Attitudes towards democracy and the market in Belarus: what has
changed and why it matters
Félix Krawatzek and Julia Langbein
Centre for East European and International Studies, Berlin, Germany
For more than two decades a key pillar of regime stability in Belarus was
legitimation through economic stability and security, prompting experts
to speak of a “social contract” between the state and its citizens. The 2020
protests, however, convey signicant dissatisfaction with the Lukashenka
regime across a broad social and generational base. By comparing survey
data from late 2020 with data from 2011 and 2018, we examine changing
attitudes towards democracy and state involvement in economic aairs.
We nd a departure from paternalist values, implying an erosion of the
value base for the previous social contract. Belarusian society has become
more supportive of liberal political and economic values. This trend is
particularly driven by the older generation and does not exclude
Lukashenka’s support base. Meanwhile, attitudes towards democracy
and the market have implications for people’s social and institutional
trust, preference for democracy, and political participation.
Received 20 August 2021
Accepted 20 December 2021
Belarus; political and
institutional trust; attitudes
Students of authoritarianism used to explain the long-lasting stability of the autocratic Belarusian
regime under Alyaksandr Lukashenka not only with reference to the excessive use of repression
against political opponents. The stability of the Lukashenka regime was also said to rely on the
legitimation derived from maintaining a Soviet-style welfare state (Way 2005; Cook 2007; Fritz 2007;
Haiduk, Rakova, and Silitski 2009; Clem 2011; Balmaceda 2014; Yarashevich 2014; Pikulik 2019;
Dimitrova et al. 2020). This led Belarusian experts to speak of a “social contract” that seemed to
create a broadly shared public consent that the lack of political participation is rewarded with
economic stability and security. Paternalist values favoring strong state intervention in the economy
and social welfare were said to form the value base for the social contract with the state (Haiduk,
Rakova, and Silitski 2009; Merzlou 2019; Shelest 2020).
While recent studies pointed toward an
erosion of that “social contract” as a result of deteriorating socio-economic conditions in Belarus over
the past decade (Wilson 2016; Douglas 2020), we know little about the change in political and
economic attitudes underpinning this development.
Against this backdrop, this paper addresses three questions: How have attitudes towards
political participation and state intervention in economic and social aairs changed in Belarus
over the past decade? Which parts of the population are the driving force behind change and/or
continuity? How do political and economic attitudes relate to political participation as well as
interpersonal and institutional trust? The rst two questions help us to better understand the
erosion of the previous social contract between state and citizens in Belarus, while the last
CONTACT Félix Krawatzek firstname.lastname@example.org Centre for East European and International Studies,
Mohrenstraße 60, 10117 Berlin, Germany
2022, VOL. 38, NOS. 1–2, 107–124
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://
creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
question sheds light on the implications of our ndings for Belarus’s regime trajectory and the
strategic options Lukashenka or a potential autocratic successor will have to generate stability with
other means than repression.
Considering the closed nature of Belarus’s authoritarianism – as marked by the absence of free
and fair elections, a lack of horizontal accountability and political rights, combined with an all-
dominating role of the ruling elite in the economic sphere and the control of mass media (Ademmer,
Langbein, and Börzel 2019; Levitsky and Way 2010) as well as in the sphere of education (Manaev,
Manayeva, and Yuran 2011)
– we would not expect an increase in liberal attitudes in Belarus, neither
in the political nor economic sphere. That is because autocracies are expected to undermine
democracy-supporting attitudes and to foster autocracy-supporting ones (Rohrschneider 1999;
Neundorf 2010). Further, it is often assumed that individuals adopt pro-democratic attitudes through
mass media, public discourses, and/or the educational system (Bermeo 1992; Mishler and Rose 2002).
As these spheres are controlled by the ruling elites in autocratic Belarus, this mechanism can hardly
be at work. Rather, economic performance and the communist legacy seem to contribute to an
approval of the autocratic regime (Klymenko and Gherghina 2012). Moreover, a departure from
paternalist values – marked by support for a strong role of the state in the economy and social
aairs – is highly unlikely, as paternalism is deeply rooted in Belarusian society, inherited from the
USSR period (Merzlou 2019).
Therefore, it is puzzling that our analysis, based on a comparison of survey data generated in
2011, 2018, and late 2020 among Belarusians aged 18 to 64, reveals a shift in attitudes towards
democracy and state intervention in social and economic aairs. Rather than revealing widespread
paternalism, our ndings show that Belarusians have become more liberal, both in political and
economic terms: people are now more inclined to associate a democratic form of government with
liberal rather than authoritarian traits than roughly a decade ago. Moreover, we nd that people's
attitudes towards state intervention in issues of social security and equality have changed in the time
period under scrutiny. While Belarusians continue to be market-friendly, fewer Belarusians associate
a democratic form of government with redistributive policies than in the past, in particular since
2018. In a similar vein, support for stronger state intervention in the well-being of citizens has been
A second puzzling nding of our analysis relates to the intergenerational dierences in atti-
tudes towards democracy and state intervention in social and economic aairs that we can
identify. Students of democratization often explain political liberalization with reference to under-
lying shifts in values, brought about – among other things – by education (Inglehart and Welzel
2005). In the context of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, for example, some scholars noted a deep
transformation of values and explained these developments with reference to the emergence of
a new generation of young Ukrainians who travel abroad, study at American or European
universities, and are exposed to Western media (Diuk 2006). Along similar lines, more recent
studies on intergenerational dierences in the post-Soviet context claimed that younger age
groups, who have not lived through Communist rule, are more inclined to democracy than
older age groups (Diuk 2012; Turkina and Surzhko-Harned 2014; Tucker and Pop-Eleches 2017,
134; Klicperova-Baker and Kostal 2018, 42).
