Struggle over Identity

Struggle over Identity: The Official and the Alternative "Belarusianness"

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 313
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  • Book Info
    Struggle over Identity
    Book Description:

    Rejecting the cliché about “weak identity and underdeveloped nationalism,” Bekus argues for the co-existence of two parallel concepts of Belarusianness—the official and the alternative one—which mirrors the current state of the Belarusian people more accurately and allows for a different interpretation of the interconnection between the democratization and nationalization of Belarusian society. The book describes how the ethno-symbolic nation of the Belarusian nationalists, based on the cultural capital of the Golden Age of the Belarusian past (17th century) competes with the “nation” institutionalized and reified by the numerous civic rituals and social practices under the auspices of the actual Belarusian state. Comparing the two concepts not only provides understanding of the logic that dominates Belarusian society’s self-description models, but also enables us to evaluate the chances of alternative Belarusianness to win this unequal struggle over identity.

    eISBN: 978-615-5211-84-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-10)

    In his essay Nasha Zdrada (“Our Betrayal”), the Belarusian writer Pyatro Vasyuchenka writes about the strange phenomenon of “betrayal” in the existence of the Belarusian people:

    An elderly lady asks me:

    “Pyatro, why were there so many traitors among your Belarusians during the war?”

    A young lady says categorically about Vasil Bykau:

    “He has left […] betrayed us.”

    Mr. Khazbulatov, after the suppression of the August 1991 putsch states with dismay:

    “Belarus has betrayed us.”

    I know what to tell these ladies and gentlemen. […] I can say that […] we have betrayed Bykau, Bykau has not betrayed us.”¹


    • CHAPTER 1 Nation-Formation Strategies in Contemporary Nation-Studies
      (pp. 13-26)

      One of the problems of the studies of Belarusian post-communism transformation scenarios is the fact that the majority of them is based on several “basic truths” which, the longer they are used the more self-evident they become. One of these axiomatic truths of Belarusian post-communism implies lack of Belarusian national identity, which gave a stimulus to the rise of the Belarusian authoritarian regime. One of the obvious indications of this fundamental imperfection of the Belarusian nation is the destiny of political forces of its nationalism: downfall of their popularity in the 1990s, their candidates’ failure in the 1994 presidential elections—...

    • CHAPTER 2 State and Nation
      (pp. 27-32)

      The issue of the relations between the state and the nation is one of the most significant ones in the nation definition. According to Gellner, Hobsbawm, and Anderson, a “state” is practically a synonym of the nation and simultaneously the main objective and aspiration of the nationalists; the state is the basis of a nation and an instrument for its promoting and creating. As David McCrone noted, “So successfully have these two ideas (the ‘nation’ and the ‘state’) been grafted on to each other, that our vocabulary struggles to distinguish between them.”¹ John Breuilly says that nationalism as a political...

    • CHAPTER 3 Nationalism, Capitalism, Liberalism: The East European Perspective
      (pp. 33-40)

      The approach proposed by Brubaker enables to see the events of a new wave of nation-building in Eastern Europe in a different light. The national revival we observe in this region, Brubaker writes, “is not engendered by nations […] It is produced—or better, it is induced—by political fields of particular kinds […] And its dynamics are governed by the properties of political fields, not by the properties of collectivities.”¹ In a similar manner, albeit from a different theoretical standpoint, Hobsbawm estimates the East European explosion of nationalism. He believes that the changes that took place during and after...

    • CHAPTER 4 Nationalism and Socialism: The Soviet Case
      (pp. 41-50)

      The question about the functions and possibilities of the national ideology’s existence in a socialist society divides Western literature into two opposing camps. In one of them the fundamental belief about the Soviet Union is the premise that the revolution pitted communism against nationalism and that the Bolshevik victory was a military conquest by Russians over the authentic national and separatist aspirations of non-Russians. The most influential early interpretation of the national issue in this tradition was given by Richard Pipes in The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917–1923.¹ In accordance with the canons set up...

    • CHAPTER 5 The First Belarusian Nationalist Movement: Between National and Class Interests
      (pp. 53-68)

      The Belarusian national movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was an almost classical example of small nation nationalism. Belarusians had no tradition of their own political independence and were dominated by a ruling class of more or less alien nationality—Russian or Polish. Jaroslav Krejci used the term “unrelated state tradition” to describe the tradition of statehood like the Belarusian one. He proposed to evaluate a political history according to the degree “to which it can be related to the respective ethnic group, i.e. whether or not the latter had, over a long period of its history,...

