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Struggle over Identity

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Nelly Bekus

Part II. The Rise and Development of the Belarusian National Idea

Chapter 5. The First Belarusian Nationalist Movement: Between National and Class Interests

Texte intégral

  • 1 Jaroslav Krejci, “Ethnic Problems in Europe,” in Contemporary Europe: Social Structures and Cultur (...)

1The 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, a state of similar political formation of its own.”1 He distinguishes four levels of political history:

  1. Traditions of statehood are non-existent;
  2. Traditions of statehood are unrelated. This applies to cases where an ethnic group shares its political history with another group;
  3. Traditions of statehood are interrupted, if the territory was incorporated into an alien political framework for a prolonged period of time;
  4. Traditions of statehood can be considered continuous only if an ethnic group had a state of its own over a long period of its history.

2Accordingly, for Belarus the unrelated state tradition refers to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Polish–Lithuanian–Belarusian Commonwealth, to tsarist Russia, and to the Soviet Union. The national awakening of Belarusians coincided with the political revolutionary movement in Belarus. The content of nationalist and revolutionary ideologies, too, had much in common due to the class composition of the Belarusian people—Belarusian speakers comprised the majority of the rural population. The concept of national and social liberation reflected essentially different ideas, but they expressed the same aspiration for liberation from suppression.

  • 2 Nicholas P. Vakar, Belorussia. The Making of a Nation. A Case Study (Cambridge: Harvard University (...)
  • 3 Vakar, Belorussia, 83.

3Playwright Dunin-Martinkevich was the first who made his literary career in the Belarusian language. Nearly at the same time F. Bohushevich wrote the basic manifest of the Belarusian national idea. Bohushevich is rightfully considered to be the first songster of the Belarusian revival, as he captured the sentiment and imagination of the new generation. According to Vakar, “in general, he echoed the revolutionary agitation in the empire. But he contended that no cultural and economic development would take root in the country unless the national consciousness of the people was awakened. His poems were a program, as well as an appeal. In the history of the Belarusian national self-determination they mark the beginning of a new period, that of ‘cultural nationalism’.”2 What was truly characteristic of not only the founder of the first wave of Belarusian nationalism but also of all his followers was a combination of revolutionary ideas with the ideas of national revival. “Such was the spirit of the times. […] The youth of the whole empire was at that time agitated by revolutionary ideas. Bohushevich was the first to give the Belarusian movement its true direction and impulse.”3

4It was no accident that the agenda of the first Belarusian party—the Byelorussian Socialist Hramada (founded as a Byelorussian Revolutionary Hramada in 1902)—that was adopted at their first meeting at Minsk in 1903 contained the demands both of territorial autonomy for Byelorussia with a popular assembly (sejm) in Vilnius and of nationalization of the land of the nobles.

  • 4 Siargei Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” ARCHE 1 (2005): 165, http://arche.bymedia.net/2005-1/dubaviec (...)
  • 5 Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” 166.
  • 6 Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” 166.
  • 7 Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” 167–68.
  • 8 V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 24 (Moscow: State Printers of Political Literature, (...)

5From today’s standpoint it is hard to decide which aspect of Belarusian revival was “primary.” Siargei Dubavets, a representative of the last wave of the Belarusian national revival in the late twentieth century views the first stage of Belarusian revival as a national project formulated by the heirs of Belarusian nobility who had their property and privileges confiscated and who adopted a form of social protest. In his interpretation, the first project of the Belarusian nation was “bourgeois” (which is entirely congruent with the perception of nationalism as a middle-class ideology). “They closed their protest and resentment in a peasant’s coat and wrote about the heavy grievance to the point of bleeding and their lost land. Although it all was fiction. Actually it was the nobility’s grievance after their hereditary honor and hereditary property […] they wanted their own independent country where their grandchildren would never write about ‘the wretched land,’ like they were writing, thus manifesting their persistent protest against Russian occupation.”4 However with the spirit of the times, the Belarusian nobility’s interests were disguised by social demands. “In early twentieth century our resurgents were faced with a lack of choice. Probably in their hearts they wanted to have quite a normal, ‘bourgeois’ Belarus. But in order to win over popular masses in the atmosphere of hot breathing of Russian revolutionary vagaries, there remained only one option—socialism.”5 Realizing the hopelessness of national struggle on any other ground, the first mouthpieces of the national idea “began to wrap their own resentment and grievance into the shape of the rural outcasts’ resentment. Eternal lament is heard from the theatre stage and newspapers pages. About the heavily lot of the peasant, about the poverty-stricken land, about the native tongue and entire Belarus.”6 Thus, the initially purely national project, born in the minds of the impoverished Belarusian noblemen, attained its development in the direction of social liberation. As a result, “broad peasant masses recruited into the project, adopted its Belarusian forms, having realized its sense as resentment, which was not nobility-, but proletariat-oriented.”7 Dubavets sees the Belarusian national movement as bourgeois movement that concealed its true aspirations under the cover of social struggle. “The cover” actually had become the dominant ideology of the Belarusian national movement. (It is noteworthy to add that Lenin, too, emphasized the bourgeois character of Hramada, though for quite different reasons, he categorized the Belarusian Socialist Union as a “national petty Bourgeois party of a left populist orientation.”)8

