic situation. It is worsening not only according to objective statistical indicators, but also subjective economic moods. This conclusion – adaptation without borders – which has not been elucidated in this article is, in our opinion, the main feature of Belarusian society in 2015.

Every molecule of steam inside the Belarusian pressure-cooker changes its own movement trajectory in order to cool down. That cooker’s autonomous steam-processing is especially effective since it has an optional valve…


At the end of each year the NOVAK Laboratory carries out a nationwide representative social poll dedicated to general assessments of the past year, traditionally asking the same questions. This year the field research was done between December 12 and 28, 2015, with a sample size of 1036 respondents. All our conclusions are mostly based on this particular empirical data and monthly public opinion monitoring data from the Belarusian Analytical Workroom.

The nation’s economic mood

In 2015, the economic mood of the nation was generally worse than in 2014 (see Graph 1). On average, the “bad” position in 2015 was 15% higher than in 2014 (according to a macroeconomic indicator). The average figure for 2014 was 26.9%, and in 2015 – 42.7%.

Graph 1. How would you assess the current economic situation in your country? %

Those who have least – i. e. the older layers of society – appeared to show the most positive attitudes towards the economic situation in the country. This is an astonishing effect of value systems at work, the subjectivity of social assessments, and the specifics of the mentality of previous generations, who grew up in the USSR (see Graph 2)

Graph 2. How would you assess the current economic situation in your country? % (by age)

Nevertheless, our empirical data do not reveal any rise in protest moods. The number of respondents who answered “quite likely” to the question “How likely is it now that street protests and demonstrations against price rises and the falling standard of living would take place in your city (region)?” is at the same level as during previous periods.

The most significant event

Which event did Belarusians see as the year’s most significant? We drew up a list of events, and respondents could only choose one event which they felt was the most important for the country (see Graph 3). The poll results showed the following hierarchy.

Graph 3. Which political, sporting, cultural (etc.) event from the past year do you consider was the most significant? %

Incidentally, when we asked about the main event without listing options, the overwhelming majority answered “Don’t know/Hard to say”. This fact is interesting not only methodologically, but it also has an important, informative social connotation. People had difficulty in selecting any event above others. There are no events in the country, because people have no involvement in decision-making concerning events. Hence, subjectively, people do not sense that any important events are taking place.

Summing up public discussions on this topic, it is important to mention the following two observations.

  1. Comparing the significance of the presidential elections and the Nobel Prize awarded to Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian democratic community clearly esteemed the first Belarusian Nobel to be a much more important event for the country than the presidential elections. Naturally, there is a reason for this. Yet, the general public chose the presidential elections as the most significant event for the country.
  2. Comparing the significance of the presidential elections and the Ukrainian events, we have indirect evidence to show that the Ukrainian events were considered more important than the presidential elections. We have been measuring the level of interest in the presidential elections and the Ukrainian events (see Graphs 5 and 6), and registered numerous indicators of the influence of Ukrainian events on all aspects of life in Belarus over the last couple of years, starting in 2013. But when faced with a direct question, people specify the presidential elections as being more important.

Let us examine these two aspects in more detail. In the first case, concerning the “Presidential elections – Nobel Prize” axis: to adequately compare the significance of these two events as subjectively perceived by the mass consciousness, we have formulated a special question to compare only these two events: “In your opinion, which event from the past year listed below was more important for Belarus?” (see Graph 4). The result was 49% in favour of the elections, and 29% for the Nobel. Obviously, the ratio in the special questions comparing only those two events (49 ÷ 29 = 1.689) was lower than the ratio for the general question listing all the events (29.8 ÷ 12.8 = 2.328), but it did not alter the ranking.

Graph 4. In your opinion, which event from the past year listed below was more important for Belarus? %

The second case concerns the “Ukrainian events – Belarusian presidential elections” axis. As can be seen from the graphs (see Graphs 5 and 6), the level of interest in the Ukrainian events is higher than in the elections. This is particularly visible in the “closely following” option, which showed 24.2% for the presidential elections, whereas it never fell below 44% in relation to the Ukrainian events.

Graph 5. Please describe how closely you are following the current presidential election campaign? %
Graph 6. Do you follow the events in Ukraine? %

Person of the year 2015

The person of the year for Belarus appeared to be Lukashenko (see Graph 7), which is not surprising. However, Darya Domracheva – a Lukashenko-oriented Belarusian sportswoman extensively promoted by the Belarusian media in 2015 – was hot on his heels (and she took first place in 2014, overtaking Lukashenko). What is surprising is that, in the context of public discourse, the first Belarusian Nobel Prize-winner entered the world’s list of people of the year, as perceived by Belarusians (see Graph 8), taking third place on this world list.

Graph 7. Who in your opinion could be named person of the year 2015 in our country (Belarus)?
Graph 8. Who in your opinion could be named person of the year 2015 in the world? %

The most impressive graph turned out to be the correlation between attitudes to Alexievich and the respondents’ education level – the significance of the event grew sharply, depending on educational qualifications (see Graph 9).

Graph 9. Who in your opinion could be named person of the year 2015 in the world? (by education)

A mirage at the end of the tunnel

Compared to the same period in 2014, the situation regarding hope remained practically the same (see Graph 10). However, in December 2015 there were more people who felt hope for the next year than in January 2015, when the Belarusian rouble collapsed. People have got used to the new currency rates, and believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But this is an endless tunnel…

Graph 10. What feelings do you experience when thinking about the upcoming year? %

Geopolitical orientation

Belarusians’ geopolitical orientations in 2015 were distinguished by dominant pro-Russian moods, which spiked during the last couple of months of the year. Pro-Russian moods were exhibited by two-thirds of the population practically throughout the whole year. The only exception was the period July-October, when pro-Russian orientations were falling. This was probably due to decreased coverage of Russian topics by all media, and a comparative lull in the Russian-Ukranian conflict. Pro-European orientations have never been so low (see Graph 11). The years preceding the Ukrainian events demonstrated a different geopolitical landscape, with lower pro-Russian and higher pro-European moods.

Graph 11. In which union do you feel the Belarusian people would live better: the EU, or a union with Russia? %

This is an obvious result of the impact of Russian TV channels, which dominate the Belarusian media space. Official Belarusian media do not promote differing points of view. The Ukrainian TV channels are virtually absent from the Belarusian broadcast market.