    • CHAPTER 6 Byelorussian Republic within the Soviet State
      (pp. 69-78)

      Many researchers of the period following 1917 concur in their appraisal of the course of events as a tactical and largely forced decision by the Bol-sheviks. N. Vakar states that the founding of the Belorussian Republic served a double purpose: (1) to attract into and maintain within the Soviet system those elements of the population to which the communist idea might not otherwise appeal, and (2) to integrate their nationalism with the world revolutionary forces.¹ Hélène Carrère D’Encausse gives another explanation for the Bolshevik decision. In her view, Bolshevik leaders were ignorant of the realities of Belarus. The decision about...

    • CHAPTER 7 Post-Soviet Conditions for Independence
      (pp. 79-82)

      Jan Zaprudnik in his 1993 book Belarus at a Crossroads in History referred to Belarus’s first years of independence as “a laboratory of changes.”¹ At the time when the book was written the country was on the threshold of its first presidential elections, whose results would determine the general line of development for the independent state.

      The very fact that such a book appeared at all is noteworthy. Written in an encyclopedia format, it depicts the beginning of a new epoch in the life of Belarusians. The Supreme Soviet of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted the declaration on the...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Election of the First Belarusian President as a Mirror of Belarusian Preferences
      (pp. 85-92)

      Quite a number of authors wrote about the sudden popularity of the new Belarusian president and his appearance on the political scene. In addition to several works devoted to A.G. Lukashenka,¹ practically every text analyzing Belarus contains a special chapter describing the phenomenon of a political outsider’s victory and the ensuing transformation of his government into an authoritarian regime. Some authors believe that Lukashenka put forward such a paradigm of power that answered the expectations of the Belarusian majority. It was expressed either in the rational conformity with the proposed scenario of the state existence, or in the acceptance—not...

    • CHAPTER 9 “Labels” of the Belarusian Regime
      (pp. 93-98)

      Attempts at categorizing the developments in post-communist Belarus are made continually. As a result there have appeared a number of labeling categories by means of which their authors try to find adequate criteria for the assessment of the political situation in Belarus. Elena Korosteleva writes that the Belarusian system with its de facto individual presidential rule and the circumstances where all the official political institutions in society are directly or indirectly dependent on the president can be characterized as “superpresidentialism.”¹ S. Shush ke vich diagnoses the Belarusian regime as neocommunist.² According to Shushke vich, renunciation of private property, emphasis on...

    • CHAPTER 10 “Triple Transformation” and Belarus
      (pp. 99-120)

      The most popular way to form an opinion of a country’s transition is to evaluate the state of three critically important processes that provide advancement of a new epoch in the life of society. The “triple transition”¹ scheme that acquired classical status in political science includes democratization of the political system, marketization of the economy, and establishment of a civil society. However, the transition theory “suggest[s] a clear endpoint of political development, for example a pluralist and liberal democracy […] [T]he process of change, for theoreticians of transition, is a clear track from point A to point B; and transition...

    • CHAPTER 11 Prerequisites of Democratization and Authoritarianism in Belarus
      (pp. 121-130)

      In the early 1990s, the prospects of Belarus’s democratic transformation appear to be quite optimistic. Alexander Motyl wrote in 1991: “Virtually identical economic systems, common economic problems, and a shared cultural and historical legacy suggest that a new Eastern Europe, incorporating Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Belorussia, the Ukraine and Lithuania, will emerge in the new future.”¹ However, the course of the systemic transformations in these countries has brought different results. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania have become members of the European Union. Ukraine has survived its orange revolution and remains in the state of uncertainty as to its further way of...

    • CHAPTER 12 Belarus as an Example of National and Democratic Failure
      (pp. 133-138)

      In the early 1990s, at the beginning of the system transformations, the main force of Belarusian nationalism was the Belarusian People’s Front (BPF). The BPF was one of the few truly active mass organizations in post-communist Belarus. Being a modified party organization it had “a relatively active regional network based on cells, clubs, and caucuses; flexible membership, associated not with fees, but commitment to promote the party’s name and ideology, and intensive ‘street canvassing’.”¹ The party’s popularity is evident by the fact that in the early 1990s its membership reached 150,000. No other political party could boast of such numbers....

    • CHAPTER 13 The Russian Factor in Belarusian Self-Perception
      (pp. 139-144)

      The integration project as a political undertaking and as a factor of mass consciousness is often considered as an evidence of Belarusians’ reluctance to preserve their independence. “Escape into common destiny, which is manifested in the search of a state to be ‘integrated’ with, turns Belarus into an escape from destiny and responsibility, and, in the end, into ‘escape from liberty’,”¹ writes Belarusian political scientist Rouda. This is an escape from one’s own independence and, by the same token, from implementation of the main national idea. (“Independence is the very existence of a nation,” says the chief ideologist of the...