6Ihar Babkou offers a somewhat different picture of Belarusians’ national awakening. “At first glance we observe not so much a national project as a project of social and cultural liberation of the rural population that is categorized as Belarusian and thrice suppressed.”9 Babkou intentionally places the forms of suppression in the following order: “First comes the economic suppression, the people resist the extortionate landlords who keep land in their hands. Another suppression is political, for the autocratic political regime does not permit to resort to free forms of representation and to fight for their rights […] The third suppression is national, because both extortionate landlords and Russian officials speak other languages.”10 In other words, the national interests of Belarusian people were parallel to the interests of social liberation and could hardly be the main issue on the agenda of the liberation movement. It was also significant that the “national” distinction for the common people was reflected in the language, and national suppression; that is, in the status of the Belarusian language, or rather a ban on it. At that time it was practically the sole recognizable form of Belarusians’ distinction that remained intact, on which national “awakeners” could lean.

  • 11 N. Nedasek, Bolshevism in the Revolutionary Movement of Belorussia (Munich: Institute for the Stud (...)

7N. Nedasek writes that the national language, or to be more precise, national languages brought about nationalization of the revolutionary movement in that period. He writes about the “nationalization mechanism” of the social-democratic movement. He describes the following stages of this process: “(1) The movement adopted ‘the policy relying on the masses;’ (2) Subsequent linguistic nationalization […] leading to a simultaneous nationalization of consciousness; (3) The appearance of ‘national consciousness’ as a result of the previous trend, and the galvanizing of that consciousness into action; (4) Formulation by this ‘national consciousness’ of the principle of ‘national self-determination including separation,’ i.e. up to ‘national separatism,’ which during that period found its expression in party organizational circles.”11 Nedasek stresses the “instrumental” character of the national issue in the revolutionary movement. In Dubavets’ opinion, on the contrary, it was the appeal to struggle for the social liberation that had an instrumental character for representatives of the “cultural nationalism.” Babkou speaks of a social liberation project that gradually acquired characteristic features of a national liberation movements.

  • 12 Usievalad Ihnatouski, “Bielaruskaie natsiianal’naie pytanne i Kamunistychnaia partyia Tezisy,” Vol (...)

8The very possibility to present this process from various viewpoints allows us to assume that in the practice of cultural and revolutionary movement the national and the social ideas are practically indiscernible. Belarusian historian Usievalad Ihnatouski wrote in 1921: “When the 1917 Bolshevik revolution abolished all social distinctions, for the Belarusians this outcome amounted to national liberation because the class and the national composition of Belarusians almost coincided with each other.”12

  • 13 Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, 123.
  • 14 Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe, 185–86.

9The events of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Belarus serve an instructive example of the ideological combination of the historical period. They confirm Hobsbawm’s words that “various principles on which the political appeal to the masses were based—the class appeal of the socialists, the confessional appeal of religious denominations and the appeal of nationality were not mutually exclusive.”13 Hroch goes further and writes that class conflicts can more probably lead to real changes if they were supported by ethnic or cultural distinctions and, quite the reverse, “where the national movement was not capable of introducing into national agitation […] the interests of specific classes and groups […] it was not capable of attaining success.”14

  • 15 For discussion on this subject, see Roman Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism: Karl Marx and Fried (...)
  • 16 Ian Bremmer proposes somewhat different interpretation of the issue when he writes about the initi (...)
  • 17 Roman Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism, 223.
  • 18 Nedasek, Bolshevism in the Revolutionary Movement of Belorussia, 141. Nedasek shows in his researc (...)

