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Struggle over Identity

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Nelly Bekus

Part IV. Arguments and Paradoxes of Weak Belarusian Identity

Chapter 14. The Paradox of “National Pride”

Texte intégral

  • 1 Zbigniew Bokszański, Tożsamości Zbiorowe (Warsaw: PWN, 2005), 136.

1The 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” is a definite form of individualization of the concept of national identity, which refers to the knowledge, ideas, and opinions of members of the national community. In this context, one can state, that the status of the country in the perception of its citizens is an evidence of the beginning of its independence. As opinion polls show, Belarusians are increasingly confirmed in their desire to live in their own independent state, where “Belarus” and “Belarusianness” become groundwork for self-determination. The IISEPS sociologists conducted an opinion poll where respondents were given a number of options of hypothetic self-definition (see Table 3).

2The data show that the majority of those involved in the opinion poll opted to present themselves as citizens of Belarus. Remarkably, among those who consider themselves citizens of Belarus, there is a considerable number of ethnic Russians and representatives of other ethnic minorities, testifying to the fact that Belarusian society has a considerable assimilation power. (According to the census, ethnic Russians comprise 11 percent.) It is noteworthy that the replacement of ethnic identity by civic identity is characteristic of ethnic Belarusians, too—according to the census, they comprise 81 percent of the country’s population but only half of them prefer this kind of self-identification (see Table 3). Such data do not confirm the impression about a weak, eroded, indefinite Belarusian identity, as well as the opinion about the Belarusian nation as one “not shaped yet.”

Table 3. Responses to the question “What kind of an individual would you perceive yourself to be if you were asked about it abroad?” (%)

Table 3. Responses to the question “What kind of an individual would you perceive yourself to be if you were asked about it abroad?” (%)

Note: National opinion poll conducted in November–December 2005 by independent sociologists assisted; 1,514 respondents were polled.

Source: “Grazhdankaia identichnost’” Novosti IISEPS Bulleten’ no. 4, 2005, http://www.iiseps.org/​bullet05-4.html.

3They, rather, testify to a paradoxically strong civic identity in the self-consciousness of Belarusian majority. Some researchers assume that these data disapprove the fears that in Belarusian society there are widely disseminated identities different from the civic and ethnic Belarusian affiliation.2 This feeling of belonging to the nation defined by the state shows that the Belarusian nation proves to be quite a functioning link in the system of relations between society and the state.

  • 3 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus: Economy and Political Landscape,” 111.
  • 4 John Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” in Postcommunist Belarus, ed. S. White, E. Korosteleva, a (...)
  • 5 Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” 147.

4Grigory Ioffe once wrote that “as a group, Belarusians seem at first glance to be uniquely selfless and immune to national pride.”3 But this observation is refuted by the research cited in John Löwenhardt’s article titled “Belarus and the West.”4 He refers to the results of the research that was done in November 2001 by the New Democracy Barometer in several East European countries. Citizens were asked how proud they were of being citizens of their country (see Table 4); according to John Löwenhardt, this “can be seen as a way of measuring national identity.”5

Table 4. Response to the Question “How proud are you to
be a citizen of your country?” (%)

Table 4. Response to the Question “How proud are you tobe a citizen of your country?” (%)

Notes: Survey sponsored by the European Commission Directorate General Research within the framework of the INCO-COPERNICUS Research Program. Percentage in parenthesis refers to those who identify themselves as being of Belarusian nationality.
Source: adapted by John Löwenhardt from Christian Haerpfer, New Democracy Barometer, no. 6, November 2001. Löwenhardt “Belarus and the West,” in Postcommunist Belarus, ed. S. White, E. Koros te leva, and J. Löwenhardt (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 147.

  • 6 Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” 147.
  • 7 Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” 147.

5The data reveal, Löwenhardt writes, that “in the hearts and minds of the Belarusian citizenry their country has definitely been put on the map,”6 as the “citizens of Belarus are the proudest in the region!”7 Of those who consider themselves to be of Belarusian nationality, seven in every ten are proud to be a citizen of their country.

  • 8 In particular it considered to what degree citizens of twenty post-communist countries were proud (...)

6The data of the large-scale international research conducted in 1995–98 by the World Values Survey8 reveals that in the late 1990s Belarusians, in respect of national pride among post-communist nations, were neither the first nor the last. For the indication of the “pride” the “Index of pride” was used: those who definitely are not proud of their Belarusian citizenship are attributed the zero rating, most likely not proud—1, most likely proud—2, definitely proud—3. Then, with the exception of those who did not res pond, we calculate the meaning of the “Index of pride” of Belarusians: (0.052 0 + 0.151 1+0.234 2+0.426 3)/(1.0 – 0.137) = 2.19

Table 5. Pride Index by Country (1995–1998)

Table 5. Pride Index by Country (1995–1998)

Source: http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org.

7According to the above research, one cannot observe any “backwardness” of Belarusians in the respect of their country’s value for them. Their “pride index” values are quite comparable with those in other post-communist countries. The pride index of Belarusians in Belarus is practically equal to the similar index of Ukrainians, a little leaving behind Russia and Lithuania, and on the whole, among neighbors they are noticeably behind only Poles.

