Friday, May 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Majority of Belarusians Oppose Union State with Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 29 – Some 54.8 percent of Belarusians are opposed to having their country become part of a union state with the Russian Federation, according to a new poll which also found that fewer Belarusians back that step than support the possibility that Belarus should eventually become part of the European Union.
Only one Belarusian in five – 20.8 percent – told pollsters from the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Research (BISS) that they favor having their country become part of a union state with Russia, and only one in seven – 14.4 percent – would like to see Belarus absorbed into the Russian Federation (
And while 41.2 percent of the Belarusians sampled said that they opposed having Belarus join the European Union, 33.5 percent said they would like their country to become part of that European institution, 13.1 percent more than favored having Belarus be part of a Eurasian union of any kind with Russia.
The largest share of Belarusians – 74.1 percent or nearly three out of four – said they want their country to be an independent state, a view that only 13.7 percent disagreed with and only 12.2 percent said they were unsure or were unwilling to provide an answer, according to the poll conducted earlier this month.
In reporting the results of this BISS survey, “Solidarnast’” journalist Anastasiya Zelenkova suggests that the number of Belarusians opposed to integrating with the Russian Federation will “become still greater” considering both Moscow’s actions and recent statements by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s “Glavred” newspaper reported that ethnic Ukrainians living in the Russian Federation are facing a rising tide of Ukrainophobia, yet another indication that the ties between the three Slavic republics are becoming increasingly frayed at both the official and unofficial levels (
Valery Semenenko, vice president of the Union of Ukrainians of Russia, said that “if you only focus on your work and don’t discuss political questions with Russians, then you don’t feel negative attitudes toward yourself.” But if a Ukrainian says anything which “does not correspond to the official ideology,” he continued, he or she will feel hostility.
Other ethnic Ukrainians concur with that, and polls conducted by the Levada Center show that 53 percent of Russians have negative feelings toward Ukraine, attitudes that they often express toward individual Ukrainians, especially given the negative feelings about Ukraine that are whipped up by the state controlled media in Russia.
Semen Novoprudsky, the deputy chief editor of Moscow’s “Vremya novostei,” told “Glavred” that “anti-Ukrainian and anti-Georgian rhetoric is almost the main feature of news on Russian television over the last three or four years,” a kind of “propaganda” that has promoted negative attitudes toward members of the two titular ethnic groups as well.
Some Russian sociologists dispute this, arguing that “the majority of Russians clearly distinguish between the Ukrainian authorities and ordinary Ukrainians, but that is not the conclusion the “Glavred” article offers or that most Ukrainians in Ukraine are likely to accept as true.
Instead, the article points out that in Russia today, “five myths” are being propagated by the government and the media about Ukraine, all of which promote Ukrainophobia among ethnic Russians and are thus deeply offensive to Ukrainians whether they live in Ukraine or in the Russian Federation.
First, from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on down, the paper notes, there are regular suggestions that Ukraine is a state “at the margins” of Russia and one whose territory was created by others, specifically by Moscow. Second, Russian media say that if Ukraine joins NATO, that would be an anti-Russian action, something Ukrainian officials dispute.
Third, Russian officials and Russian media continue to deny that the famine in Ukraine was a genocide, even though as Ukrainians continually point out, “the majority of those who died” were Ukrainians. Moreover, Ukrainians suspect that documents may eventually be found proving their contention, just as the secret protocols of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact were found.
Fourth, Moscow in particular and Russians in general insist that Crimea is a Russian land which was “given to Ukraine” and that Russia’s fleet must be allowed to stay there for all time. And fifth, bigoted comments such as “it is better to be raped than Ukrainianized” are increasingly common in the Russian media and don’t reflect the status of Russian in Ukraine.
The Belarusian poll and the Ukrainian article highlight something few in Moscow or elsewhere appear willing to acknowledge: Putin’s increasingly nationalistic comments and actions are having the effect of driving away Russia’s two Slavic neighbors, thus solidifying the basis of the independence that the Russian prime minister appears to find so offensive.
And consequently, just as Stalin is viewed by some as the greatest state builder of Ukraine – the Soviet dictator added more territory to that republic than any Ukrainian leader even though he killed so many of its people – so too Putin may be remembered for destroying any unity of the former Soviet space despite his clear desire to preserve it.

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