Younger age cohorts also reveal stronger preferences
for self-enhancement and competitiveness regardless of the context, group status, and ethnic
dierences (Bushina and Ryabichenko 2018). Further, younger generations are more skeptical
towards stronger state control over the economy and favor economic deregulation and competi-
tion. They also dislike redistributive policies (Turkina and Surzhko-Harned 2014). Along similar
lines, Tucker and Pop-Eleches (2017) nd that older age groups, who have lived longer under
Communism, are likely to support state control of the economy (182) and to favor state-provided
social welfare (189).
The extent to which our data speaks to a dierent story is therefore surprising: in 2020, a liberal
understanding of democracy as well as support for competition, private ownership, and individual
responsibility increases with age. While a liberal understanding of democracy already prevailed among
108 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
older age cohorts in 2011 (albeit at a lower level), opposition to state intervention in market dynamics
and social issues has tended to increase with age over the past decade. In fact, people whose birth
and adolescence coincided with Alyaksandr Lukashenka taking oce in 1994 are far more likely to
have an authoritarian understanding of democracy in 2020 than older generations. They are also more
likely to favor a stronger state intervention in the economy. These ndings suggest that the older
generation in Belarus no longer seems to believe that the state can deliver on its past promises and is
the key driving force behind growing societal preferences for political and economic liberalism.
To gain a better understanding of the implications of these ndings for Belarus’s future political
trajectory, we analyze how growing support for political and economic liberalization relates to actual
support for democracy, institutional and interpersonal trust, and people's voting behavior. We
examine actual support for democracy, because strong support for democracy can play into the
hands of authoritarian regimes if people associate a democratic form of government with author-
itarian components, such as a powerful army (Kirsch and Welzel 2019). We examine the link between
institutional and interpersonal trust and attitudes towards democracy and the market, because in an
authoritarian context strong institutional trust and weak interpersonal trust can undermine oppor-
tunities for democratic and economic development (Almond and Verba 1963; Putnam 1993). Finally,
we analyze the link between voting behavior and attitudes toward democracy and the state’s role in
the economy to reveal whether the growing political and economic liberalizations only extend to
regime opponents or also include Lukashenka’s support base.
From the perspective of regime change (even if highly unlikely in the current situation), it is
important to underline that Belarusians who support democracy tend to associate a democratic form
of government with liberal rather than authoritarian components. Further, the quest for more
political and economic liberalism goes hand in hand with lower trust in state institutions and is
not limited to regime opponents. A signicant obstacle to any further horizontal collaboration is that
people who share liberal attitudes, in both political and economic terms, do not display higher levels
of interpersonal trust.
An important caveat remains, however. Lukashenka’s support base is often said to consist of blue-
collar workers, the elderly, and more religious people. The most recent 2020 data do not include
respondents older than 64, and we therefore restricted our analysis accordingly. The reduced
demands for stronger state involvement among the older age group in our sample, should, however,
warn us against drawing simplistic conclusions about the support of elderly voters for the system in
place. The disregard for the pandemic throughout 2020, but also the violence that grandchildren had
to endure during the protests after the August election, may have severely shaken these people’s
condence in the regime.
Data and research design
For the analysis, we combined three data sets, namely, the World Values Survey (WVS) 2011, the
European Values Survey (EVS) 2018, and a survey conducted by the Centre for East European and
International Studies (ZOiS) in December 2020.
The WVS and EVS were conducted face-to-face; for
security reasons and given the restrictions related to the pandemic in 2020, our ZOiS survey was
conducted online. A total of 1,535 people responded to the WVS; 1,548 to the EVS; and 2,002 people
to the ZOiS survey. The age range included in the three samples diered, with WVS and EVS covering
a spectrum ranging from 18 to 80+, whereas the ZOiS survey could only reliably reach out to the
population aged 16 to 64.
Taking into account these dierences in the sample composition, we singled out respondents
aged 18 to 64 for our key analysis, as this was the overlapping group in terms of age. The samples
also dier in terms of the settlement size in which respondents lived. WVS and EVS included
respondents living in settlements with less than 20,000 inhabitants, who could, however, not be
reached in a systematic way via an online survey. In total, this left us with 3,664 respondents of the
same age and living in the same settlement size across the three surveys. We included the WVS and
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 109
EVS respondents who did not overlap with the ZOiS survey as separate groups to understand
whether these types of respondents diered in their political and social attitudes, and they are
included in the full models (see the online appendix).