10Among different parties of the social-democratic orientation the Bolshevik party alone had an actively anti-nationalist stance, as for Marx’s followers communism and nationalism are theoretically incompatible concepts. Communism affirms that the fundamental identity of the individual is grounded on his or her class position, while nationalism claims that it derives from culture.15 Negativism in relation to nationalism in the Marxists’ position of the nineteenth century was stipulated by their conviction in the priority of class awareness in relation to the national identity, as well as the bourgeois character of the latter.16 For Marx, nationalism was a historically determined phenomenon that emerged as a result of the rise of capitalism and was primarily a device of the imperialists who could use it as a means to further their own parochial class interests by unifying the entire society. But nations would eventually fade away in favor of a new community based on class solidarity.17 The conflict between these two ideologies was especially evident in the Bolshevist discourse. As N. Nedasek writes, “the RSDRP [the Russian Socialist Democratic Revolutionary Party] happened to be the only party on Belarus’ territory that avoided “nationalization” and immediately adopted the policy of denationalization.”18

  • 19 According to 1897 census data, prevailing majority of Belarusians constituting 63.5 per cent of th (...)
  • 20 Vakar, Belorussia, 87.

11However, this ideological conflict between the internationalism of class struggle and the idea of national revival in the Belarusian case did not play a great role due to the coincidence of the concepts of nationality and class. The Belarusian people almost entirely referred to the social stratum of the “oppressed,” this time meaning peasants rather than workers.19 One can say that for them a change of emphasis in the ideological slogan did not affect the real content of their liberation struggle. This facilitated manipulations with ideological aspects of the revolutionary movements in practice. Moreover, at that time revolutionary ideas of class struggle attracted people thanks to their scale. “The All Russian movement of liberation was catching the imagination of the Belorussian youth who preferred to struggle for a general rather than a provincial ideal, and fight for it on the battlefield of the whole Russian empire. For many, it was more natural to join Russian revolutionary party and to work for an over-all liberation than simply to agitate for ‘narrow regional interest’.” Indeed, would not freedom for Russia mean also freedom for Belorussia? Za vašu i našu svabodu (For your freedom and ours) was the motto of the time.20

  • 21 Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations. Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 (New (...)
  • 22 Vakar, Belorussia, 85.

12Thus, the leaders of the Belarusian national movement found themselves in an ambivalent position: the ideas of national liberation were intertwined into the canvas of the revolutionary practice and had no “pure sounding.” With some people, the national aspect of the struggle was fortified by means of the language; the national language for revolutionaries, as Nedasek put it, was capable to reach masses. It was the national language that served as the main marker of belonging to the nation, and a ban to use the national language was becoming another stimulus for getting involved in the liberation struggle. This was the case with some of Byelorussia’s neighbors. For example, the ban on Lithuanian-language publications was really “sensed” by some Lithuanian-speaking peasants, becoming therefore useful for natonalists as a factor in their mobilization. But as Timothy Snyder writes, “Here Belarusian activists were again in a worse position. In the Russian empire, no one learned to read in Belarusian in church or in school. Belarusians who were literate could already read Polish and Russian. The ban on Belarusian publications was thus of little use to Belarusian activists. No one missed Belarusian as people missed Lithuanian.”21 This diminished the effectiveness of national slogans, so in Belarus “literary nationalism was out of date, and political nationalism out of place.”22

  • 23 Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History (Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1993), 64.
  • 24 Cited in Vakar, Belorussia, 88.
  • 25 Vakar, Belorussia, 88.

13The situation somewhat changed after 1905. “The epoch of individuals” was replaced by the period of increasing national awareness in society. To use Hroch’s classification, it was Phase B (the period of patriotic agitation). Legalization of the Belarusian press, the possibility to publish Belarusian texts, the emergence of a number of young authors who originated from the lower social strata created conditions for a more clear articulation of the Belarusian national revival ideas. In September 1906 the weekly Nasha Dola (Our lot)—the first legal Belarusian paper—began to be published. This periodical, intended for “rural and urban workingmen,” was printed partly in Russian, partly in Polish characters. After six issues it was suspended by the government for its “revolutionary and separatist ideas.” It was replace by Nasha Niva (Our field), “the first Belarusian newspaper with illustrations.” Nasha Niva was published until 1915 and in Jan Zap rudnik’s words, imprinted its name on the period of Belarusian history between 1906–1915 —“nashaniustva.”23 Ties were established in the provincial cities and villages. In three years, the weekly printed 960 items of correspondence from 489 villages, 246 poems by sixty-one poets, and 91 stories by different authors.24 Although the newspaper was not an official organ of any party, it became the center of Belarusian cultural life. It gathered a large circle of young authors who later became classics of Belarusian literature. “In fact, modern Belorusian Literature began with it and in it.”25

  • 26 Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 64.