    • CHAPTER 14 The Paradox of “National Pride”
      (pp. 145-150)

      The concept of “national pride” is part of a wider context of believes, purposes, and emotions that form the national identity. As the Polish sociologist Zbigniew Bokszański writes, the national pride is “both an assessment of one’s own people and a satisfying effect caused by the realization of one’s belonging to the national community. Assessment of successes and failures of the people, together with the subjective cheerful feeling caused by the belonging to a nation is a result of appraisal, comparisons, and observations embedded in the individuals’ experience, connected with their native land’s destiny.”¹ From this perspective, “the national pride”...

    • CHAPTER 15 Paradoxes of Political and Linguistic Russification
      (pp. 151-156)

      One of the paradoxes of the Belarusian national development is related to the language issue. The numerical data testifying to the language Russification of the Belarusian cultural life do not cause any doubt that the Belarusian national culture and language are in a critical position.

      Russification is a historically lengthy process in Belarus, with its roots going back to the Russian empire. At that time it was aimed at a complete elimination of Belarusianness and transformation of Belarusian lands into western Russian ones, and the Belarusians were considered as a regional group of the great Russian nation (conception of the...

    • CHAPTER 16 Lack of Religious Basis for National Unity
      (pp. 157-160)

      In Belarus, traditionally, Eastern Orthodoxy is iden tified—either subconsciously or explicitly—as the Russian faith, while Catholicism is seen as the Polish creed. During the first years of Belarusian independence, these old clichés inherited from history were reanimated. This means that religion does not seem to be a uniting factor in Belarus: Belarusians have been divided between different branches of Christianity, which serve to link Belarusians with either Russian or Polish religious community. Statistics reveal that the majority of Belarusians belong to Orthodoxy, followed by Catholicism; there is also a considerable number of Protestants as well as members of...

    • CHAPTER 17 Two Ideas of “Belarusianness”
      (pp. 163-168)

      The underdeveloped character of the Belarusian nation and the weakness of the Belarusians’ national self-consciousness is perceived as the main reason for the defeat of the nationalist movement and for the failure of the country’s democratization. The linguistic Russification is considered to be a symptom of the progressing assimilation and dissolution of the Russianspeaking cultural universe. A hypothetic consent to a political union with Russia signifies a refusal of state independence. Each of these factors, however, has a flip side. The majority of Belarusians are in favor of integration with their eastern neighbor; but only 12 percent would want to...

    • CHAPTER 18 Belarusian-Specific Nature of the Public Sphere: “Invisible Wall”
      (pp. 169-178)

      The Polish political scientist E. Wnuk-Lipiński writes about the pluralization of the public sphere, which took place with the disappearance of the rigid control the communist system had over public life. In the conditions of a democratic system “articulation of interests and expression of values are not limited by anything, nor the possibility of institutionalization of social forces focused around different interests and differentiated systems of values is limited. These differentiated interests and values that circulate in public sphere can be interpreted to a certain extent as an institutionalized bunch of claims addressed to other members of public life or...

    • CHAPTER 19 Belarusian History: The Alternative and Official Historical Narrations
      (pp. 179-196)

      In an 1882 lecture titled “What Is a Nation” Ernest Renan said: “Forgetting history, or even getting history wrong, is an essential factor in the formation of a nation.” This popular phrase communicates the fundamental truths about history: its significance for a nation (“Nations without a past are contradictions in terms,” writes Eric Hobsbawm)¹ and its instrumental character.

      Both of these aspects have become conventional wisdom for students of nationalism. Modernists emphasize that history and culture are essential parts of the fabric of popular visions through which the elite must forge their strategies. As Hobsbawm writes, “Historians are to nationalism...

    • CHAPTER 20 Political Discourses of the Alternative Belarusianness
      (pp. 197-210)

      The manifestos, articles, and public presentations of Belarusian opposition politicians, as well as publications of political analysts, have been used as the basic material for the analysis of the political discourse of an alternative Belarusianness. Remarkably, this alternative Belarusianness does not exist as a single concept like the one made by the official ideology. One can speak of the alternative discourses of Belarusianness that breaks down into many images of a potentially different Belarus. Some authors see alternative Belarusianness in Europe, others see it at the meeting point of civilizations and consider Belarus to be a neutral and self-sufficient country....

    • CHAPTER 21 National Ideology of the Belarusian State as a Political Articulation of Official Belarusianness
      (pp. 211-220)

      In alternative discourses, the Republic of Belarus governed by A. G. Lukashenka is presented as an anti-Belarusian and anti-national formation. Nevertheless, many authors who observe the developments in the country from the outside note that the process of intense institutionalization and reification of Belarusian nationhood has taken place during the country’s independence period. There is a national idea behind this process: “in no area Belarus has moved so far during its years of independence as in the mobilization on the ground of the national idea,” writes the Belarusian political scientist Sergei Nikoliuk.¹ On the one hand, one can speak about...