It is beyond doubt that survey data generated face-to-face and data generated through an online
sample are inherently dierent. However, in an authoritarian context with very active repression
measures, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that a face-to-face survey will yield more reliable
results. On the contrary, biases induced by the enumerator might be even higher in a situation where
respondents feel that they might be monitored and there could be real-world implications for stating
political and social preferences. The online survey, however, ensured the anonymity of respondents
and the administrators of the ZOiS survey were able to verify in several other, notably open-ended
questions, that respondents took the survey to heart. The time spent on responding – on average
34 minutes – also indicates that respondents did not rush through it. Moreover, in the analysis we
always performed a robustness check separating the individual years in the models; for readability,
we aggregated the results in the presentation.
Dependent variable: views on democracy and the market
All three datasets included an identical set of questions on attitudes towards the market and political
questions that required respondents to rank the importance of several items. These questions were
at the center of our rst analysis. We transformed 12 out of the total of 13 questions into ve indices
representing attitudes towards social and political questions.
One set of questions allowed us to understand what people consider to be “the essential
characteristics of democracy” on a scale from 1 to 10 (Table 1). We divided these items into three
dimensions: one centered on aspects linked to a liberal understanding of democracy; one that
illustrates authoritarian traits; and one that emphasizes redistributive aspects. We presume that
people share a liberal understanding of democracy if they emphasize free elections and the protec-
tion of political and civil liberties, whereas an authoritarian notion of democracy is shared by people
who consider the dening feature of democracy to be the extra political powers enjoyed by religious
authorities or the military (Welzel 2011; Kirsch and Welzel 2019). An egalitarian notion of democracy
considers socio-economic inequalities as a major impediment to the actual exercising of political
rights and civil liberties (Coppedge et al. 2011, 2015). Redistributive policies are therefore a dening
feature of the egalitarian notion of democracy (Welzel 2011).
A further set of questions revolved around economic aspects and asked respondents to state their
preferences regarding how the relationship between the state and the economy should be orga-
nized (Table 2). For these fourth and fth indices, we included all four questions that were asked
across all three surveys to measure commitments to state involvement in market dynamics and
social issues, with the latter centering notably on questions of redistribution. On one end of the
continuum is a strong preference for redistribution undertaken through the government, as
Table 1. Elements for the question: “We would now like to know what you consider being the essential characteristics of
democracy. Use this scale where 1 means ‘not at all an essential characteristic of democracy’ and 10 means ‘an essential
characteristic of democracy.’”
Question Not essential Essential Index
People choose their leaders in free elections 1 10 Liberal
Civil rights protect people from state oppression 1 10 Liberal
Women have the same rights as men 1 10 Liberal
Religious authorities ultimately interpret laws 1 10 Authoritarian
The army takes over when government is incompetent 1 10 Authoritarian
Governments tax the rich and subsidize the poor 1 10 Egalitarian
People receive state aid for unemployment 1 10 Egalitarian
The state makes people’s incomes equal 1 10 Egalitarian
110 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
indicated by support for income equality and government responsibility for everyone’s basic needs.
Questions of state-market relations are captured by respondents’ preference for government or
private ownership of rms and preference (or not) for competition.
All questions required respondents to rank their preference on a ten-point scale and we con-
structed ve indices based on the responses. More precisely, we aggregated these raw scores taking
into account the number of valid responses given, so that, for instance, a respondent who assigned
10 points to two of the three items in the liberal index questions received the full score of 30 on that
index. This was done in order to avoid a situation, for instance, where a respondent who only
provided one 10-point answer on one of the three variables of the liberal index would receive 10
points, thus placing that person in the lower range.
In terms of the outcome variables, we were interested in two blocks. A rst one revolves around
institutional and interpersonal trust. Here, we were interested in understanding how a particular
understanding of democracy and preferences for the organization of the relationship between the
state and the market relate to the trust people have in other citizens and in the country’s institutions.
Do liberal understandings of democracy correlate with higher interpersonal and institutional trust
and authoritarian understandings with lower interpersonal and institutional trust? Interpersonal
trust was operationalized by eliciting responses to a question that asked whether people who one
meets for the rst time can be trusted.
To measure institutional trust, we aggregated several trust
questions relating to various political and security institutions, notably the parliament, the judiciary,
the president, the police, the secret service, and the armed forces. Since we were not interested in
specic institutions in this analysis, we aggregated the responses into an overall trust ranking for
A separate analysis was done on the extent to which people trust the church and
the media. The church has time and again, in particular at the local level, acted in more independent
and critical ways, and some of the media remained beyond the tight control of the state during the
time of analysis and therefore deserve to be analyzed in their own right.
Another set of variables revolves around political behavior and attitudes. We were particularly
interested in how important respondents considered a democratic form of government to be. The
2020 ZOiS survey asked respondents the following question: “People often compare democratic and
non-democratic regimes. Which of the following statements do you agree with the most? Please select
only ONE most suitable option.” People had a choice between the following three responses:
“Democracy is preferable to any other kind of government”; “Under some circumstances, an author-
itarian government can be preferable to a democratic one”; “For people like me, it doesn’t matter
whether we have a democratic or non-democratic regime.” We transformed these responses into
a numerical scale with three values reecting the importance attributed to democracy. In the WVS and
EVS surveys, respondents had to rank the importance of democracy on a scale from 1 to 10, which we
also transformed into a numerical scale with three items.
