In this blogpost I am sharing my analysis of the changes in Lukashenka's political rhetoric since 1994. Authors like J. Budge, D. Robertson, D. Hearl studied political rhetoric in democracies, and S. Oates has contributed some interesting insights on the post-Communist Russia. Building on their work, I attempted to trace the evolution of Lukashenka's election manifestos.
Over time, the manifestos have become shorter, better structured and better organized. However, their content has not changed substantially. The same dichotomies like "the wealthy and the poor", "the West and the East", "stability and experiments", "corruption and order," etc are employed while the important issues like Chernobyl or inflation are never mentioned.
Lukashenka's 2010 election manifesto recently published in Belarus demonstrates notable changes in the political communication over the 16 years of Lukashenka's rule. Below are some of my observations.
The intensification of WE (a change in the definition of the audience)
In 2010 manifesto, different forms of "we" were used more than thirty times. Lukashenka has managed to outdo his previous manifestos, which were nearly half in length. At the same time, in 1994 manifesto the substantive meaning of "we" was better defined and categorized. In particular, several categories such as nationality, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, health conditions, education, employment and pensions were distinguished.
Six years later, in 2001 manifesto more emotional signals were made about the "we" with the use of such metaphors as "united and friendly family" while the number of classified groups had diminished.
In 2010 manifesto, the metaphors of nation as family are still used, but the cognitive map of nation shows fewer points connected to the traditional subject of welfare. Interestingly, in Lukashenka's latest manifesto, the emotional construct "we did" resembles "yes we can" in US President Barack Obama's speeches.
Shorter than twitter (a change in form)
The balance of three traditional parts of Lukashenka's manifestos - "describing the situation", explaining the "deeds" and outlining the "plans" - has changed. The part devoted to "plans" has become shorter. At the same time, the style of the manifesto is different: paragraphs are now shorter and the use of titles and introductions makes the text easier to read. We can describe this style as the one used in the SMS-messages or Twitter posts, especially popular among the youth who also happen to be the most "invoked" part of the population in this manifesto.
There are also some changes in the timelines constructed in the manifestos. In 2001 and 2006, the focus was on the situation before 1994 (with different inflation indicators for illustration). The existing timeline was: Time before 1994-a deeds (present) a plans (future). The timeline in the latest manifesto contained no references to the pre-Lukashenka period.
Rates and ratings
With no pre-1994 period to measure against, the legitimization of power is now achieved by using "rates and ratings." This technique provides a sense of "independent, globally-international, and authoritarian" views on the situation. The ratings are used as figures to hammer the "recognized facts" home one more time.
Inflation as a construct from the past was presented both in words and figures in all previous manifestos. The latest manifesto, however, does not build a bridge to 1994 inflation. This year, the president clearly does not feel comfortable discussing inflation.
The issue of Chernobyl was present in the two first manifestos. However, in 2006 and 2010 manifestos there were no references to the catastrophe. This could be considred a sign that the issue is becoming uncomfortable for the president or is no longer connected to the interests of a wider public.
Using "the East" instead of Russia
The number of statements about Russia and the meaning of its foreign policy has decreased since 1994. In 2006 and 2010, Russia was not mentioned in manifestos at all. At the same time, Europe and the West are mentioned as an example of high living standards and a source for aspiration for the Belarusian people.
Democracy and human rights
Democracy and human rights, the traditional building blocks of the political rhetoric in Western democracies are not represented in the latest manifesto. Previously the word democracy had been used only once - in the 1994 manifesto. The issue of human rights is mentioned much more often.
2010 manifesto also contains some new points. In particular, it mentions the goal of developing information technologies and creating a new face for the Belarusian economy. This would entail "no less than 100 considerable investition projects" and the development of new industries (nano- and bio-technologies, alternative energy, space exploration, etc.).
by Solvita Denis, Contributing writer