Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Post-Soviet Societies Remain Divided on Unity

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 19 – Citizens in six post-Soviet states – the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan – remain divided both within and among each other over what kind of supra-national form of political integration, if any, they would be prepared to support.
The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) together with the International Eurasian Monitor Research Agency combined data from polls this spring in the six countries about their attitudes about the CIS, a renewed USSR, and other possibilities (http://wciom.ru/novosti/press-vypushki/press-vypush/single/8378.html/).
According to these polls, support for the Commonwealth of Independent States remained relatively low among all these countries except Kazakhstan, ranging from a low of four percent in Ukraine to a range of nine to 12 percent of the population in Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia.
In Kazakhstan, however, 19 percent preferred membership in the CIS over other possibilities, up from 11 percent a year ago but the same figure that was found in polling conducted on this question two years ago, the VTsIOM analysis pointed out. The five others showed far less variation.
Support for membership in a smaller grouping of four states – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan – was much higher both among the residents of these four and among others. Thirty-three percent of the Ukrainians, 25 percent of the Belarusians, and 18 to 21 percent of the Kazakhs backed this form of integration.
Among the other two, nine percent of the Armenians, but 39 percent of the Kyrgyz said they would like to see such a union and to have their own country a member of it, a position that VTsIOM presents without comment even though it is internally inconsistent.
With regard to the possibility of having their countries subsumed within a revived USSR, 10-13 percent of the respondents in Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan were supportive as were 15-17 percent of those in Russia and Ukraine, and 23 percent among the Kyrgyz polled.
Over the last two years, the share interested in such a solution fell in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, with the decline in Russia – to 10 percent – being the largest. In Ukraine, on the other hand, the percentage of those expressing support for such an arrangement increased over the same period from seven to 12 percent.
The percentages of those who said they would like to live in the European Union were 22-23 percent among Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Armenians, and 11-13 percent among Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. Over the last two years, the percentage in Ukraine favoring this solution fell from 30 percent to 19 percent.
And finally, there were those who said they would prefer to live in their own country without its being a member of any larger community. Forty-one percent of Armenians, 36 percent of Russians, 28 percent of Kazakhs, 21-24 percent of Ukrainians and Belarusians and 14 percent of Kyrgyz backed this idea.
The VTsIOM report commented that “the most ‘open’ for integrative initiatives including on the post-Soviet space are Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. And conversely, ‘isolationist’ tendencies in a greater degree are displayed by the residents of Armenia and Russia.”
As with all polls, one should be careful about making any sweeping judgments. But there is one key conclusion that seems overwhelmingly justified: Nearly 16 years after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the citizens of the successor states are uncertain about what their status should be – self-standing states or members of something larger.
And such uncertainty, which quite strikingly does not seem to be declining as rapidly as many had expected, clearly will represent more than simply background noise as these countries and their populations try to arrange or rearrange their relationships over the next generation or even more.

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