Democracy Important to a Majority of Belarusians

by Cynthia English and Neli Esipova

Nearly half say an active political opposition is also important

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Relations between the United States and Belarus have been strained lately, but United States' criticism of Belarus' authoritarian government is nothing new. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has referred to Belarus as the "last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe." A 2007 Gallup Poll reveals that a majority (60%) of Belarusians say that democracy is important for the development of their country.

Belarusians who are 65 and older are the least likely (40%) age group to view democracy as important to the development of their country. This may be because many Belarusian retirees enjoy higher pensions and other benefits that their former compatriots in other former Soviet nations do not have, making the need for democratic changes less evident to older Belarusians. Within this age group, females are much less likely than males to say democracy is important to the development of their country. About a third (32%) of females 65 and older say democracy is important compared with 51% of males 65 and older who share this view.

Among Belarusians who say democracy is important, 25% say they are "somewhat dissatisfied" or "very dissatisfied" with the way democracy works in their country, 39% are "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied," and 31% say they are "somewhat satisfied" or "very satisfied."

Gallup Poll data from 2007 suggests that many Belarusians might welcome international criticism of the country's authoritarian government for the continued jailing of Alexander Kozulin, President Alexander Lukashenko's opponent in the country's last presidential election. Nearly half (47%) of Belarusian respondents say that it is "very important" or "somewhat important" to have an active political opposition there. Only 27% say it is "not too important" or "not important at all" to have an active political opposition, and 26% say they don't know or refused to answer the question.

Business-minded Belarusians are much more likely than those who are not business-minded to say that democracy is important. Nearly three in four respondents (73%) who already own a business and those who have thought about starting a business say that democracy is important for the development of their country. Among those who have never thought about starting a business, 57% say democracy is important for their country. This finding may reflect the difficulties facing many entrepreneurs under Belarus' authoritarian government. According to the World Bank's Doing Business 2008 report, Belarus ranks 110 out of 178 economies for overall "ease of doing business."

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,114 adults in Belarus, aged 15 and older, conducted in July 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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