Given the dierent wording of the question,
a direct analysis was not undertaken and the models were computed separately for each year.
Table 2. Elements for questions involving the level of state involvement in market dynamics and social issues.
Statement Scale Statement Index
We need larger income diﬀerences as incentives
for individual eﬀort
1 10 Incomes should be made more equal Redistribution
People should take more responsibility to
provide for themselves
1 10 Government should take responsibility that
everyone is provided for
Private ownership of business and enterprises
should be increased
1 10 Government ownership of business and
enterprises should be increased
(in the market)
Competition is good. It stimulates people to
work hard and develop new ideas
1 10 Competition is harmful. It brings out the
worst of people
(in the market)
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 111
Lastly, we were interested in understanding how respondents participated in elections and
whether they participated in protests. The EVS and WVS surveys only asked about electoral partici-
pation, not about candidate choice. The latter did, however, feature in the ZOiS survey and was used
for the analysis. Since the question about protest participation was not asked in the 2011 survey, we
restricted our analysis to the two most recent survey years. In all cases we were primarily interested in
determining whether a particular type of political behavior and attitudes was linked to a liberal or
authoritarian understanding of democracy or dierent understandings of the relationship between
the state and the market.
In our rst analysis we are interested in nding out who shares certain attitudes towards democracy
and state intervention in market aairs and social issues in Belarus. Existing research on attitudes
towards democracy and the market suggests a number of critical individual-level factors that are
treated here as independent variables to reveal whether any of them displays a statistical signi-
cance that warrants more in-depth analysis.
These variables are as follows:
Education: We recoded the various questions asked about educational achievement into a three-scale variable,
where 1 is the lowest possible value, referring to primary school education, and 3 the highest, referring to
Wealth: The ZOiS survey used a standard income aordability scale asking what respondents can easily acquire,
whereas the WVS and EVS surveys asked about the self-perceived nancial positioning of the household. We
transformed all the data into a three-step scale with low, medium, and high income.
Employment type: A range of questions on employment type was recoded into four categories in order to
capture people who were employed (full-time or part-time), unemployed, students, or retired (and others).
Religion: In the case of Belarus, it was important to distinguish between those who declare themselves to be
Orthodox, those who are part of the Protestant or Roman Catholic churches, and those who do not practice any
religion. We recoded the responses into these response categories and included the categorical variable in the
Age was included as a continuous variable in the analysis.
Gender was included as a dummy variable, with 1 for male respondents.
Population strata were recoded on a four-point scale, with thresholds at: less than 20,000 inhabitants; between
20,000 and 99,999; between 100,000 and 499,999; and more than 500,000. Respondents in rural areas with less
than 20,000 inhabitants are part of the 2011 and 2018 surveys and included in the full regression models (see
While most of these variables are linked to socio-economic status, religion underpins the ideological
predisposition of respondents.
In our second analysis we consider how the growing liberal understanding of democracy and
increasing market-friendliness among Belarusians relate to trust, actual support for democracy, and
political behavior, in order to better understand the implications of changing or persisting attitudes
towards democracy and the market for Belarus’s potential political trajectory.
In authoritarian settings, trust values tell us much more about underlying political and social
preferences than electoral votes. Previous surveys among Belarusians revealed stagnating or even
declining trust in state institutions over the last few years (Bertelsmann Stiftung 2018; Krawatzek
2019), indicating the malfunctioning of the old social contract. At the same time, authoritarian
regimes are also marked by low levels of interpersonal trust, which, among other obstacles, hinders
horizontal cooperation. Against this background, we would expect those with more liberal political
and economic attitudes to display lower levels of trust in state institutions and higher levels of
interpersonal trust. Further, we consider attitudes towards the importance of democracy. From the
112 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
perspective of political regime change, widely shared liberal notions of democracy can undermine
the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, if a liberal understanding goes hand in hand with wide-
spread support for democracy. Conversely, an authoritarian understanding of democracy plays into
the hands of an authoritarian regime if citizens articulate strong support for democracy (Kirsch and
Welzel 2019). To understand which dynamic is at play in Belarus, we analyze how support for
democracy is linked to a particular understanding of democracy. Finally, we want to understand
how attitudes towards democracy and the market relate to participation in national elections.
Analysis and interpretation
Political and economic liberalization
The ve indices at the heart of the analysis already reveal some important insights into how
Belarusians understand democracy and their economic preferences over time (Figure 1). The density
plots below convey the prominence of each value on the respective index.
The majority of Belarusians associates a democratic form of government with liberal rather than
authoritarian components in the time period under scrutiny (2011–2020). On average, support for
liberal components has been increasing across the three surveys, indicating that a growing number
of respondents believe that democracy enables their political participation in free elections, equality
of men and women, and the existence of civil rights. On the other hand, for a few Belarusians,
authoritarian traits are central to their understanding of democracy in the time period under scrutiny.
Associations with illiberal components, such as the rule of the military or religious leaders, were on
average markedly lower in 2020 than in previous years, and were highest in 2011, when a still
sizeable share of respondents scored a value of 10 on that index.
