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Struggle over Identity

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Nelly Bekus

Part V. Struggle over Identity

Chapter 20. Political Discourses of the Alternative Belarusianness

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1The 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 Be larusianness in Europe, others see it at the meeting point of civilizations and consider Belarus to be a neutral and self-sufficient country. They are united by the renunciation of the Russian vector of the Belarusian idea cultivated by the authorities, and a consequent denial of the national status of the existing Belarusian state. In practice, the two alternative concepts of Belarusianness not only do not contradict each other, but often unite in their opposition to the pro-Russianness that dominates official culture and politics. To realize the idea of Belarus as a cultural bridge between Russia and the West it has to move away from Russia and toward Europe to reach neutrality. Thus, “Europe” becomes a symbol of alternative Belarusianness.

BELARUS IS EUROPE

  • 1 Andrei Suzdaltsev, “Belorusskoe natsional’noe gosudarstvo,” Nashe mnienie, April 18, 2005, http:// (...)
  • 2 The chief of Belarusian National Bank in 1991–1995, currently the head of the United Civic Party ( (...)
  • 3 Stanislav Bogdankievich, “Belaruskaia natsional’naia idea,” Adkrytaie gramadstva 1 (6), 1999 http: (...)

2The articulation of the European idea of Belarusianness is based on a number of principles. First principle is a liberal democratic interpretation of the nation. It means that “the nation” as a phenomenon can be realized only under a definite state structure. Andrei Suzdaltsev writes: “the present Republic of Belarus cannot be considered a national state of the Belarusian people […] as only a state with a democratic state and political regimes can be called ‘national’.”1 Stanislav Bogdankevich2 gives a similar formulation of the national idea. He incorporates “the European political idea” into the content of Belarusianness: “We are convinced that the essence of the Belarusian national idea consists in the consolidation of complete sovereignty of the state and the right of our people to manage their own destiny, in the revival of its moral and spiritual formations, in the flourishing of national culture, in the formation of a prosperous civil society and a democratic rule-of-law state, with its ultimate aim to provide citizens with rights and liberties as well as a worthy level of life.”3

  • 4 Bogdankievich, “Belaruskaia natsional’naia idea.”

3The main hindrance in realizing this national idea is the incumbent authorities who tear Belarus away from the West and bring it to the East. “Lukashenka’s socioeconomic realities of Belarus are more pertaining to the Asiatic model of production based on the predominant administrative power and its inseparability with property, on the economic and political dominion of bureaucracy.”4 In this manner, the genuine European idea of Belarusianness is sullied by the Asiatic formula of power. Like Stanislav Bogdankevich, the majority of the opposition authors proclaim liberal and democratic values as the basis for national Belarusian development, in contrast to the current regime. The basic thesis of this approach is that a nation cannot exist outside of, or without, liberal democracy, which is why Belarusians have to replace the political system of power in the country in order to become a “nation.” Adherents of this approach work in the sphere of political declaration and base their arguments on comparison with European countries.

4Another source of “European Belarusianness” is built on the revival of Belarus’s European past. The alternative Belarusian historiography lays a solid foundation for the concept of European Belarusianness. In this context, the Belarusian nation is considered to be European, not because it claims for itself the category of nation in general, but because of its tradition of shared political and moral values.

5One of the goals of the Belarusian People’s Front is the “renewal of the Belarusian cultural tradition on the basis of European moral values,” while the Europeanness and the general civilizational perspective of Belarus are provided by the Belarusian historical memory.5

  • 6 Uladzimir Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad, Vostok est' ili mogut li oshibatsia krupneishie politologi sov (...)

6The Belarusian political scientist Uladzimir Rouda writes that “from the moment of emergence of statehood on Belarusian lands in the ninth century and until the end of the eighteenth century Belarus had belonged to the Western or, rather, to European civilization.”6 The western format of the Belarusian national idea is testified to by the Belarusian past, and practically all the features of the Western civilizational scale can be applied to Belarus or, more precisely, to its past. Examples of Europeanness abound in Belarusian history—the impact of the “classical cultural legacy” that penetrated into the territory of Belarus from the Byzantine and Ro man empires; the development of Catholicism and Calvinism; and the separation of church and state, which was the standard in Belarus until its incorporation into the Russian empire.

  • 7 Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad.”
  • 8 Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad.”
  • 9 Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad.”

7The idea of law supremacy, of everyone’s submission to a single body of law runs through the 1588 Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Rouda notes, “some articles of the Statute, for instance, the death penalty for homicide, the presumption of innocence, the limitation of serfdom, the declaration of religious tolerance, exceeded the codes of law of the Western European states of the time.”7 Medieval Belarus enjoyed developed social pluralism, and in this respect the country was not inferior to Western Europe. Rouda concludes his historical review, “on the scale of Belarusian history there are nine centuries of European history on the one hand, and two centuries of ‘Asianness’ on the other hand,”8 and that is why, for Belarus, “the development of national self-consciousness means the revival of the very European tradition that underlies contemporary democracy in the West.”9

  • 10 Yu. Khadyka, “Eurapeiskia kanteksty belaruskaga mentalitetu,” Filamaty 4, no. 7 (2003), http://kam (...)
  • 11 Uladzimir Arlou, “U palone gistarychnykh mifau,” Golas Radzimy, June 15, 1995.
  • 12 Arlou, “U palone gistarychnykh mifau.”

