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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 26, 2004

26 August 2004, Volume 6, Number 30
WHAT DO VODKA AND SEX HAVE TO DO WITH LUKASHENKA'S RULE? The Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) studied some aspects of the everyday family life of Belarusians in a June survey and tried to correlate aspects of their lives to the respondents' political preferences and social status.

In particular, NISEPI asked its respondents about the most important joint activities in their family life and the frequency in which alcoholic beverages are consumed. Some results of this inquiry and derived correlations turned out to be fairly unexpected and even amusing.

In asking what are the most important joint activities in family life, NISEPI offered 12 different answers. The respondents could tick more than one answer. The results were as follows: bringing up children -- 46.3 percent; having breakfast and dinner together -- 40.1 percent; doing housework -- 39.3 percent; visiting relatives and friends -- 30 percent; watching television -- 22 percent; going to the countryside -- 19.4 percent; relaxing at the dacha -- 17.3 percent; going to the movies, theaters, museums, stadiums, exhibitions -- 12.9 percent; going for vacation -- 12.9 percent; having sex -- 11 percent; walking -- 9.3 percent; playing sports -- 5.1 percent.

NISEPI concluded that Belarusians are evidently more devoted to "traditional" family activities (such as bringing up children, eating together, and doing housework) than to "dynamic" and "open" ones (such as resting in the countryside, walking, and playing sports). A deeper analysis allowed NISEPI to deduce that bringing up children in Belarus is the most important family task that does not depend on such factors as the family's income, social status, and political views.

Leaning on these findings, NISEPI made the conclusion that for Belarusians "stability" is more important than "dynamics," not only in their family lives but also on a nationwide scale. To support this argument, NISEPI pointed out that despite the fact that some 70 percent of Belarusians traveled abroad in the past 10 years and more than 40 percent of Belarusians want to emigrate, official statistical data show that in Belarus's 13 years of independence more Belarusians came to live in Belarus than left the country. NISEPI also speculated that this "social immobility" of Belarusians may account for their reluctance to actively support democratic forces advocating changes in the country. Despite the fact that more than two-thirds of respondents in NISEPI polls declared their will to support parliamentary candidates who stand for change, opposition rallies in the past several years have gathered no more than 2,000-3,000 people.

According to NISEPI, the penchant Belarusians have for stability in society and patriarchal traditionalism in family life is also reflected in the fact that they prefer doing housework almost four times as much as having sex. Since the birthrate in Belarus is not falling faster than in other European countries, the pollster explains this baffling finding by suggesting that either Belarusians are more prone to having extramarital sex, categorize "sex" as "housework," or are too shy to speak about sex in public, even anonymously.

NISEPI's question: "How often do you consume alcoholic beverages?" was answered in the following way: every day -- 0.7 percent; several times per week -- 10.1 percent; several times per month -- 34.8 percent; several times per year -- 37.2; I don't use at all -- 15.8 percent. Adding the first three answers, NISEPI concluded that 45.6 percent of Belarusians drink alcohol "quite regularly."

NISEPI delved even deeper into the problem of alcohol and sex in Belarus and made a "social portrait" of those who drink alcohol more often than others (45.6 percent of Belarusians) and think that having sex is an important joint activity of the family (11 percent of Belarusians). It turned out that these two groups ("drinkers" and "sex-enthusiasts") are generally more dynamic, forward-looking, educated, economically active, critical of the authorities, as well as supportive of democracy, a market economy, and European integration than Belarusians who do not drink at all or drink a little and do not consider having sex an important family activity ("abstainers" and "sex-ignorers").

In particular, NISEPI found that in 2001 Lukashenka's presidential bid was supported by 48.2 percent of "sex-ignorers" and 48.5 percent of "abstainers," while his backing among "sex-enthusiasts" and "drinkers" was 20.9 percent and 37.4 percent, respectively. What is more, Lukashenka's initiative to prolong his presidential powers for a third term is supported by 37.2 percent of "sex-ignorers" and 37.8 percent of "abstainers," while "sex-enthusiasts" and "drinkers" are evidently less excited about the idea and declare support of 19.5 percent and 28.9 percent, respectively.

It is also enlightening to know that a majority of "abstainers" and "sex-ignorers" among Belarusians (50.2 percent and 48.8 percent, respectively) support Belarus's merger with Russia, while "drinkers" and "sex-enthusiasts" are primarily for joining the EU (56.2 percent and 42.9 percent respectively).

According to some sociologists and family-planners, having sex and drinking alcohol (in reasonable amounts) are factors that promote procreation. Therefore, it is not ruled out that "drinkers" and "sex-enthusiasts" may in the future prevail genetically and demographically in Belarus and -- as a democracy-oriented segment of society -- eventually relieve the nation from the authoritarian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who now seems to rely on support from primarily abstemious and sexually restrained voters. (Jan Maksymiuk)

KUCHMA LEAVES HIS POLITICAL BEQUEST. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma delivered an important speech at a gala meeting in Kyiv on 23 August, the eve of the 13th anniversary of Ukraine's independence.

Taking into account that Ukraine is expected to see a new president in the next three months, this was probably the last major occasion for the incumbent to sum up the decade of his rule. Kuchma took full advantage of this opportunity to highlight what he considers to be the most important achievements of his two-term presidency. Simultaneously, he made a sort of political bequest, speculating on how "Ukraine without Kuchma" should develop over the next 10 years.