Figure 1. The ﬁve indices measuring views on democracy and the market in Belarus.
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 113
Support for egalitarian notions of democracy declined considerably from 2018 to 2020, with fewer
and fewer Belarusians associating a democratic political system with redistributive policies. This
association of democracy with egalitarian components is also very dispersed across respondents,
notably in 2020.
Lastly, in the period from 2011 to 2020 the population’s economic preferences have generally
moved away from wanting the state to be heavily involved in either the market or questions of
redistribution. Whereas state involvement in redistribution was seen as desirable by a large share of
the respondents in 2011, indicated by the right tail of the distribution, this value had already moved
in 2018 and was at its lowest in 2020. When it comes to views on the desirability of state involvement
in the market, we identied only a slight change from 2011 through to 2020, but overall responses
have become more dispersed over time.
These results reveal a partial liberalization of Belarusian society over the last 10 years, more in
political but also in economic terms: despite the authoritarian nature of the ruling regime, the
majority of Belarusians has developed a stronger liberal understanding of democracy over the past
decade. This is insofar surprising, as people living in authoritarian regimes tend to share an
ambiguous understanding of democracy in the sense that authoritarian notions of democracy mix
with or even overshadow liberal notions (Kirsch and Welzel 2019, 60). When it comes to their
economic preferences, Belarusians are on average slightly more market-friendly today than they
were in 2011. They are signicantly less supportive of state intervention in social issues than 10 years
ago. Put dierently, an increasing number of Belarusians does not think that state intervention in
social and economic aairs is the most ecient mechanism to provide public goods.
The 2020 ZOiS
survey shows that 52% of the respondents back greater individual responsibility in general, while
46% tend to dislike state intervention to ensure income inequality. This is an intriguing nding since
Belarusian society is traditionally known for its paternalism based on the notion of a strong state
presence in the economy and in regulating the well-being of citizens (Haiduk, Rakova, and Silitski
2009; Merzlou 2019; Shelest 2020).
The indices themselves are internally consistent over time. The three variables in the liberal
index correlate highly with one another (the rst three variables in the correlation plot), as do the
two statements included in the authoritarian traits of democracy index (Figure 2). The egalitarian
aspects correlate positively with many aspects, and most importantly, the liberal components of
democracy correlate positively with state aid for the unemployed. Lastly, the views on economic
preferences for state involvement in the market and redistribution correlate strongly with one
The correlations across the ve indices conrm that these indices distinguish dierent dimensions
across the political, economic, and social spectrum. The liberal score correlates negatively with the
authoritarian score; the view that redistribution is central for democracy relates positively to liberal
and authoritarian understandings of democracy; and the scores for economic preferences regarding
distribution show no correlation with understandings of democracy. A preference for more state
involvement in the market relates positively with an understanding of democracy that emphasizes
Who shares liberal attitudes?
Our rst analysis identies the kind of respondents that linked with the dierent indices we derived.
For that purpose, we took the aggregated scores on the respective indices and performed ve
Poisson regressions to account for the fact that the dependent variable is a count variable (Figure 3).
We undertook the regressions separately for each year as well as on the aggregate level, when we
added the year in which the survey was conducted as a variable. See the online appendix for full
details of the regressions.
114 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
Our multivariate analysis reveals that the age of respondents has the strongest eect on people's
attitudes towards democracy and state intervention in the economy. Strikingly, however, particularly
in a comparison of the results for 2020 and 2011, this eect is not in the direction the literature on
intergenerational dierences in post-Soviet societies would lead us to expect: older people associate
more liberal and egalitarian components with democracy in 2020, while young people mentioned
authoritarian elements in 2011 and 2020. The shift in economic preferences by age is also conrmed
by the analysis, with older people preferring more state involvement in 2011 and younger ones in
2020. For 2018, only a preference for state economic involvement sets young people apart. We will
zoom in on these counterintuitive results further below.
The relevance of gender is surprisingly low, although women are slightly more likely to demand
state involvement in the market in 2011 and 2018. Religious aliation is, however, an important
factor behind these views on democracy and the market. Particularly in 2020, those respondents
self-identifying as Orthodox stand out, with much higher values on the authoritarian index as well
as a stronger preference for economic redistribution compared to non-believers. The dierence
with Protestants or Catholics is not statistically signicant. When it comes to views on the political
component of democracy and economics, the picture is less clear-cut than in previous years.
Education is highly relevant, notably in 2020, with better educated individuals mentioning liberal
elements more frequently and being less likely to associate the rule of religious leaders or the army
with democracy. Lastly, a lower level of education correlates with a higher preference for state
Figure 2. Correlation plot for individual variables across the ﬁve indices for the three survey years.
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 115
involvement in market dynamics in 2018 and 2020. The nancial situation does not play
a signicant role in 2020, whereas in previous years better-o individuals tended to be more
We will now take a closer look at the link between age and attitudes towards democracy and the
market, so as to better understand the dynamics at work here. Since younger generations are likely
to experience dierent existential conditions from the ones that shaped older generations
(Abramson and Inglehart 1992; Schwartz 2006), we would expect to see dierences in the value
preferences of older and younger generations. Factors such as physical aging and the growing
importance of family and children among older age groups are assumed to increase preferences for
(economic) security and stability (Schwartz 2006).