8IISEPS sociologists also studied the ratio between “the pride index” of Belarusians and their political views, in particular, their attitude toward Lukashenka.

9The data presented in Table 6 testify to a strong negative connection between the pride in Belarusian citizenship and the attitude toward President Lukashenka. His supporters to a much greater degree than his opponents are prone to the pride in their Belarusian citizenship. This appears to be a paradox, if we take into account that it is Lukashenka’s electorate that is viewed as an antinationalist force that brought the BPF to failure and that it comprises the “denationalized” Belarusian majority.

  • 9 A. Sadowski and M. Czerniawska, Tożsamość polaków na pograniczach (Białystok: Wy daw. Uniwersytetu (...)
  • 10 These data also prove that the factor of religion cannot be considered as decisive in defining a m (...)
  • 11 The study was conducted in 1996 using questionnaires filled out by 235 people. Sadowski and Czerni (...)

10The results of another comparative study conducted by Polish sociologist A. Sadowski of a “set of values” as perceived by individuals from several countries—Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Romania—also show no evidence that Belarusians lack national sentiment.9 Within the framework of the Sadowski’s study, the list of values proposed for appraisal included national dignity, civil liberties, education, national unity, work for the motherland, professional success, religion, and friendly relations with other countries. Belarusians, as Sadowski’s study shows, award the highest importance to civil liberties (62.79 %), education (60.47 %), national unity (55.81 %), and national dignity (44.19 %), religion polled only 26.74 percent,10 and “friendly relations with other countries” were the least valued at 13.95 percent.11

Note: National opinion poll conducted in May 2005 by IISEPS sociologists ; 1,510 respondents were polled.
Source: “Kab lubits’ Belarus’ nashu miluiu,” Arkhiv analitiki IISEPS, May 2005, http://www.iiseps.org/​5-05-5.html.

11Such data manifest that straightforward statement about a weak expression of the national sentiment and absence of Belarusian identity, despite their looking obvious for many researchers, are not indisputable: Belarusians stand up for the preservation of their country’s independence, they prefer Belarusian identity and more than others, or at least no less, are proud of being citizens of their country.

Notes

1 Zbigniew Bokszański, Tożsamości Zbiorowe (Warsaw: PWN, 2005), 136.

2 “Grazhdanskaia identichnost’” Novosti IISEPS Bulleten’ no. 4, 2005, http://www.iiseps.org/bullet05-4.html.

3 Ioffe, “Understanding Belarus: Economy and Political Landscape,” 111.

4 John Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” in Postcommunist Belarus, ed. S. White, E. Korosteleva, and J. Löwenhardt (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Little field, 2005), 143–59.

5 Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” 147.

6 Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” 147.

7 Löwenhardt, “Belarus and the West,” 147.

8 In particular it considered to what degree citizens of twenty post-communist countries were proud of their countries, at the same time there was a separate study of the attitude to the country of residence on the part of ethnic minorities and title ethnies.

9 A. Sadowski and M. Czerniawska, Tożsamość polaków na pograniczach (Białystok: Wy daw. Uniwersytetu w Białymstoku, 1999), 63–65.

10 These data also prove that the factor of religion cannot be considered as decisive in defining a model for the sociopolitical development of Belarus at the present time. During the Soviet period, religion was deprived of its leading status in cultural and social life, and had no influence on society comparable to what it had in Poland, for example. Although the Church re-entered the public life of Belarusian society after the fall of communism, its influence on people’s social and political choices can hardly be seen as crucial.

11 The study was conducted in 1996 using questionnaires filled out by 235 people. Sadowski and Czerniawska, Tożsamość polaków na pograniczach, 51–54.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 3. Responses to the question “What kind of an individual would you perceive yourself to be if you were asked about it abroad?” (%)
Légende Note: National opinion poll conducted in November–December 2005 by independent sociologists assisted; 1,514 respondents were polled.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/615/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Table 4. Response to the Question “How proud are you tobe a citizen of your country?” (%)
Légende Notes: Survey sponsored by the European Commission Directorate General Research within the framework of the INCO-COPERNICUS Research Program. Percentage in parenthesis refers to those who identify themselves as being of Belarusian nationality.Source: adapted by John Löwenhardt from Christian Haerpfer, New Democracy Barometer, no. 6, November 2001. Löwenhardt “Belarus and the West,” in Postcommunist Belarus, ed. S. White, E. Koros te leva, and J. Löwenhardt (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), 147.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/615/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 107k
Titre Table 5. Pride Index by Country (1995–1998)
Légende Source: http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/615/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 204k
Légende Note: National opinion poll conducted in May 2005 by IISEPS sociologists ; 1,510 respondents were polled.Source: “Kab lubits’ Belarus’ nashu miluiu,” Arkhiv analitiki IISEPS, May 2005, http://www.iiseps.org/​5-05-5.html.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/615/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 253k

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