14On the one hand, Nasha Niva’s publishers declared their commitment to the national idea, emphasizing community on the national ground: “Do not think that we wish to serve only the gentry, or the peasants. No, never! We want to be servants of the whole long-suffering Belarusian nation.”26

15The rhetoric of the national revival required an appeal to the time when Belarusians had “their own” Belarusian princes, nobility, high political standing, and literary achievements. However, the topic of the former glory and the high status of Belarusian aristocracy (shlyakhta) and its cultural attainments hardly agreed with the spirit of the time and with the ideas of liberation of common people from oppression. Therefore the question was rather of their awakening to national awareness than engrafting the old Belarusian aristocratic culture to them. As a result, the predominant leitmotif of the Belarusian authors’ creative work in and around Nasha Niva became hard life on the native land, injustice, and social inequality.

  • 27 I. Dvarčanin, Khrestamatyia novai belaruskai literatury (Vilnius, 1927), 483–97. Cited in Vakar, B (...)
  • 28 Vakar, Belorussia, 90.
  • 29 A. Gramsci quoted in J. Joll, Antonio Gramsci (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), 124.
  • 30 Vakar, Belorussia, 90.

16Quite remarkable was the picture of the social structure of the national movement. Dvarčanin divided all writers of the period into six categories: 1) writers of “transition” from the previous period who continued in the tradition of Dunin-Marcinkevič, Bohusevič, or Nesluchoūski […] (Jadvihin, Kahanec, Paūlovich); 2) peasants, who formed the largest group, among them Kupala, Kolas, Cëtka, Harun, Lësik; 3) one proletarian Ciška Gartny; 4) one “bourgeois” F. Aliachnovič; 5) nine intellectuals, among them Maksim Bahdanovič, M. Harecki, Z. Veras; and 6) ten “others” of widely assorted occupations, some of them not even of Byelorussian origin (Stary Ulas, Shantyr).27 It was important that “rustic element should have prevailed. Even the intellectuals in Dvarčanin’s classification hardly rise above the rural level of literacy.”28 Belarusian national ideology was entirely the product of “organic intelligentsia,” to use Gramsci’s term, who wrote that history “was made by intelligentsia and by intellectual elites conscious of being organically linked to a national-popular mass.”29 For most of them, “literature meant social protest rather than artistic expression, and their poems were rhymed comments on contemporary conditions of life. Their lyrics were simple, unsophisticated, and told the elemental love of the peasant for his land. This was precisely what the Belorussian reader could understand and what he appreciated.”30

  • 31 U. Konan, “Arkhetypy belaruskaga mentalitetu: sproba rekanstruktsyi pavodle natsiianal’nai mifalog (...)

17The image of the “Belarusian” who existed in poverty, depression, and suffering was shrouded into literary forms. This prototype of the literary Belarusian acquired a new hypostasis—that of the Belarusian national character, in place of the national hero. Belarusianness appeared to be inscribed into the framework of social inequality, or rather it was built on the foundation of its negation. It should be noted that in Belarus the ideology of socialism fell into fertile soil. The Belarusian philosopher U. Konan wrote that the connection of Belarusianness with socialism had deep roots in the consciousness of Belarusians stipulated by their social status. In his work devoted to an analysis of archetypes of Belarusian mentality on the materials of the national mythology and fairy tales, he wrote: “From the perspective of political self-awareness, the Belarusian mystic and ‘domestic’ tales display ideas of popular rural socialism […] The hero of the fairytale literature is not the son of czar, prince of merchant, he is a simple peasant’s son. […] This tradition powerfully affected the Belarusian mentality, exposed in the national literature—from K. Kalinouski and F. Bahushevich to Elaiza Pashkevich (Cëtka), Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas.”31 This tradition turned out to be reflected not only in literary forms of imagined Belarusianness, but also in its general ideological and political projects.

  • 32 Maurice Halbwachs, Społeczne ramy pamięci (Warsaw: PWN, 1969), 357.

18A peculiar feature of the new Belarusian project formulated at the time was its specific filtration of the cultural memory that reflected on the image of Belarusianness. In The Social Framework of Memory, Maurice Halb wachs wrote about the difference between the memories of different social classes. In his view the collective memory has different objects and functions in different ways dependent on which social class plays the role of the subject-carrier. Different social strata behave in different fashion in the arts and in life with regard to the content and the values of the cultural tradition, because they have different values themselves. According to Halb wachs, the high and the low strata differ because the former deals mainly with the people, and the latter, with the things. Society, or, to be more specific, the relevant social classes create definite frameworks of memory that form a basis for experience and evaluation of the modern life. According to Halbwachs, “the most important collective memories are born and preserved in the part of society that is not involved in professional work.”32 Therefore, it is the higher social stratum, aristocracy and later bourgeoisie, who preserve certain values and knowledge.