8Many reputable members of the Belarusian elite share this orientation of the Belarusian national idea. Intellectual and politician Yuri Khadyka writes, “I think in today’s Belarus there is no real choice. In the conditions of a tense intercivilizational conflict, we have just one way—to the West, to Europe, that is where our legitimate place has been since the fifteenth century. The last two centuries, the hardest time for Belarusian independence, have only tempered the basic features of the national character […] In other words, Belarusians are Europeans by their mentality. We have to hurry up in order to really join European civilization.”10 Uladzimir Arlou calls Belarus “an outpost of the Enlightenment era,”11 which was as irrelevant to Russia as the Reformation and the Counterreformation. As he put it, Belarus in all times has found itself “in the sphere of European history and European cultural values.”12

  • 13 Ales’ Antsipenka, “Eurapeiskast’ i hrystsianskaia idea belaruskasci,” Belarusika Alba ruthe n ica (...)
  • 14 “Z chago na vashu dumku pachynaetsa nacianal’naia historia Belarusi i chym iana skon’chytsa?” ARCH (...)

9Political activist Ales’ Antsipenka also writes that Belarusianness connected the country with old Europe as far back as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Taking this statement into consideration, the way to Europe is just a way back home. In Antsipenka’s opinion Belarus is “a miniature model of Europe.”13 In this context the accentuation of Europeanness means that Belarusians are a nation whose formation has undergone all the stages of nation-building in Europe. Writer and philosopher Valiatsin Akudovich says that Belarusians have always been within the same ideological concept of the nation as all the other European nations. The phenomenon of “homo national” displaced “homo religious” as a result of the radical modernization process, and this change is a universal cultural, even civilizational, factor.“That is why it is strange to hear about ‘old’ and ‘young’ nations, namely in the historical respect, we, let us say, and Ger mans can be considered as siblings born one year apart.”14

  • 15 “Z chago na vashu dumku pachynaetsa natsiianal’naia historia Belarusi i chym iana skon’chytsa,” 6– (...)

10Even “the most difficult issue” of Belarusian national consciousness— Russification and the abandonment of the Belarusian language—is viewed here in the context of the European analogy. “The state of the national language, which may seem peculiar from the standpoint of standard nation-building models, is not unique in the context of the universal background: America speaks the language of former colonizers, in Ireland and Belgium the language of former occupants exists along with the vernaculars,”15 says journalist and publicist Yuri Drakokhrust.

11The history of Belarus, being European in its typological standards, naturally leads to its European present, that is to the European idea of Belarusianness. Akinchyts writes, “The Golden Age of Belarus, the sixteenth century, show us the proper way to be taken in order for Belarus to occupy its honorable place among peoples.”16 The project of Belarusianness is built on the foundation of European history, according to the principle that Belarusians are a nation just like Poles, Slovaks, and Czechs. This synonymic series is opposed to the Russian—and, broader, to the pan-Slav—context of official Belarusianness.

  • 17 G. Saganovich, “Akupanty i partyzany,” Nasha Niva, no. 1, 1991; “Mova historii,” Nasha Niva, no. 1 (...)
  • 18 A. Ablazhei, “Pamiatsi Mirki,” Nasha Niva, no. 4, 1991; “S. D. Ivan Luckevich—arganizatar belarusk (...)
  • 19 A. Litvin, “Belaruskaia samaakhova,” Nasha Niva, no. 13, 1993.
  • 20 V. F. Shatalava, “Natsiianal’naia idea na staronkakh “Nashai Nivy” 1991–1994 Gg.,” in Sbornik mate (...)
  • 21 V. Akudovich, “Suchasnaia belaruskaia filazofia: historia Paustavan’nia,” in Antalogia such as nag (...)
  • 22 Jerzy Kłoczowski, Młodsza Europa (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 2003), 13.
  • 23 Kłoczowski, Młodsza Europa, 21.

