Juan Diez Nicolas: Belarus will play a special role in the international arena


Juan Diez Nicolas: Belarus will play a special role in the international arena

Professor of sociology at the University of Madrid Juan Diez Nicolas has given an interview to the TV program Simple Questions with Yegor Khrustalev.

Thank you very much for your time for this interview. Please share your impressions of the election days, generally from Belarus, from Minsk, from what you saw.

Juan Diez Nicolas, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Madrid (Spain):
Of course, since I had the opportunity to observe the elections in Spain since the establishment of the democratic system in 1977, I have a lot of experience for comparative analysis. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised at how neat and orderly voters in Belarus came to the polls. I had the opportunity to visit seven polling stations as an observer for an independent exit poll. I watched how interviewers were working. I also had the opportunity to observe how voters come and take part in the vote. I even had the opportunity to make some general photos of buildings where polling stations were located. All voters seemed very friendly and I saw many of them came to the polls with their families and young children. To a certain extent, it seems to me quite important because children can watch the election process and learn democracy from an early age.

Also, I was literally stunned with the white beauty and grandeur of the city of Minsk. I was not aware of the fact that Minsk was so badly damaged by the destruction during WWII and that Minsk was was virtually rebuilt. So I was very surprised to see such a modern city as if its construction had ended only yesterday. It was only during a tour of the city that the history of Minsk became very clear to me.

Mr. Nicolas, I know, you have been engaged in the election since the 60s. Can you name the most important changes that have occurred since that time?

Juan Diez Nicolas:
The process of globalization continues to be the main trend in the development of the modern world. Recently, however, in Spain, I have published an article about the changes that have occurred over the last 20 years. And in it I pointed out that the dominant trend is the high speed at which these changes occur. It does not matter about which changes we will say: be it demographic growth or the development of technology or changes in the environment... Changes occur at such a rate that mankind did not know previously. A person born in the Middle Ages, could see minor changes during his life, if any at all. Today, a brother and a sister, with an age difference of five years, live in totally different worlds. I think that technological progress - is the kind of change that is most noticeable. We have computers, cell phones, smart phones, even in social structures and systems, changes are taking place at such a high speed that is difficult to keep up with them. However, in general, I would say that we are moving in the direction of the so-called globalized world, where structures and organizations are the same in all countries.

Mr. Nicolas, we often hear in our discussions that the current European politicians are subjected to quite sharp criticism, compared with the politicians who were in the middle and at the beginning of the 20th century. How true is it? Or is it just a kind of war of generations?

Juan Diez Nicolas:
If we turn to the results of opinion polls, for example, the results of the last, the sixth wave of the study of the Association for Global Values ​​held in 60 countries from 2010 to 2014, we can note that, in speaking of trust in social and political institutions, the majority of respondents call armed forces among the social and political institutions causing the greatest confidence. While political parties were called among those causing the lowest confidence. Thus, something is happening in the world that politicians all over the world are becoming less valuable and less important for people. Perhaps this is the consequence of the economic crisis. However, I think it's something more large-scale.
There have always been good and bad politicians now, and 20, and 30 years ago. However, such a high level of distrust in political institutions and politicians is really amazing. However, in all regions of the world, in Africa, Asia, America or Europe, people want democracy. It may seem that there is a contradiction but I do not think so. People want democracy, but they are not satisfied with the way democracy is carried out by means of the existing political institutions and, in particular, political parties.   

Mr. Nicolas, we in Belarus often say that our democracy is still very young. We have to go the same path that European countries passed earlier but we have to do it in a very short time. Can one demand from countries such as Russia, Ukraine or Belarus precisely the same rules that apply to Spain, France and England?

Juan Diez Nicolas:
As an example, I can bring my experience of taking part in your Sunday talk show, which was held in the evening after the polls closed. This TV program was attended by two of the three candidates who lost. Despite the fact that they failed to win the elections, they were quite positive in their assessment of the election results. And when the host asked them whether they intended to express any complaints, they both said no. They said that they would not complain, because, in their opinion, the elections were democratic. I think this is an important indicator, as in some countries losers' response to this situation could be different. So I think this is an indicator of satisfaction with the way democracy works. Maybe there are others. However, I am not familiar enough with Belarus to call them. But this was an example for me is very revealing.   Besides the fact that the population of Belarus is very peaceful, one can also talk about the fact that Belarus is a kind of bridge or mediator between the two sides in Europe: the so-called Western democracies and the Russian Federation. I do not know whether Belarusians know it but you have a special role and your country and your people will play it in the international arena.

Mr. Nicolas, you made your life choice a long time ago. Why did you choose sociology?

Juan Diez Nicolas:
This is a very good question, and it has a simple answer. Actually, when I started to study at university, I started to study law to become a diplomat. But then, in the second year of study, we began to study sociology. I was lucky to have our professor of sociology, a very good professor. And then I understood that I would like to be a sociologist. And as soon as I finished training and was awarded a Master of Political Science, I got a Fulbright scholarship and went to the University of Michigan in the United States to study sociology. And since then, I have never regretted my decision. And to this day I think it was the right decision.

Can you remember the happiest moments in your life? And has it happened that some special moment happened to you in Belarus these days?

Juan Diez Nicolas:
Pleasant moments in Minsk are very fresh in my memory. For example, yesterday, when we went to some regions of Belarus and visited different towns, I had a lot of pleasant moments and lots of pleasant experiences. I was very surprised and excited because I was expecting to see a very different country. I was very impressed. In the 1970s I was in Romania, in Bucharest, where I met with President Ceausescu. I knew that Belarus would be different, but still I did not expect to see something like that. But the city of Minsk that I saw made me very impressed and surprised. I think it is a city of the 21st century.

In general, political life of the country sometimes gives me a certain pleasure. The source of the greatest satisfaction for me are of course my professional, scientific and academic activities. Some sociological surveys I do. And speaking of any particular event that I especially remember... Well, I can mention the events in 1981 in Spain, when there was an attempt of a military coup - the overthrow of democracy and the seizure of power by the military. At that time I was deputy minister. The government was taken hostage and locked up in the parliament building. The rebels said that power belongs to the military as a civilian government is under arrest. However, the majority of the armed forces did not support the mutineers and brought tanks into the streets in defense of the king, the Constitution and the current regime. But all of us, 35 deputy ministers, said that since ministers are under arrest, we form a new civilian government and the military are subordinate to us. And, as you know from the history, the rebellion failed and it all ended well. It is always a pleasure to be a part of history.

Mr. Nicolas, thank you very much for taking your time to answer my questions. Please accept my sincere wishes for all the best in your life, in the lives of your loved ones, as well as in the life of your country. Thanks and all the best!

Juan Diez Nicolas:
Thanks for having me!