In line with this assessment, scholarship on intergenerational relations in the post-Soviet context has
identied profound generational splits in political and social views. In her comparative study on youth-
led protest movements in Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan, Diuk (2012) portrayed the younger genera-
tion as a voice demanding political change. In contrast, older generations seem to be inclined to
authoritarianism and have a low estimation of democracy (Klicperova-Baker and Kostal 2018, 42; Turkina
and Surzhko-Harned 2014). Previous studies on intergenerational dierences in the post-Soviet context
also revealed stronger preferences for self-enhancement and competitiveness among younger genera-
tions (Bushina and Ryabichenko 2018) as well as for market-friendly policies and limited state interven-
tion in social aairs (Turkina and Surzhko-Harned 2014). In Belarus, fears about a subversive potential of
young people led the regime to integrate the young generation into state-controlled youth movements
since the early 2000s, way before similar developments began in Russia (Hall 2017; Silvan 2020).
Against this background, the picture that emerges here is notable in several respects (Figure 4).
When it comes to a liberal understanding of democracy (“Democracy Liberal” score), the newest data
from 2020 reveal a remarkable dierence between young and old: younger people are signicantly
Figure 3. Results of Poisson regression on aggregate index scores.
116 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
less likely to state that liberal components are essential characteristics of democracy, whereas older
people (40+) tend to associate liberal aspects (free elections, political and civil rights) with democ-
racy at much higher rate. Dierences in age were of little importance in 2018 and – to a lesser
extent – in 2011, but they are a driving factor in the current situation.
In terms of an authoritarian understanding of democracy (“Democracy Authoritarian” score), the
age of respondents was not a signicant factor in 2011. However, in 2018, younger respondents,
aged 18 to 30, and those older than 50, were less likely to mention authoritarian components than
middle-aged people; and in 2020, younger respondents aged 18 to 35 were more likely to state that
the army and religious leaders are essential for democracy. This is a remarkable nding, which may
be explained by the impact of a streamlined educational system and the early introduction of social
structures such as the state-sponsored Republican Union of Youth (BRSM) – with ocial membership
numbers somewhere above 500,000 (Silvan 2020, 1323) – despite its failure to enable the genuine
career advancement of young people.
The understanding of democracy in egalitarian terms – e.g. equality and social justice
(“Democracy Egalitarian” score) – has also shifted signicantly over time. In 2020, middle-aged
respondents, between 35 and 60 in particular, were likely to link democracy with social aspects,
and the overall 2020 value was way lower than in 2018, when a pronounced dierence between age
groups could also be identied, with higher support among respondents older than 50 years.
Compared to 2011, the preference for strong state intervention in economic redistribution
(“Economy Redistribution” score) has dropped markedly. The dierence by age is, however, relatively
minor. Whereas people older than 45 years tended to prefer redistribution back in 2011, this is no longer
the case. Now, in 2020, it is young people who have a slightly higher preference for redistribution.
There is a noteworthy development when it comes to the age distribution, with respondents
younger than 40 being more pronounced in their preference for state involvement in market aairs
(“Economy State Involvement” score) in 2020, unlike previous years when that tended to be
Figure 4. Response variation by age on the ﬁve indices measuring views on democracy and the market in Belarus.
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 117
the stance of older people. The observed shift in economic attitudes across generations could be the
result of the direct experience of a dysfunctional state-led economic and social welfare system on the
part of the older age cohort. This might have led to a certain disillusionment among that age cohort,
which might have impacted less on young people.
Summing up, as indicated by the most recent ZOiS survey, the political and economic liberal-
ization of Belarusian society seems to be driven in a substantive way by the older rather than the
younger generation, questioning conventional wisdoms about younger age groups as potential
drivers of political change. This analysis considered in particular the eect of age at every moment in
time – for an analysis of the dierent cohorts behind these age groups, the online appendix provides
further analysis and context.
Trust, political behavior, and attitudes in relation to understandings of democracy and the
To assess the relationship between trust and attitudes towards democracy and the market, we used
a proportional odds model with a dependent variable consisting of four categories for institutional
trust, and a binary logistic regression for interpersonal trust, with a dependent variable coded as yes
or no (Figure 5). Somewhat surprisingly, in the case of interpersonal trust, none of the ve indices
seems to relate to whether or not people trust other people (who they encounter for the rst time).
This is insofar worrisome as high levels of interpersonal trust provide the social context for the
emergence and maintenance of liberal democracies and eective economies (Almond and Verba
1963; Putnam 1993).
By contrast, trust in various Belarusian institutions relates clearly to the dierent indices that we
derived above. Trust in state institutions is an aggregate of political (president, parliament), security
(armed forces, police), and judiciary (justice system), while we kept media as well as the church apart,
assuming that dierent patterns can be observed across these institutions. Trust in state institutions
is indeed strongly correlated with the understandings people hold of democracy, but also with their
preferences for the relationship between the market and the state. People who are more likely to
associate democracy with liberal components are also more likely to distrust the state media or state
Figure 5. Proportional odds model showing relationship between trust and understandings of democracy, the state, and the
market in Belarus.