12The European image of Belarus is also formulated by Nasha Niva, a news paper that became the main tool of the Belarusian national idea’s articulation in the early twentieth century and which was resumed in 1991 with a similar philosophy and similar purposes. The articles related to historical issues published in Nasha Niva represent the pro-European interpretation of the past. They cover different periods of history, materials about the GDL and Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth,17 about the national movement and the BPR’s creation,18 about the Soviet time and postcommunism (the Soviet system on the whole and its Russocentrism are negatively estimated).19 All these publications serve to provide a basis for the national idea, and this national idea of Nasha Niva, as the Belarusian historian V. Shatalava writes, “is the idea of Belarusians’ return to their historical sources, that is the Western European civilization and the history of its existence during many centuries within a democratic state (the GDL and later Commonwealth of the two peoples), with a high status of their language and traditions.”20 The revived Nasha Niva, as V. Akudovich observed, “is culturologically located within the format of modern European mentality,”21 and that is why the mere fact of its existence actualizes the European context in the intellectual space of Belarus. The idea that the history of the Middle Ages can serve as a basis of “Europeanness” in the present time is popular not only with Belarusian authors. For instance, the Polish historian Jerzy Kłoczowski wrote that “the Middle Ages […] have an absolutely decisive meaning for what we can in general call Europeanization, or “an entrance to Europe” of our lands and, at the same time, created the basis for their popular cultures.”22 In his work, he showed that the history of the Polish–Lithuanian–Russian Commonwealth proves that there was no cultural and civilizational gap between Central Europe and the neighboring Europe on the East, Byzantium-Slavonic Europe.23

  • 24 Piotra Sadouski, “Natsiianal’naia identychnasts’: patriatychnaia i pazytyvistskaia interpretatsii (...)

13The retrospective formula of Belarusianness, as Petra Sadouski writes, has all the grounds for the claim to be European. The factual material of the Belarusian past provides wide possibilities for this. In Sadouski’s opinion, the founders of the Belarusian idea insufficiently use their history to base the national myths. As an example he mentions the battle of Orsha, the victory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s troops over the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1514, or the participation of the Belarusians in the battle of Grunwald, the battle between joint forces of the Polish Kingdom and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Allies of the Teutons. Sadouski concentrates not on the Europeanness of Belarusians, but on the fact that “according to a great deal of cultural and historical evidence Europe ‘was present’ in Belarus in the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.”24 This presence of Europe in Belarusian history can become a basis for a nation-forming myth.

14Indeed, a strong side of the European version of Belarusianness is its historical basis. The history of the Belarusian lands within the GDL and Commonwealth provides enough possibilities for the designing of the national idea around the European concept. The alternative vision of history is aimed at a purposeful reorientation of Belarusianness to the West, and the return of the Belarusian nation to Europe. But behind this return, so much spoken about by the adherents of the European Belarusianness, there is a practically complete reformation of the Belarusian nation that had been formed in a different civilizational context and on different so ciosystemic bases. This leads to a strange precedent: European Belarus is represented by a convincing historical projection with weak correlations to the political and cultural present. History essentially remains the major, if not the sole instrument of manifestation of this version of Belarusianness.

  • 25 M. Bich, “Ab natsiianal’nai kanceptsyi gistoryi i gistarychnai adukatsii u Respublitsy Belarus’,” (...)
  • 26 Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of National Identity,” 120.
  • 27 Lindner Rainer, “Natsiianal’nyia i prydvornya gistoryki ‘lukashenkauskai’ Belarusi,” Gistarychny a (...)

15However, during the first years of independence there were many reasons for optimism: when adopted as a state idea, the concept of European Belarus received institutional support. In the early 1990s instead of the terms “western Rus” or “west Russian lands,” it was officially recommended to use “Belarus.”25 At this time the official historiography legalized a new view on the origin of Belarusians, “the Belarusians were no longer viewed as a branch of the nationality of ‘ancient Rus,’ but as a Slavicized mixture of Slavic and Baltic tribes.”26 This change of policy in relation to the ethnogenesis of Belarusians had a symbolic meaning. As Rainer Lindner writes, “The road from the myth about the ‘purest’ East-Slavic people to the myth ‘Slavicized Balts’ was a road to the West.”27

  • 28 Zwiazda, 23 December 1993; cited in Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of National Identity,” 120.
  • 29 Belaruski gistarychny chasopis 1 (1993): 5, cited in Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of Natio nal I (...)

16In 1993, in the atmosphere of general enthusiasm about Belarusian state independence, Prime Minister Viacheslav Kebich spoke about the necessity of giving shape to the new self-consciousness of Belarusians: “It is not easy for us to shape our national self-awareness with national heritage we have received, not easy to reconvince our contemporaries and successors that we have a history of our statehood […] That is why any efforts, state and public initiatives, to revive our national history are so necessary and valuable.”28 In 1993 the editor-in-chief of the new journal Belaruski Gistarychny Chasopis wrote: “We openly and sincerely state that our policy and the main goal of the journal will be to contribute to the process of national rebirth and deepening the national consciousness of the Belarusian people […] This is the national policy, enshrined in a series of legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus.”29

17All these events displayed the beginning of a new epoch in the state understanding of history and an actualization of the new idea of the Belarusianness. Many had the feeling that this turn towards national values was permanent and that “the ruinous for the historical education of Belarusians, the unnatural imperialistic Russia-centered direction in teaching history will be displaced by a different one, which is useful to its people.”30 However, in 1995 a new campaign had begun, which Lindner called “denationalization of the Belarusian past.”31 The campaign called for reversion to the idea of Belarusianness internalized in the Belarusian self-awareness in the Soviet time. Devoid of institutional support or further representation in the official cultural and public sphere, the idea of European Belarus was relegated to the margins of cultural and political life.

