During the USSR epoch the Communists strived to form the atmosphere of solidarity of the people and army. Belarusian army, in essence, remains to be people’s, the worker’s and peasant’s army. However, the paradox is about rejection by the people of their own army.
Despite popular opinion, the problem of Belarusian army is not about obsolete equipment and budget limitations, but the attitude of the society towards the Armed Forces. We have to state that defense topic (and broader – the matter of national security) in comparison with Ukraine and Russia has not gained broad interest in the society. It’s impossible to tell definitely why. But such attitude proves the thesis about the collapse of the attempts of authorities to obtrude their ideology upon people, which is based right on war subject – the events of the Second World War.
The general level of awareness of Belarusian citizens of their own Armed Forces (AF) is extremely low. And the case is not about absence of the corresponding information. We rather have to state the absence of broad interest from the public. It’s enough just to note that Belarus has only 3 (three!) information-analytical resources, devoted to the issues of national security and defense. By this one of them is a semi-state source. In comparison with neighbor states this seems to be a phenomenon, or more like anomaly.
As a result the average person has quite a indistinct image about their defenders, which is form mainly from the negative clichés: hazing in the army; corruption in a military sphere; alcohol abuse, etc.
Belarusian peculiarity is that nationally patriotic part of the population has actually refused of their own security agencies, having drawn them out of their interests and intentions. This is probably an unprecedented event. In most countries, especially post-colonial ones, these are security agencies which are observed not only as special defenders, but as the carriers of sovereignty to a great extent. In Belarus nationally oriented part of the society tends more to observe military men as foreign agents. This situation has two main grounds.
First of all, attitude towards the governing political regime. Simultaneously with the growth of its rejections, negative attitude promotes towards military men. Having slight understanding of the architecture of law-enforcement agencies in Belarus and the system of the state power operation, opposing part of the society in its majority thinks that the regime grounds on the force block in general, not considering the fact that still intelligence agencies play the leading role (precisely their individual subdivisions, as Belarus has no secret police in its classic meaning) and bureaucratic apparatus. And the same Ministry of Interior, border patrol and others – are only the tool executing orders.
Secondly, we often have to face the opinion that Belarusian AF represent agent’s pro-Moscow body, the fragment of the Soviet Army. And if the last one is rather correct, than everything is not so simple about the first opinion.
The blame of Moscow-centrism is true only partially and doesn’t consider the inertia of a large system, which the army is. Till recently, official propaganda had promoted the issue of unanimity of Belarus and Russia. Only last 5-6 years “Belarusianship” has started penetrating official and public spheres.
Except for inertia we should remember that security agencies are traditionally the most conservative part of the society. The administration of AF includes many people whose military carrier began in the Soviet past with respective ideological background.
We can’t ignore also informal, human relations between military men of Belarus and Russia, developing in course of close bilateral cooperation.
Orientation on Russia of the security forces is greatly supported also by domination of Russian Mass Media, specializing in the issues of defense and security within national media space.
However, the situation is changing, very slowly, but considering the dynamics in relatively big periods of time, the changes are obvious. It is predefined the change of generation in the content of the Officer Corps. The leading positions are being taken by the staff for whom the USSR is almost a forgotten past. Except for that, many of them have the experience of communication and interaction with western colleagues within the frameworks of partnership programs of NATO, as well as in course of participation in multi-national trainings within the territory of other non-post-Soviet states. This to some extent is a transition generation of military leaders. They still adhere to the need of close union with Russia, many of them treat positively its presence in Belarus. But by this, the most archaic ideas like the unanimity of Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians the far the less topical and involving. There are more and more people who haven’t even heard about these speculations. On the other hand, although slowly but still approach other myths, connected for example, with the epoch of the medieval Belarusian statehood or, which is interesting – post-war anti-Soviet national resistance movement. This is to a large extent unintentionally assisted by the official Mass Media, attempting to discredit the events and heroes of those epochs. By this it is made in such indiscreet manner that considering low power of the governmental Mass Media existing due to obligatory subscription, that it does not incite reaction at all or leads to the opposite result. In general the level of awareness regarding those pages of national history, which were banned during Soviet times and even yet recently in terms of the existing regime, is growing. By this the attitude towards those events is either neutral or positive.
Generally, as it is supposed to be in transition generations, at the moment most our military men are completely mixed-up. In their images the events of own Belarusian history and Russian-Soviet history have mixed. The same is true for the civil part of the society. Mainly it is predefined by the reduction of education level and as a consequence – of culture. But the part of Moscow in this mix is smaller each year.
Interrelations “society-army” are dynamic but definite conclusions can be drawn already now.
First of all, the ram for Moscow-centrism is the ideology of the consumer society. Pro-Moscow mythology, grounding on the examples of self-renunciation and asceticism is not able to stand the competition with consumer ideology.
Secondly, the attempts to preserve the ideological influence of Moscow in most cases are accompanied by appeal to Eastern Orthodoxy. However, considering that in Belarus only about 6% of people attend churches no less than once a week, a significant part of who are older people, reduction of pro-Moscow views is predisposed by biological factors.
Thirdly, in the current situation the expectations of complete substitution in the environment of Soviet ideology with pro-Belarusian ideology are naïve. The national doctrine will be able to occupy only a part, moreover smaller one, of the ideological field. Within the major part it shall have to coexist with the ideology of consumer society.
Fourthly, there is no use to count that in near prospect Belarusian Army shall become the school of nationalism and the smithy of civic consciousness. And the problem is not about military men. It’s just in the situation, when the attitude towards them are at best neutral from the authorities, opposition and the society in general, there is nothing more to be expected.
Fifthly, and the most important: any real reform of defense sphere should start not with the growth of military costs or new equipment purchase. First of all, they should strive to change the treatment of the army and military matter by the people. Military service should get back its social prestige, the society should recognize its significance. There shall be no core changes in the situations without it.
We should not forget, that it’s not weapon that fights, these are people. And the most important factor remains to be the issue of ideological motivation of the military men. Put it simply, in terms when the existing state ideology has proven its inefficiency, it should be substituted with the other. The only alternative is the ideology of Belarusian nationalism. However, nationalism, grounding on the traditions of self-government and popular rule, shall demand changes of the system of state government, or saying directly – the existing political regime. Naturally, the power shall never agree on this.