19In this context one can presume that the cultural project of the Belarusian nation formulated by Belarusian nationalists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was based on a certain type of memory, the memory of the lower social stratum, which inevitably led to a filtration of the Belarusian cultural tradition. The formation of the cultural tradition within the national project of the time was based on the generalization of peasant class culture.

  • 33 “As to the wealth of the old linguistic material, the West Russian language occupies the first pla (...)
  • 34 A. I. Zhurauski, “Utvaren’nie belaruskai movy i iaie razvits’tse,” in Belarus’ na miazhy tysiachag (...)
  • 35 A. G. Waring, The Influence of Non-Linguistic Factors on the Rise and Fall of the Old Bye lorussia (...)

20One of the main instruments and, at the same time, a victim of this filtration was the language. The Belarusian literary language began to develop in the nineteenth century on the folk foundation, without any connection with the literary language of prior generations. Many historians write about the high status and level of development of Belarusian in the seventeenth century.33 However, this language “having achieved the highest level of development both in the structural and the functional respects by early seventeenth century and even making an effect on the Russian language in a way, had gradually declined and went out of use as a result of the cultural and historical circumstances of the time.”34 At the same time the rise and fall of the Belarusian literary language is considered as a classical, if not a unique example of the extra-linguistic factors’ impact on the language. “The striking feature of the language which became Byelorussian is that it evolved an extensive and important language, then lost it only to develop a later written language but on a different basis.”35 Among historical factors there can be mentioned polonization within Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and russification within the Russian empire. But the fact that the Belarusian revival was built on the repudiation of the “old” literary language (and with it, of all that had been created in that language) was to a great extent connected with the revolutionary trends of the time and dictated by the spirit of the struggle for social equality. The cultural legacy of Old Belarusian was a creation of higher social strata and, because of that, it could not serve as another stimulus for mobilization of the national awareness of popular masses in the era of revival.

21The appeals to a class consciousness and to a folk language were in fact the only possible sources in the formulation of the national project, more so because at that time Belarusians did not have a distinct religious basis of their own. This situation was a result of numerous upheavals in the religious history on these lands caused by shifts in authorities and different eras of cultural and political dominations. Historically, the Orthodox faith was the most spread religion on the Belarusian lands between the tenth century and the sixteenth century. This religion was bearing the sense of religious commonness of the Duchy’s Orthodox lands with the Muscovy, and the dukes of Grand Duchy of Lithuania were aware of this. They repeatedly tried to build up the autonomy of the Duchy’s Orthodox Church during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. However, only the creation of the Uniate Church several centuries later could be considered a success story of this separation.

  • 36 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 34.

22During the Reformation, numerous Belarusian magnates adopted Calvinism. Its teachings brought religious postulates to real life and oriented its adepts at a more conscious perception, which enabled Calvinism to play a positive role in the cultural development of Belarusians. At the beginning of the sixteenth century Calvinism gained adherence among businessmen, trades people, and artisans in many towns. “Lively debates evoked by the Reformation and a flood of polemical publications turned out by numerous printing houses contributed significantly to the development of the Belarusian literary language, which would eventually become the basis for the modern Belarusian revival after the ‘twilight zone’ of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century.”36 The Belarusian historian S. Akinchits calls Reformation the golden age of Belarusian history, the historical and cultural experience which links Belarusians with Europe.

The sixteenth century, the century of Reformation changed the history and introduced progress and well-being in the life of many peoples. The whole world considers this period as a time when the foundation of modern economy, politics, sciences and culture were laid down. For Belarus, too, this century played an exceptional role. Namely, this period saw the most important development here. In a certain sense we are a nation of the sixteenth century. […] Having accepted the Reformation ideas, having turned to the Bible and personal relations with the Lord, Belarusian society experienced a great rise in various sphere of its life. Schools and books publishing propagated, together with legal and political ideas which even today impress us. When we compare the development of various European countries of the sixteenth century, we may see that Belarus—the Grand Duchy of Lithuania moved in the same direction as England—the same development of the local self-government, the same adoption of the Reformation by the top members of society, the same economic activity of magnates and the szlachta (in England—lords and the gentry).37

  • 38 V. Pliss, Istoricheskii ocherk pronikonovenia i raprostranenia Reformatsii w Litve i Zapadnoi Rusi (...)

23Akinchits refers to the Russian researcher of the Reformation in Belarus V. Pliss, who admitted in his studies that “in the early 1560s, the Calvinist consciousness was on the level of dominating faith and was gaining powerful roots here.”38

  • 39 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 37.