  • 32 Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus (1992–1993).
  • 33 Piotr Krauchanka, Belarus’ na rosstaniakch (Vilnius: Instytut Belarusystyki, 2007), 279.
  • 34 Krauchanka, Belarus’ na rosstaniakch, 350.

18Another version of the alternative Belarusianness actively developed by the oppositional political discourse can be conventionally signified as “an in-between nation.” In the situation when the prevailing position in society and the state is the anti-Western idea, the idea of a neutral and self-sufficient Belarus and the idea of European Belarus do not contradict each other—they become different formulae of an anti-official rhetoric. In his book Belarus’ na rostaniakh (Belarus at Crossroads, allusion to Yakub Kolas’s classic Belarusian novel Na rostaniakh (At Crossroad) Piotr Krauchanka32 writes that the Belarusian people for a long time have be longed to European civilization. “Where are we, if not in Europe? Just look at the map or turn over the pages of a history textbook. And the point is not only because we are geographically located in the center of Europe. We are historically European, with the traditional intranational tolerance, with the absence of enmity among religious confession. We had had the Magdeburg Law on our territory before many other countries. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania—the motherland of our ancestors—was one of the first European-style powers. Didn’t European wars occur on our territory, didn’t many knots of European history get tied and untied in our Belavezha?”33 Interesting, in reply to the question “What place in modern world should be occupied by Belarus, where should we start going—to Europe or to Russia?” Krauchenka sticks to a more neutral position. “Perhaps, the best reply is given by our poet Maxim Luzhanin: ‘You don’t have to be either Eastern or Western—just be yourself!’”34

  • 35 Leonov, Rabota nad oshibkami, 74.

19Indeed, the central premise of this understanding of Belarusianness is that Belarus belongs to neither the West nor the East. Only on this principle of non-alignment will it be possible to build the Belarusian nation-state, according to Vasili Leonov, the organizer of the social movement “For a new Belarus.” The historical experience of Belarusians being part of different state unions had become a kind of political norm, which is why the disintegration of the USSR offered the unusual possibility for Belarusian state independence. In Leonov’s opinion, the project of a new union with Russia, or the idea of Belarus joining the European Union, prevents true national development, as either option would deprive Belarusians of a national initiative: in either case, someone else would shape Belarusian destiny. As an alternative, he suggests the idea of a national state of Belarus as a state “in itself and for itself.” “First of all, we have to stop, look around, an say to ourselves: we are Belarusians, here is our home, and this is where we must live. There is no sense in the whole nation going to the West or to the East. We should not mindlessly copy the Western or Eastern experience. We have to put our own Belarusian home in order by taking local conditions into account, in accordance with our traditions and mentality.”35

20An opinion poll conducted among members of the Belarusian elite by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies in November–December 2006, shows that the idea of joining either the West or the East is not supported by the Belarusian elite, as they see the major national interest in state independence (Table 9).

Table 9. “What are, in your opinion, the national interests of the Republic of Belarus?” (%; no more than 3 answers)

Table 9. “What are, in your opinion, the national interests of the Republic of Belarus?” (%; no more than 3 answers)

Note: the opinion poll of leaders and experts (over sixty policymakers, media leaders, scientists, and businessmen, conducted by the IISEPS sociologists).

Source: Novosti IISEPS Bulleten’ 4, no. 42 (2006): 75, http://www.iiseps.org/​bullet06-4.html.

21At first glance, this desire to maintain independence from West and East and to follow Belarus’s own way, contradicts the world practice: small political subjects, to which Belarus can be ascribed, traditionally experience lack of internal resources to develop and assert “one’s own way.” Their successful survival strategies, as a rule, boil down to the selection of the most advantageous ally. Nevertheless, the idea of Belarus as belonging to neither to the East nor to the West is deeply implanted in the consciousness of the Belarusian elite.

  • 36 Ignat Abdziralovich, Advechnym shliakham, dasledziny belaruskaga svetagliadu (Minsk: Navuka i tekh (...)
  • 37 Abdziralovich, Advechnym shliakham.

22One of the explanations of this phenomenon can be found in the historical experience of Belarusians. The idea of Belarusian cultural territory as a neutral one, not belonging entirely either to the West or to the East, but at the same time connected with both was formulated during the early twentieth century. The poet and thinker Ignat Abdziralovich wrote in 1921: “Belarus since the tenth century has actually been a battlefield of the two directions of European or, rather, Aryan culture—western and eastern.”36 It means that neither side has complete power over Belarus, and Belarus is characterized by neither open resistance nor complete submission. “Up until the present time the Belarusian people have not supported either the eastern or the western waves; letting them roll over their heads instead […] Fluctuation between the West and the East and lack of genuine inclination to either side is the main attribute of the Belarusian people’s history.”37

  • 38 Abdziralovich, Advechnym shliakham.