Kuchma stressed at the beginning of his speech that after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine's historic challenge was the "most unique" among all post-Soviet and Eastern European countries. According to him, Ukraine's transformation in the early years of independence resembled a "wandering in the wilderness." Consequently, Kuchma credited himself with setting the determined course -- after his first election in 1994 -- to build Ukrainian statehood, introduce a market economy, form a democratic civil society, and make the Ukrainians a "self-contained political nation."

Kuchma noted that Ukraine will need a "few decades more" to reach these four ambitious goals. Therefore, he called on his successor to continue the same political course. "The length of the process of Ukraine's transformation objectively requires that we ensure continuity in the political course," Kuchma said. "The next decade must be -- and I am convinced that it will be -- a continuation and not a change, not a rejection of the decade that is ending. I repeat, not a rejection and not a change, but a continuation."

It is no secret that Kuchma sees such a continuation in a Viktor Yanukovych presidency, rather than in that of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko or any other hopeful challenging Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential bid. Indeed, Kuchma denigrated the Ukrainian opposition in his speech as "political pygmies," jeering that it is striving to come to power under the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" slogan, which was adopted by the opposition for a string of anti-Kuchma rallies in 2000-02. "They expose themselves to ridicule, as a minimum because the incumbent president is not participating in the elections," Kuchma said. "But I can assure all of my compatriots on one point -- there will never be Kuchma without Ukraine."

As on many earlier occasions, Kuchma credited himself with laying the basis for Ukraine's European integration. "Europeization has already become a national idea [in Ukraine]," he emphasized. He upbraided the EU for proposing the European Neighborhood Policy rather than associate membership for Ukraine. "The status of a geographical neighbor of unified Europe -- which is persistently proposed to us by some Europeans -- contradicts our interests," Kuchma said. "I am deeply convinced that the development of our relations under the principles of association [with the EU] will meet both Ukrainian and EU interests."

In this European context, Kuchma defended his policy of developing a strategic partnership with Russia. "The stable relations with our strategic partner Russia -- which are built on friendly, partner-like principles -- are not a minus in our relations with Europe, as we are reproached by our opposition from the right wing; but a big plus, and its real meaning, I am convinced, will soon be realized by politicians not only in Kyiv, but also in Brussels and Washington," Kuchma said.

Traditionally, Kuchma has praised his government for achieving and maintaining impressive economic growth. Kuchma said the country's GDP increased by 13.5 percent in the first seven months of 2004 compared with the same period in 2003, which entailed a 15 percent increase in the real incomes of the population. According to Kuchma, the average monthly wage in Ukraine stands at 600 hryvnyas ($113) versus 181 hryvnyas in 2000, while the average monthly pension is equal to 220 hryvnyas (66 hryvnyas in 2000).

Many, if not all, of Kuchma's self-gratulatory assertions in his 23 August address have been or are being questioned by the Ukrainian opposition and independent Ukrainian observers as well as ordinary Ukrainians.

As regards the country's economic boom, it is necessary to mention the opinion of Yushchenko, former prime minister and head of the National Bank. According to Yushchenko, the 13.5 percent growth in 2004 has not translated into rising living standards in Ukraine -- during the first seven months budget revenues rose only by 1.8 percent. Yushchenko admits that Ukrainians are experiencing some improvement in their financial situation but adds that this has been achieved primarily due to the 2003 budget's "hidden revenues" that are now being spent by the government as a "bribe" to voters for their support for Yanukovych's presidential bid.

Yushchenko also questions Kuchma's claim that Ukraine has already laid a basis for a viable democratic system. "The choice facing voters this fall is very clear," Yushchenko wrote in an international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" on 24 August. "On the one hand, my vision for Ukraine proposes a system founded on democratic European values, which will enable each citizen to realize their socioeconomic potential in a country governed by the rule of law. On the other hand, those from the ruling regime propose preserving the current autocracy, which rules over competing financial-industrial groups. Their corrupt government bureaucrats implement unpopular policies with no respect for individual liberties and basic human rights."

Moreover, a recent poll by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies found that nearly half of Ukrainians -- 48.7 percent -- believe that their country is not independent, while only 38.1 percent think it is. Further casting doubts on Kuchma's picture of Ukraine under his rule, 50 percent of respondents said the country's level of economic development has declined since 1991. An even larger number of respondents, 61.5 percent, claimed that living standards in Ukraine have worsened during the 13 years of independence.

In other words, a majority of Ukrainians may not desire the political continuity Kuchma spoke of in his Independence Day speech. But it is anybody's guess as to whether they will identify Yanukovych as an agent of such continuity and Yushchenko as a new, better start for Ukraine on 31 October when they go to the polls. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"In my original profession [as manager of a rocket-building plant], I used to launch the most sophisticated products of human genius into outer space. But it [also] has fallen to my lot to feel the greatest happiness that can be bestowed upon a man -- to launch my native country into a circumterrestrial orbit of modern civilization when, following a call of history, the imperishable genes of great and proud ancestors resounded suddenly in the Russified heart of the son of a soldier from the Chernihiv region. Even today I am not indifferent to how the decade of my presidency will be recorded in history." -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in a speech in Kyiv on 23 August to mark the 13th anniversary of Ukraine's independence; quoted by Kuchma's official website (

"We have raised our state from ruins, we have raised our people from their knees. It was a back-breaking task, but it has elevated us, the first Ukrainian state-builders." -- Kuchma, ibid.