    • CHAPTER 22 Two Approaches to the Politics of Identity
      (pp. 223-226)

      The question of the mechanism of internalization of national ideas in constructing people’s self-perception does not have a simple and single answer. Certainly, the language of political declarations, even if it is backed by the corresponding historical narratives, is insufficient for a formation of the national identity space. Following the path of distinguishing two different approaches to defining the “nation”—as a constructed entity or as a cultural whole—one can presume that these are also the ways to two strategies of identity formation. In the first case one can speak about the social reification strategy, which combines efforts of...

    • CHAPTER 23 Belaruski Globus: An Encyclopedia of What Existed before Communism
      (pp. 227-228)

      If one puts “Sovietness” outside the Belarusian cultural landscape, it can be regarded as a sign of alternative Belarusianness. One such example is Belaruski Globus (The Belarusian Globe), a Web-based cultural project by the amateur photographer Andrei Dybovski. It is a collection of information about architectural and other places of interest in Belarus with 8,300 entries and 34,000 photographs,¹ which are being constantly updated.

      Dybovski’s idea was to create a kind of alternative map of Belarus, to display all the places of historical memory of pre-Soviet Belarus, and to create a cultural landscape that exists outside the Soviet history of...

    • CHAPTER 24 The Belarusian National Film Misterium Occupation: Distancing themselves from Soviets and Russians
      (pp. 229-234)

      World War II occupies a central position in the Soviet conceptualization of Belarusianness. The war, or more precisely, its image and the way of thinking about it has also become a catalyst for general attitude to history. The Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau (1924–2003), whose novellas are translated into more than one hundred languages, often focused his writing on the war experience, concentrating on the human and moral aspects of war horrors. This led him to the conflict with the authorities in the pre-perestroika years. The image of the war where real people participated with their tears and problems, feelings...

    • CHAPTER 25 The “Free Theater” or the Alternative Belarusianness on Stage
      (pp. 235-240)

      Another example of the alternative Belarusianness’ actualization is Svobodnyi Teatr (the Free Theater).¹ It was conceived as an alternative drama troupe to the official Belarusian theatrical establishment. The main reason of such opposition was the aspiration to stage new plays dealing with topical issues of contemporary Belarusian life, which Belarus’s state theaters refuse to do. The Free Theater was founded in March 2005 when the playwright Nikolai Khalezin, together with Natalia Koliada, launched a playwright competition. It has attracted 231 plays by 123 writers from nine countries, including 30 Belarusian playwrights. The main award was given to the Russian dramatist...

    • CHAPTER 26 Independent Rock Music: Critical Reflection and Protest
      (pp. 241-252)

      Another sphere conducive to an alternative Belarusianness that has access to public manifestation is Belarusian rock music. A number of Belarusian groups, many of which perform in Belarusian, have become symbols of Belarusian political nonconformism (Krama, Neuro Dubel, N.R.M., Palac, Novaye Neba [New Heaven], and many others). Their music, unlike the cinema and theater described in the preceding chapters or even the tournaments of medieval knight clubs to be described in the next chapter, has an entirely different formula of interaction with the audience. Their CDs become part of everyday life for young Belarusians. Hit parades, concerts, annual festivals, rock...

    • CHAPTER 27 Medieval Reenactors: A Manifestation of Belarus’s European History
      (pp. 253-260)

      The situation is different in the case of another noteworthy example of actualization of alternative Belarusianness, the youth movement represented by medieval reenactors organized in “knight orders.” The beginning of this movement dates back to 1992—93, and from an informal association of some dozens of people it developed into a real youth movement by the end of the 1990s. Today, in Minsk alone, there are about fifty groups of reenactors. Nearly every Belarusian city and town has a reenactor group.

      The basic idea of the movement is reflected in its name: “reenactment” is a reproduction and staging of Belarusian...

    • CHAPTER 28 The Official Politics of Identity: Social Reification Strategy
      (pp. 261-276)

      In the official cultural space there are some examples that can be considered in the context of representation of the national idea. As cases of such cultural support provided by official cultural activity to the national state ideology, this chapter considers the annual Slavonic Bazaar festival, the national historical “blockbuster” Anastasia Slutksaya (2003), and the performance of Dreams About Belarus (2007) on the stage of the Belarusian Academic National Theater. These examples demonstrate how the authorities try to use culture and the cultural sphere to popularize ideas of the official ideology of Belarusianness. However, it is not culture that carries...

    (pp. 277-282)

    In this work I intended to give an alternative interpretation to the theme of the Belarusian national idea and nationalism in the context of the systemic transformation of Belarusian society. The thesis of the weak and undeveloped character of the Belarusian nation has occupied a definite place in the work of Belarusian alternative analysts and Western researchers alike. The emergence of the authoritarian regime and the failure of democratization of Belarusian society are traditionally viewed as both the symptom of a lack of Belarusian identity and the result of weak Belarusian nationalism, which are usually seen as closely interrelated phenomena....

    (pp. 283-302)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 303-306)