23In Belarusianness we can find a “mild” combination of separate features of the two opposites. As Ignat Abdziralovich writes, the Belarusian national idea is based on the rejection of the two extreme, “messianic” forms of either Eastern Byzantism or Western individualism. The former contains the idea of absolute and unified power, the unification of public life, collectivism, and usurping ambitions. The latter connotes the fragmentation of public life in which no authority has real power, leading to an endless search for an often unattainable compromise among parties that possess equal rights. According to Abdziralovich, in Belarus the better aspects of the two cultural and historical types are synthetically combined based on original forms of public life and culture.38

  • 39 Uladzimir Konan, “Belarus’ na miazhy tysiachagoddziau: shtrykhi da gistarychnaga, palitychnaga i d (...)
  • 40 Uladzimir Konan, “Belaruskaia ideia i misia Belarusi,” Belaruskaia dumka, no. 4 (1992): 6–25.
  • 41 Another Belarusian author of that period, Uladzimir Samoila in his work “O staroi i novoi unii,” ( (...)

24The positive aspect of the Belarusian place between two civilizations is reflected in the idea of Belarusianness as a harmonious conjunction of eastern and western values. In its turn, it made some authors formulate a special Belarusian civilizational mission in the late twentieth century. Philosopher Uladimir Konan, the author of numerous works devoted to the Belarusian national idea, writes: “Probably the historic mission of Belarus is in overcoming the one-sided ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ poles,”39 “the historic destiny of Belarus is to build a cultural and geopolitical ‘bridge’ between the East and the West, between Russian Eurasia, on the one hand, and Western and Central Europe, on the other hand.”40 In part the dependent position of Belarus within state formations in the Middle Ages and modern history has become a reason for the weakness of the national tradition. But this weakness can be interpreted as a virtuous neutrality that has caused Belarusians’ reluctance to take this or that side in the clash of civilizations.41

  • 42 Genadz Pranevich, “Mentalitet u sisteme kaardynat natsiianal’naga byts’tsia,” Adkrytaie gramadstva (...)

25Many political and cultural activists of the alternative Belarus see the source of its political potential in Belarusian ambivalence, and its cultural connection with the East and the West alike. Genadz Pranevich writes about the intermediary mission of Belarus as the sole true capital—the symbolic capital of the Belarusian state. “Not only by our tractors, potash fertilizers, the intellectual and trained workforce can we attract and interest our Slavic and Baltic neighbors [as well as] all Europeans, but first of all by the prospect of building in the center of Europe a reliable and durable bridge from the west to the east and from the north to the south, by the unique national mentality, the talent to reconcile, unite, and bring together individuals, peoples, cultures, and religions.”42

  • 43 Mikhail Marinich, “Ne upustit’ shans,” Novosti IISEPS Bulleten’ no. 2(28) (2003), http://www.iisep (...)

26Mikhail Marinich, a former minister of the external economic relations of the Republic of Belarus (1994–1998), deputy of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus (1990–1994), and currently a member of the political opposition wrote that “Belarus should become a conductor of European values in Russia.”43

  • 44 Deputy chief of the BPF (1999–2003); leader of the “Young Front” (1999–2004).
  • 45 P. Sieviarynets, “Novaia gistoria,” Nasha Niva, December 2001, http://sieviarynets.net/index.php?n (...)
  • 46 P. Sieviarynets, Natsiianal’naia ideia. Fenamenalogia Belarusi (Minsk: Izd. I. P. Logvinov) 2005, (...)
  • 47 Seviarynets, Natsiianal’naia ideia.

27Pavel Seviarynets, the leader of the youth political movement Malady Front,44 and the author of several books about Belarus, described its mission as a nation on the bridge: “The concept of Belarus as a gigantic strategic economic and geopolitical bridge between the West and Russia, Europe and Asia, the Baltic and the Black seas regions gives it a unique possibility for a genuine neutrality, a friendly openness to the West and the East, with formation of an axis of our own financial and technological, as well as cultural, interests.”45 His image of Belarus is of an ambivalent country with a special mission in the East and in the West, “to enlighten and educate huge Russia, to stir up Eastern Europe, to give tolerance and inspiration to the West is on our consciousness.”46 In the East, in relations with Russian or rather with the empires that had been built on the territory of the eastern neighbor the mission of Belarus is to facilitate the disintegration of empires and to “purify” Russia. “Save Russia!—is the slogan worthy of powerful Belarusian strategy.”47 According to Seviarynets, in favor of this special mission testifies the fact that in Belarus there had been many projects that had come to pass, which had been ruinous for the imperial plans of great Russia: the first congress of RSDRP (Russian Social Democratic Revolutionary Party); the abdication of czar Nicholas II; the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk; the Belovezha agreement to dissolve the USSR.