118 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
institutions in general, though they do not dier from the rest of the population in terms of their
trust towards the church. People with higher values on the authoritarian index are more likely to
trust the diversity of state institutions and in particular the church, as are people who score high on
the egalitarian index. Preferences for economic redistribution matter only little for institutional trust,
although preferences for a more active role of the state in market aairs correlates with high trust
values in the various state institutions.
From the independent variables describing individual characteristics (socio-economic status,
ideological predisposition) – see the online appendix for full details – it is noteworthy that female
respondents, across all years, express higher social and institutional trust values. Students indicate
higher interpersonal trust, also speaking to their horizontal ties and involvement in associations and
other trusted networks. Employees in the public sector, across all three survey years, express high
interpersonal trust as well as trust in state institutions and the media.
Further, we considered the relationship between political behavior and attitudes, on the one
hand, and understanding of democracy and the market on the other. We begin with attitudes
towards the importance of democracy (Figure 6). From the perspective of political regime change,
widely shared liberal notions of democracy can undermine the legitimacy of authoritarian regimes, if
a liberal understanding goes hand in hand with widespread support for democracy. Conversely, an
authoritarian understanding of democracy plays into the hands of an authoritarian regime if citizens
articulate strong support for democracy (Kirsch and Welzel 2019). To understand which dynamic is at
play in Belarus, we analyzed how support for democracy is linked to a particular understanding of
democracy. We split the data into three models, as the question was not asked the same way across
the three surveys. Across all years, people who consider liberal elements to be central for democracy
are also more likely to state that democracy is more important for them, with no corresponding
eect for people who associate democracy with authoritarian elements. However, in 2011 and 2018,
people who highlighted egalitarian components were more likely to favor democracy, whereas the
opposite is the case in 2020. And lastly, those favoring less redistribution and state involvement in
the economy are also more likely to think that democracy is important for them.
Figure 6. Proportional odds model showing relationship between political attitudes (importance of emocracy) and under-
standings of democracy, the state, and the market in Belarus.
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 119
Finally, looking at the likelihood of having participated in national elections, it is striking that
hardly any of the ve indices seem to matter a great deal, as they mostly fail to achieve conventional
levels of statistical signicance (Figure 7). The only exception were people who mentioned that they
voted in 2018. This nding is particularly noteworthy with regard to the 2020 ZOiS survey that asks
specically about the candidate a respondent voted for, whereas the WVS/EVS only enquire into
While the support base for Lukashenka has been usually associated with people who favor his
program of redistribution or are more likely to dismiss liberal democratic elements, the results of the
2020 survey reveal that people who voted for Lukashenka can no longer be clearly associated with
The likelihood of having participated in protests also points to an intriguing development. As the
question was not asked in 2011, we only considered the 2018 and 2020 data. The 2020 protests were
much more clearly carried out by people who viewed liberal democratic elements as essential
characteristics of democracy, and they were also less likely to mention egalitarian aspects or to
favor a more interventionist state when it comes to market dynamics and redistributive policies. This
nding underlines the highly politicized nature of the most recent protests and the existence of
a tangible ideational prole of the protesters. Although participants in previous protests do not look
completely dierent, the magnitude of the liberal score was signicantly lower, and also, people who
mentioned authoritarian elements (rule by the church or the army) were somewhat less likely to have
participated in past protests. However, participants in previous protests do not dier from current
protesters when it comes to their preference for redistribution.
Despite the authoritarian nature of the ruling regime, our results show that the majority of
Belarusians have developed a stronger liberal understanding of democracy over the past decade.
Further, the political and economic preferences of Lukashenka’s support base have become harder
to pin down for the regime, while those who actively oppose the regime are no longer willing to give
up on political participation and are ready to accept lower state intervention in social and economic
aairs. It seems therefore that the societal basis for the old contract has started to erode both among
Lukashenka’s support base and among regime opponents, and the beginning of this process can be
traced back to well before the 2020 protests.
Figure 7. Proportional odds model showing relationship between political attitudes (voting and protest activity) and under-
standings of democracy, the state, and the market in Belarus.
120 F. KRAWATZEK AND J. LANGBEIN
For a long time the stability of the Lukashenka regime relied not only on the excessive use of
repression, but also on the provision of economic and social security that led Belarusian citizens to
accept authoritarian rule. We have argued that the value base for this social contract has been eroding
over the past decade. To substantiate this argument, this paper investigated changing attitudes
towards democracy and the market among Belarusians on the basis of survey data generated in
2011, 2018, and 2020. Our analysis reveals a political and economic liberalization of Belarusian
society over the last 10 years: as of late 2020, Belarusians are as market-friendly as in 2011, but
they have become less supportive of state intervention in social issues over the past decade.
Further, they are much more likely to mention liberal elements as central for democracy, while
convictions that authoritarian elements are key to democratic forms of government have
weakened. Put dierently, people do not believe that the state can deliver what it has
promised for so long and they have lost their illusions about the potential benets of
a strong interventionist state. They are, moreover, less inclined to give up political participation.