24The spread of Reformation was linked to a greater involvement of Belarusian lands into the orbit of European cultural and economic universe. During that period “cultural development in Belarus, as part of the Grand Duchy in union with Poland, was influenced by ties with Western Europe, to which Belarusian merchants shifted their trade as a result of wars with Muscovy during most of the sixteenth century. The demand by European market for agricultural products and goods from forests in the East fueled the economic growth and prosperity of the cities of Vilnius, Bierascie (Brest), Polacak, Miensk, Hrodna, and others. The nobility and burgers could afford to send their sons to study at the universities of Koenigsberg, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Louvain, Basel and Padua.”39 These contacts brought Renaissance humanistic ideas to Belarus and largely influenced the development of native culture.

25The decline of the Reformation on the Belarusian lands was related not only to the active Catholic counteraction to Protestantism, but was also linked to the wars that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania led with the Moscow state, which caused large numbers of casualties among town dwellers—the most active population during the Reformation and reduced the number of nobles who adhered to Luther’s and Calvin’s ideas.

  • 40 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 35.

26The next stage of Belarusian religious history was connected with the creation of a religious union between the Orthodox and Catholics within the Commonwealth. In 1596 the council of clergy and laymen recognized the supreme authority of the pope and accepted some fundamental dogmas of the Catholic Church while preserving the Eastern-rite liturgy. “Such union,” J. Zaprudnik writes, “was much desired as a unifying factor in a state where vast eastern territories shared the same East Christian rite with the covetous Muscovy.”40

  • 41 Leonid Lych, “Religia i natsiianal’naia samasviadomast’ belarusau,” Belarusika Alba ruthenica no. (...)

27Evaluation of this phenomenon of a religious compromise between the two branches of Christianity in the context of Belarusian national development remains ambiguous even today. However, many authors agree that in the situation when Catholicism became increasingly identified as the Polish faith, and Orthodox as the Russian one, the Uniate Church gave Belarusians a chance to obtain a true “national religion.” The Belarusian historian Leonid Lych writes: “If the Catholic Church since the very beginning and the Orthodoxy since the moment of dependence of Moscow power had been instruments of denationalization of spiritual life of Belarusians, the Uniate Church was attentive to their historic traditions, culture and the language, assisted the ethnic national consciousness of the indigenous population of our land.”41

  • 42 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 38.

28“The introduction” of a new version of Christian religion into practical religious life was often connected with violence. “Just as Protestants a century earlier had taken over Catholic churches, now the Uniates, instigated and supported by state authorities did the same to Orthodox shrines.”42 In order to escape a forcible conversion into the Uniate Church, many Belarusians moved to Ukraine.

  • 43 Uladzimir Arlou and Genadz Saganovich, Dzesiats’ viakou belaruskai gistoryi 862–1918 (Vilnius: Nas (...)

29The Uniate Church preserved many aspects of Orthodox religious rituals, combining them with the use of the Belarusian language in the education and sermons. Due to the focus on the native language of the ordinary people the Uniate Church served as a bridge between the national culture and the Christian inheritance. As Belarusian (alternative) historians U. Arlou and G. Saganovich write, it had become a “holder” of the Belarusian cultural values and focused the spirit of the national cultural development.43

  • 44 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 50.
  • 45 Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999, 45.

30By 1839, when the Uniate Church in Belarus was forcibly converted to Russian Orthodoxy after the incorporation into the Russian empire, more than 80 percent of the Belarusian peasantry belonged to the Uniate Church. The history repeated itself. “Violence at the beginning of the seventeenth century, when Orthodox individuals were being forced into the religious union of 1596, returned two centuries later to avenge itself on the innocent.”44 At the same time, surprisingly, at the beginning of their rule on Belarusian lands the Russian policy allowed the Belarusian gentry to drift toward Polish high culture, however, “it removed the religious basis for a popular notion of a distinct Belarusian nation.”45 The liquidation of the Uniate Church was followed by the ban of the names Belarus and Litva from the official use in 1840. Furthermore, in 1827 conversion of Uniates to Catholicism was forbidden by a decree. Polonization affected mainly higher levels of the population, and by the time of Belarusian national revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the major part of the Belarusian population was again Orthodox. Participation in the national movement of the Polish clergy or the members of the national in telligentsia who were often brought up in Catholic families further complicated the situation—Catholics on these lands were often represented by landowners, Catholics spoke Polish, even if they belonged to the Belarusian ethnos. Absence of a sole religious basis as a distinct form of national determination led to an enhanced role of the only obvious signs of Belarusian distinction of that moment—the social class and the language.

  • 46 Barrington Moore Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making (...)
  • 47 Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteen (...)