28All of these events are somehow related to Belarus, and all of them have had a destructive impact on Russia’s imperials ambitions. They are a manifestation of the Belarusian mission in the East. This mission is stipulated by the “Westernness” of Belarus. At the same time, the destiny of the Western strategy of the post-communist revival in Belarus also has a specific development. This fate is inscribed in the Belarusian national idea. Its “Easternness” prevents it. “Belarus, which is placed between Europe and Russia, is not to become a domestic, decent Central European country.”48 The internal conflict of the Belarusian national idea is a result of such a duality. That is why the Belarusian national idea, writes Seviarynets “is the idea of a long-suffering, great country […] which is always in pain and which will, most probably, never become a happy one.”49

  • 50 Pranevich, “Mentalitet u sisteme kaardynat natsiianal’naga byts’tsia.”
  • 51 Pranevich, “Mentalitet u sisteme kaardynat natsiianal’naga byts’tsia.”

29The intermediate position on the civilization divide often becomes a fundamental truth for the Belarusian national idea. It is a cause of the specific Belarusian mentality, which “is to a great extent determined by the universal natural geographical, geopolitical and civilizational-cultural intermediateness.”50 This is what makes the Belarusian people “European” in the modern sense of the word: “Here the unique experience of common life and peaceful coexistence is developed for different peoples, religions, cultures, ethnic groups and denominations. Toleration has been the spiritual foundation of our existence, it most vividly and consistently highlighted the sense and content of our national idea that had taken shape as early as the sixteenth century, and on the eve of the nineteenth century it turned completely consonant with the expectations of the best European thinkers concerning united Europe.”51

  • 52 Ihar Babkou, “Etyka pamezzha, transkulturalism iak belaruski dos’ved,” in Antalogia suchasnaga bel (...)
  • 53 Babkou, “Etyka pamezzha, transkulturalism iak belaruski dos’ved,” 74.

30The intermediate position also determines the specific character of the Belarusian cultural tradition. As Ihar Babkou writes, “Belarus of the last two centuries has appeared and formed in this dark space in between […]”52 This in-between position characterizes a specific nature of the transcultural Belarusian tradition, which “comprises heterogeneous elements. Its texts were written in different languages and belong to different types of civilizations […] and occur in several traditions.”53

31In this kind of context a specific effort is required for the preservation or, to be more exact, for the designing of the integrity of culture, tradition, and nation. One of the ways to achieve such integrity is to establish a distance in respect to those cultures and traditions in which the transcultural nation appears to be involved. The distance can be either long or short; however, it should exist as a sign of a break between Belarusian and the foreign, or non-Belarusian cultural experience. This distance, with regard to the West and the East, becomes a peculiar point of reference in the calculation of Belarusianness in alternative political and cultural discourses.

  • 54 Yanka Kupala (1882–1942) was one of the members of the Belarusian national revival movement at the (...)

32As early as 1921 Yanka Kupala54 created a literary image of this neutrality of “the border” in his play Tuteishia [The Locals]. This play is frequently perceived as an articulation of Belarusian cultural identity. Belarusian self-determination is achieved by means of deidentifying with the Russian and the Polish context, resulting in the localization of identity outside of any cultural traditions, in the extremely reduced space of “here.” “Tuteishia” was also the name of the independent young writers’ association created in 1986, which united the people inspired by the Belarusian national revival idea.

33A similar idea of “being from here, being local and true Belarusian” is reflected in the song called “I was born here” (lyrics by Siargei Sokolov-Voush, sung by Dmitrii Voitiushkevich), which became a sort of national youth anthem. This song, “The Hymn of Belarus,” was mentioned more often than others in the Internet youth forums devoted to the discussion of an alternative national anthem of Belarus (http://mensk.by/​forum). The song was the beginning of a musical project with the same title—a series of concerts, from which an album of alternative patriotic songs was issued. In 2001 the concert “I was born here” gave rise to the political campaign with the slogan “Make a choice,” aimed at oppositional mobilization of Belarusian youth during the presidential election campaign.

34This song was also a response to the appeal of the Belarusian authorities formulated by the president of Belarus: those who do not like “our authorities and our country” are free to leave. “I was born here and I will live here”—these words from the song sound as a declaration of the right to existence of an alternative understanding of Belarusianness in the country where the official discourse aims at monopolization of the Belarusian nation’s concept.