Strikingly, the erosion of the value base for the previous social contract extends to
Lukashenka’s support base. True, this support base is more likely to appreciate authoritarian
traits as central for democracy and is in favor of redistribution, but it is a shrinking part of the
population based on our data. While those sharing liberal attitudes are more likely to distrust
state institutions, they are not conned to the group participating in political protests or
avoiding participation in national elections.
A further intriguing nding of this paper relates to intergenerational dierences. We can
show important dierences across generations, although not in the direction that one might
intuitively expect. Young people are more inclined to demand state intervention in the
economy and social aairs and more likely to associate authoritarian traits with democracy.
At this point we can only speculate about the impact of the seemingly eective co-optation
strategies embodied in Belarus’s streamlined education system, and the older cohort’s stronger
exposure to an increasingly ineective state-led economic and social welfare system. Future
research will need to address this puzzling outcome in more detail and also devote attention to
it in a comparative perspective. This nding raises further doubts about the ecacy of the
Lukashenka regime’s legitimation eorts vis-à-vis its traditional support base, which used to
include the elderly.
What the analysis has also revealed is the important link between political ideals and social
and political attitudes and behavior. Social and institutional trust links in to some extent with
ideas of democracy and the market; political involvement such as voting and participation in
protests as well as views on the importance of democracy strongly relate to the views and
ideals people hold on democracy and the market. At the same time, low interpersonal trust
may work against democratic and economic development in Belarus. This is even more
worrisome given that interpersonal trust is unlikely to increase in the context of growing
Our ndings imply that the observed value change among Belarusians creates a dilemma for
Lukashenka or a potential autocratic successor: ignoring the observed trends would mean that
the state devotes even more resources to maintaining its rule through repression. This is the
current approach of the Lukashenka regime, but doubts arise as to whether it is a viable strategy
for maintaining stability in the medium to long term. Accommodating at least some demands
for greater political participation at the expense of a more limited state provision of social
welfare would, however, necessitate certain political and economic reforms that go against the
logic of the Lukashenka regime. A rise in political competition could pave the way towards a less
predictable political regime that comes close to what Levitsky and Way (2010) call “competitive
authoritarianism.” Market-friendly reforms could further damage existing patronage networks
that are key for co-opting Lukashenka’s supporters within the state apparatus. Last but not least,
POST-SOVIET AFFAIRS 121
a strong commitment to democratic ends among regime critics is conceived of as an important
scope condition for avoiding authoritarian backtracking in a post-revolutionary context
(Beissinger 2013). Although the brutal crackdown by Belarusian security forces considerably
weakened the protest movement in recent months, this shared commitment in liberal attitudes
poses a risk to any future autocratic regime in the country.
1. See also Ralph Clem (2011): “[Belarusian; Authors] citizens have agreed to be governed in an authoritarian
manner in return for benets bestowed by an economy dominated by the state.”
2. See Lü (2014) and Kennedy (2009) for the importance of educational systems in authoritarian settings more
3. But see also Lechler and Sunde (2019), who found that support for democracy increases with age but declines
with expected proximity to death.
4. For more details on the ZOiS survey, see https://en.zois-berlin.de/publications/belarus-at-a-crossroads-attitudes-
5. The non-overlapping group included 302 respondents older than 64 years living in settlements with more than
20,000 inhabitants; 151 respondents older than 64 years living in settlements with less than 20,000 inhabitants;
905 respondents aged between 18 and 64 living in settlements with less than 20,000 inhabitants; and 63
respondents aged 16 to 17. They were included in the models separately.
6. We excluded one question on the essential characteristics of democracy – “People obey the rules” – as it did not
align with our theoretical expectations and also showed no clear relationship to other questions used to
generate our indices.
7. In the 2020 ZOiS survey, the following question was asked: “Do you generally trust people you meet for the rst
time?” In the 2018 EVS survey and the 2011 WVS surveys, people read “Most people can be trusted” with two
answer options to select from, namely “most people can be trusted” or “need to be very careful.” We
dichotomized these three variables and analyzed the combined data (in the main part of the paper) and provide
the separate analysis in the online appendix.
8. We also analyzed the individual institutions separately, but the dierences in coecients are not of greater
9. We aggregated responses 1 to 4 into the lowest importance granted to democracy, 5 and 6 into the middle
responses, and 7 to 10 into the highest importance.
10. The literature on which we base the individual-level factors is comprehensive, but see, for instance, Przeworski
(1991); Mishler and Rose (1996), Tucker and Pop-Eleches (2017), Neundorf and Soroka (2018), and Lechler and
11. A survey from August to September 2019 identied a desire for economic reform among more than half of
Belarusians, with people being prepared to accept the negative consequences of reforms for several years (see
menshe-polagayutsya-na-nego.html; see also Shelest 2020).
12. See the online appendix for the correlation of these indices across the dierent survey years.
13. Relatedly, a recent study by Dinas and Northmore-Ball (2020) shows that authoritarian states use schools for
indoctrinating certain political beliefs and attitudes that are in line with authoritarian regimes. Belarus is
included in their sample.
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
The survey referred to in this work was supported by the German Federal Foreign Oce.
Félix Krawatzek http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1108-6087
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