31It is noteworthy to mention here Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, in which he analyzes how peculiarities of the social experience determined the specific outlook of the peasantry. “As the world of commerce and industry began to undermine the structure of the village community, the European peasants reacted with a form of radicalism that stressed the themes of liberty, equality, and fraternity, but in a way distinct than that the townsmen, more specifically the more prosperous bourgeoisie, understood these themes. […] For the peasant, the first of the three was not liberty but equality. […] Liberty, too, meant getting rid of the overlord who no longer gave them protection but now used his ancient privileges to take away their land or make them work on his for nothing.”46 Moore does not limit his research to Western European history, he also makes use of materials devoted to the study of Russian peasantry. The concept of “liberty” here, too, was subjected to reduction. First desire of the Russian peasant in the nineteenth century was to stop working on the overlord’s property for nothing. Since they felt that the tie between their own society and the overlord exploited them, they wanted to break the connection and run the village community themselves. This was their main conception of “true liberty.”47 The observation concerning the general tendency for a local interpretation of “liberty” and a greater accent on equality rather than liberty or fraternity revealed in peasantry can also be applied to the rise of a national liberation and revolutionary movement in Belarus. Popular masses responded to the idea of possible liberation from social and economic oppression and achievement of universal equality.

32In the symbolic matrix of Belarusianness, which was taking shape in that historical period, national ideas appeared closely united with the ideas of socialism. Foremost among them was social equality, which in the minds of the Belarusian population—90 percent of which was made up of peasants—was far more significant than “liberty” or “fraternity.” Thus, the appeal to social equality in the late twentieth century in the official discourse of Belarusianness has historical roots that go back not only to the socialist era, but into the pre-Soviet period of national movement. Not accidentally, the young poets Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas who were among the members of the Nasha Niva group, became classics of the national literature in Soviet Belarus. This testifies to the absence of a clear ideological contradiction between the ideas of national revival formulated in the early twentieth century and the Belarusian socialist project that was developed within the Soviet state. It also signifies that broad masses of population, to whom the nationalist appeal was addressed, often remained outside this movement.

  • 48 Vakar, Belorussia, 87.

33At the same time, as historians testify, political organization of the national Belarusian movement remained extremely low. As N. Vakar writes, “For many people nationalism remained a cultural project, not a political programme. It would seem that Belorussian people recognizing the cultural significance of nationalist propaganda willfully rejected its political implications. During the ten years of constitutional regime in Russia not a single deputy from Belorussia ever mentioned his specific Belorusian consciousness, although Polish, Lithuanians, Armenians, Tatar and other nationals spoke freely of theirs.”48

  • 49 Vilhelm Knoryn, Kamunistychnaia partyia na Bielarusi (Minsk, 1924), 219; cited in Zaprudnik, Belar (...)

34The real nationalization began under Soviet rule. The Byelorussian Republic was made up by Bolsheviks in January 1919. The “Sovereign” Soviet Byelorussian Republic (BSSR), composed at that time of six counties of Minsk province, with a population of approximately 1.5 million. On January 1920, BSSR concluded “a treaty of alliance” with the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Vilhelm Knoryn, a representative of the Bolshevist movement, wrote in 1924: “The period of German occupation was at the same time a period of absorption by the masses of the idea of Byelorussian independence, to which the Party should have given its attention. Under these circumstances the Party organizations of Moscow and Smolensk became convinced almost simultaneously that the establishment of the Byelorussian Republic was necessary immediately.”49

Notes

1 Jaroslav Krejci, “Ethnic Problems in Europe,” in Contemporary Europe: Social Structures and Cultural Patterns, ed. S. Giner and M. S. Archer (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 127.

2 Nicholas P. Vakar, Belorussia. The Making of a Nation. A Case Study (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956), 82–83.

3 Vakar, Belorussia, 83.

4 Siargei Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” ARCHE 1 (2005): 165, http://arche.bymedia.net/2005-1/dubaviec105.htm.

5 Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” 166.

6 Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” 166.

7 Dubavets, “Praekt Belarus’,” 167–68.

8 V. I. Lenin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, vol. 24 (Moscow: State Printers of Political Literature, 1961), 315.

9 Ihar Babkou, “Genealogia belaruskai idei,” ARCHE 3 (2005), 152, http://arche.bymedia.net/2005-3/babkou305.htm.

10 Babkou, “Genealogia belaruskai idei,”152.

11 N. Nedasek, Bolshevism in the Revolutionary Movement of Belorussia (Munich: Institute for the Study of the USSR, 1956), 43–44, 145.