35The play “The locals,” by Yanka Kupala, as well as the song “I was born here,” show a peculiar fact: in the Belarusian context, the usual opposition between the national and the local as competing sources of identity ceased to operate. Indeed, the phrase “I was born here,” for Belarusian youth, sounds like a declaration of Belarusian identity, built on the basis of its attribution to territory, despite external cultural and political influences. It is by reducing national Belarusian identity to local Belarusianness, that this identity can distance itself from the Russianness in the East, and Polishness in the West, in order to differentiate its existence in people’s mind.

Notes

1 Andrei Suzdaltsev, “Belorusskoe natsional’noe gosudarstvo,” Nashe mnienie, April 18, 2005, http://www.nmnby.org/pub/180405/nation.html.

2 The chief of Belarusian National Bank in 1991–1995, currently the head of the United Civic Party (Ob’edinionnaia Grazhdanskaia Partia).

3 Stanislav Bogdankievich, “Belaruskaia natsional’naia idea,” Adkrytaie gramadstva 1 (6), 1999 http://data.minsk.by/opensociety/1.99/2.html.

4 Bogdankievich, “Belaruskaia natsional’naia idea.”

5 Pragrama Gramadskaga ab’adnann’ia BNF “Adradzhenie,” http://pbnf.org/statut.html.

6 Uladzimir Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad, Vostok est' ili mogut li oshibatsia krupneishie politologi sovremennosti?” Belorusy i Rynok, July 26–August 2, 2004.

7 Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad.”

8 Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad.”

9 Rouda, “Zapad est’ Zapad.”

10 Yu. Khadyka, “Eurapeiskia kanteksty belaruskaga mentalitetu,” Filamaty 4, no. 7 (2003), http://kamunikat.org/filamaty.html?pubid=5584.

11 Uladzimir Arlou, “U palone gistarychnykh mifau,” Golas Radzimy, June 15, 1995.

12 Arlou, “U palone gistarychnykh mifau.”

13 Ales’ Antsipenka, “Eurapeiskast’ i hrystsianskaia idea belaruskasci,” Belarusika Alba ruthe n ica 2 (1992): 259.

14 “Z chago na vashu dumku pachynaetsa nacianal’naia historia Belarusi i chym iana skon’chytsa?” ARCHE, no. 2 (25) (2003): 5–6, http://arche.bymedia.net/2003-2/apyt203.html.

15 “Z chago na vashu dumku pachynaetsa natsiianal’naia historia Belarusi i chym iana skon’chytsa,” 6–7, http://arche.bymedia.net/2003-2/apyt203.html.

16 Akinchyts, Zalaty vek Belarusi, http://knihi.com/bel/zalaty.html.

17 G. Saganovich, “Akupanty i partyzany,” Nasha Niva, no. 1, 1991; “Mova historii,” Nasha Niva, no. 1, 1991; “Fragment nenapisanai knihi,” Nasha Niva, no. 15, 1993; A. Dziarnovich, “Ordo Sancti Benedicti—Historia Ordena Benedktynau,” Nasha Niva, no. 4, 1991; idem, “Mauklivy klashtar Kniazia Sapegi,” Nasha Niva, no. 3, 1991; Yu. Sh., “Radzivily—bolsh chym bagatyia, bolsh chym magnaty, bolsh chym rod,” Nasha Niva, no. 6, 1992.

18 A. Ablazhei, “Pamiatsi Mirki,” Nasha Niva, no. 4, 1991; “S. D. Ivan Luckevich—arganizatar belaruskaga natsiianal’naga zhytsia,” Nasha Niva, no. 1, 1991.

19 A. Litvin, “Belaruskaia samaakhova,” Nasha Niva, no. 13, 1993.

20 V. F. Shatalava, “Natsiianal’naia idea na staronkakh “Nashai Nivy” 1991–1994 Gg.,” in Sbornik materialov mezhdunarodnoi konferentsii XXI vek: aktualnyie problemy istoricheskoi nauki (Minsk: BGU, 2003), http://www.hist.bsu.by/bel/nauka/konf/75%20let/konference/shatalava.htm.

21 V. Akudovich, “Suchasnaia belaruskaia filazofia: historia Paustavan’nia,” in Antalogia such as naga belaruskaga myslen’nia, ed. V. Akudovich (St. Petersburg: Nevskii Prostor, 2003), 16–17.

22 Jerzy Kłoczowski, Młodsza Europa (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 2003), 13.

23 Kłoczowski, Młodsza Europa, 21.

24 Piotra Sadouski, “Natsiianal’naia identychnasts’: patriatychnaia i pazytyvistskaia interpretatsii (z paraunan’nem roznauzrostavykh etnasau),” Filamaty 1, no. 8 (2004), http://kamunikat.net.iig.pl/www/czasopisy/filamaty/08/03.htm.

25 M. Bich, “Ab natsiianal’nai kanceptsyi gistoryi i gistarychnai adukatsii u Respublitsy Belarus’,” Belaruski gistarycnhy chasopis, no. 1 (1993): 19.

26 Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of National Identity,” 120.