12 Usievalad Ihnatouski, “Bielaruskaie natsiianal’naie pytanne i Kamunistychnaia partyia Tezisy,” Volny Sciah 6, December 25, 1921, 38–40. Cited in J. Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Cross roads in History (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993), 77.

13 Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780, 123.

14 Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe, 185–86.

15 For discussion on this subject, see Roman Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism: Karl Marx and Friedrich List (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

16 Ian Bremmer proposes somewhat different interpretation of the issue when he writes about the initial ideological affinity between the nationalism and communism, which is expressed in the defining of individual’s status: “In states governed by nationalists or communists principles, the individual is important only as the embodiment of collective spiritual values. Man is no more the starting point of communism than he is the starting point of nationalism.” Ian Bremmer, “Post-Soviet Nationalities Theory: Past, Present and Future,” in New States, New Politics: Building the Post Soviet Nations, ed. Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 4.

17 Roman Szporluk, Communism and Nationalism, 223.

18 Nedasek, Bolshevism in the Revolutionary Movement of Belorussia, 141. Nedasek shows in his research that the appearance and crystallization of the Bolshevism was taking place out of any sensible connection and contacts with Belarus, which allows him to conclude that “Bolshevism in Belarus, Belarusian Bolshevism, and national-bolshevism did not come out of the Belarusian Socialist Hramada’ or any other local party’s interior […] but its appearance on the political arena of our lands was owed to the external source” Nedasek, Bolshevism in the Revolutionary Movement of Belorussia, 89.

19 According to 1897 census data, prevailing majority of Belarusians constituting 63.5 per cent of the total population of the five gubernias (Mahilou, Viciebsk, Miensk, Vilnius, and Hrodna) lived in rural areas. Only 2.6 percent lived in the cities. Vakar, Belorussia, 34.

20 Vakar, Belorussia, 87.

21 Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations. Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), 47.

22 Vakar, Belorussia, 85.

23 Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History (Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1993), 64.

24 Cited in Vakar, Belorussia, 88.

25 Vakar, Belorussia, 88.

26 Jan Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 64.

27 I. Dvarčanin, Khrestamatyia novai belaruskai literatury (Vilnius, 1927), 483–97. Cited in Vakar, Belorussia, 90.

28 Vakar, Belorussia, 90.

29 A. Gramsci quoted in J. Joll, Antonio Gramsci (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977), 124.

30 Vakar, Belorussia, 90.

31 U. Konan, “Arkhetypy belaruskaga mentalitetu: sproba rekanstruktsyi pavodle natsiianal’nai mifalogii i kazachnaga epasu,” Belarusika Albaruthenica no. 2 (1992): 27.

32 Maurice Halbwachs, Społeczne ramy pamięci (Warsaw: PWN, 1969), 357.

33 “As to the wealth of the old linguistic material, the West Russian language occupies the first place next to the Great Russian language, as to the ancient published books it even surpasses the latter.” F. E. Karski, Belarusy. Vvedenie v izuchenie iazyka i narodnoi sloves nosti (Vilnius, 1904), 343.

34 A. I. Zhurauski, “Utvaren’nie belaruskai movy i iaie razvits’tse,” in Belarus’ na miazhy tysiachagoddziau (Minsk: Belaruskaia entsiklopedia, 2000), 57.

35 A. G. Waring, The Influence of Non-Linguistic Factors on the Rise and Fall of the Old Bye lorussian Literary Language,” The Journal of Byelorussian Studies 4, nos. 3–4: (1980): 129.

36 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 34.

37 S. Akintchits, Zalaty vek Belarusi, http://knihi.com/bel/zalaty.html.

38 V. Pliss, Istoricheskii ocherk pronikonovenia i raprostranenia Reformatsii w Litve i Zapadnoi Rusi (St Petersburg, 1914), cited in Akinchyts, Zalaty vek Belarusi.

39 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 37.

40 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 35.

41 Leonid Lych, “Religia i natsiianal’naia samasviadomast’ belarusau,” Belarusika Alba ruthenica no. 2 (1992), 68.

42 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 38.

43 Uladzimir Arlou and Genadz Saganovich, Dzesiats’ viakou belaruskai gistoryi 862–1918 (Vilnius: Nasha Buduchynia, 1999), 186.

44 Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 50.

45 Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999, 45.

46 Barrington Moore Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979), 497.

47 Franco Venturi, Roots of Revolution: A History of the Populist and Socialist Movements in Nineteenth Century Russia (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1960), 211, 218; cited in Barrington, 502–3.

48 Vakar, Belorussia, 87.

49 Vilhelm Knoryn, Kamunistychnaia partyia na Bielarusi (Minsk, 1924), 219; cited in Zaprudnik, Belarus at a Crossroads in History, 70.

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