27 Lindner Rainer, “Natsiianal’nyia i prydvornya gistoryki ‘lukashenkauskai’ Belarusi,” Gistarychny almanakh, no. 4, 2001, http://kamunikat.fontel.net/www/czasopisy/almanach/04/04zvonku_lindnier.htm.

28 Zwiazda, 23 December 1993; cited in Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of National Identity,” 120.

29 Belaruski gistarychny chasopis 1 (1993): 5, cited in Zaprudnik, “Belarus: in Search of Natio nal Identity,” 120.

30 Hrytskevich, Gistoria i mify, http://knihi.com/historyja/mify.html.

31 Lindner, “Natsiianal’nyia i prydvornya gistoryki ‘lukashenkauskai’ Belarusi,” http://kamunikat.fontel.net/www/czasopisy/almanach/04/04zvonku_lindnier.htm.

32 Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus (1992–1993).

33 Piotr Krauchanka, Belarus’ na rosstaniakch (Vilnius: Instytut Belarusystyki, 2007), 279.

34 Krauchanka, Belarus’ na rosstaniakch, 350.

35 Leonov, Rabota nad oshibkami, 74.

36 Ignat Abdziralovich, Advechnym shliakham, dasledziny belaruskaga svetagliadu (Minsk: Navuka i tekhnika, 1993), http://pawet.narod.ru/book/philosophy/1.html.

37 Abdziralovich, Advechnym shliakham.

38 Abdziralovich, Advechnym shliakham.

39 Uladzimir Konan, “Belarus’ na miazhy tysiachagoddziau: shtrykhi da gistarychnaga, palitychnaga i dukhounaga partretu natsyi,” Acta Albaruthenica 2 (2001): 163.

40 Uladzimir Konan, “Belaruskaia ideia i misia Belarusi,” Belaruskaia dumka, no. 4 (1992): 6–25.

41 Another Belarusian author of that period, Uladzimir Samoila in his work “O staroi i novoi unii,” (About the Old and the New Union) interprets the “meeting” of two civilizations as a clash, a war of two imperialisms—the Russian and the Polish. This civilization clash of the West and the East had led to the mutual annihilation of the positive content both of the West and the East, which is characteristic of Belarus. “Both neighbors of Belarus have led a mortal struggle, for five odd centuries, in the first place for the land and soul of the Bela rusian people, submitting the former and the latter, as an object and field of the struggle, to perpetual and systematic devastation […] They both saw the country as just a “vacant place” for themselves, and the people, the natural owner of the country, just material for exploitation and assimilation.” Uladzimir Samoila,“O staroi i novoi unii,”in Belaruskaia dumka, ed. Jury Garbinski (Warsaw: Sławistyczny Ośrodek Wydawniczy; 1998), 159–60.

42 Genadz Pranevich, “Mentalitet u sisteme kaardynat natsiianal’naga byts’tsia,” Adkrytaie gramadstva no. 2 (11) (2001), http://data.minsk.by/opensociety/2.01/3.html.

43 Mikhail Marinich, “Ne upustit’ shans,” Novosti IISEPS Bulleten’ no. 2(28) (2003), http://www.iiseps.org/bullet03-2.html.

44 Deputy chief of the BPF (1999–2003); leader of the “Young Front” (1999–2004).

45 P. Sieviarynets, “Novaia gistoria,” Nasha Niva, December 2001, http://sieviarynets.net/index.php?newsid=18.

46 P. Sieviarynets, Natsiianal’naia ideia. Fenamenalogia Belarusi (Minsk: Izd. I. P. Logvinov) 2005, http://sieviarynets.net/category/book.

47 Seviarynets, Natsiianal’naia ideia.

48 Seviarynets, “Novaia gistoria,” http://sieviarynets.net/index.php?newsid=18.

49 Seviarynets, “Novaia gistoria.”

50 Pranevich, “Mentalitet u sisteme kaardynat natsiianal’naga byts’tsia.”

51 Pranevich, “Mentalitet u sisteme kaardynat natsiianal’naga byts’tsia.”

52 Ihar Babkou, “Etyka pamezzha, transkulturalism iak belaruski dos’ved,” in Antalogia suchasnaga belaruskaga myslen’nia, ed. V. Akudovich and A. Antsipenka (St. Petersburg: Nevskii Prostor, 2003), 68.

53 Babkou, “Etyka pamezzha, transkulturalism iak belaruski dos’ved,” 74.

54 Yanka Kupala (1882–1942) was one of the members of the Belarusian national revival movement at the beginning of the twentieth century, who later became the classic of national literature in Soviet Belarus.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 9. “What are, in your opinion, the national interests of the Republic of Belarus?” (%; no more than 3 answers)
Légende Note: the opinion poll of leaders and experts (over sixty policymakers, media leaders, scientists, and businessmen, conducted by the IISEPS sociologists).
URL http://books.openedition.org/ceup/docannexe/image/622/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 176k

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