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Culture Wars, Geopolitics, and Belarusian Identity “The West has eventually recognized its helplessness vis-à-vis the Minsk riddle.” – Belorussky Rynok.

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Presentation on theme: "Culture Wars, Geopolitics, and Belarusian Identity “The West has eventually recognized its helplessness vis-à-vis the Minsk riddle.” – Belorussky Rynok."— Presentation transcript:

1 Culture Wars, Geopolitics, and Belarusian Identity “The West has eventually recognized its helplessness vis-à-vis the Minsk riddle.” – Belorussky Rynok 2001

2 Little known and cliché-ridden A virtual black hole in Europe An anomaly in the region A modern sultanate Mass psychological marasmus (about Lukashenka supporters) An authoritarian cesspool A bastard of Europe An outpost of tyranny The last dictatorship of Europe

3 Who would believe the last dictator of Europe! Lukashenka: many damaged areas are now safe 2005 Joint Report by IAEA, WHO, and UNDP: radiation level acceptable Belarus-watchers prior to 2005: Is Belarus’ economic growth a hoax or is it real? Belarus-watchers after 2005: Can Belarus’ economic growth be sustained?

4 Crux of Belarus’ specificity as I see it Delayed urbanization Delayed nation-building

5 Svetlana Alexiyevich (2004) “Belarus is still a country with patriarchal peasant culture...I was asked why our own [Vaclav] Havel did not emerge in Belarus. I replied that we had Ales Adamovich, but we chose a different man. The point is not that we have no Havels, we do, but that they are not called for by society”


7 Yuri Shevtsov’s Perspective Belarusian identity is there to comprehend, not to manifest The region repeatedly ravaged by wars initiated by external powers Following each war, cultural self-identification of regional political class changed No cultural form had enough time to crystallize before being replaced Only under the Soviets did Belarusian identity begin to be embraced by local Slavs

8 Yury Shevtsov (cont.) During the 1940s, Jews and Poles vacated their social niches Gates of vertical mobility thrust open for many Belarusians Consequently, Belarusians had as much of a heyday in post-war Soviet Belarus as did Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians during their 1919-1940 independence

9 Belarusians are descendants of the Great Duchy of Lithuania and Rzeczpospolita, which waged numerous wars with despotic Russia Belarusians are inseparable from Russians, and their greatest shared experience was the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945 A split identity disorder?

10 Could There Be Three National Projects? Even two projects are one too many Arche: Numerous references to Nativist/European, Muscovite Liberal, and Creole projects

11 Project 1: Nativist/Pro-European Codified historic narrative (e.g.: Ten Centuries of Belarusian History by Uladzimer Arlou & Genadz’ Saganovich) Polatsk – Great Duchy – Rzeczpospolita 1772 – 1991: Russia’s colonial domain Time to undo Russia’s oppressive impact From switching to Belarusian to clear-cut identity and then to democratization

12 Project 2: Muscovite Liberal Aversion to linguistic radicalism Reevaluation of ties with Russia “Belarusian nationalism speaks Russian” by Yury Drakakhrust Beliefs of the nativist community called into question Formation of core constituency

13 Project 2: Muscovite Liberal Sharing some nativist beliefs but not anti-Russian sentiment Why not sign “Geneva Convention” on culture wars? August 2005 polemics about the language of the Deutsche Welle’s newscasts for Belarus’ as a culture war

14 Project 3: Creole Creoles speak a mixed language and are patriotic Creole is pre-national consciousness Uladzimer Abushenka: For Creoles, things Russian no longer belong in “we,” yet they can’t be assigned to “they;” similar ambiguity typifies their attitude to things Belarusian Valer Bulgakau: Lukashenka is the president of Creoles

15 Project 3: “State Ideology of the Republic of Belarus” Historic attachment to Russia Role of the Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945 Communal ethos Anti-nationalist sentiment directed squarely against the nativists Only in this context can one appreciate reference to Lukashenka as “the main anti-Belarusian nationalist of Belarus” (Feduta 2005)

16 Lukashenka at Brest State University (09. 04) Belarus has never ever been part of Western culture and way of life To the Catholic-and-Protestant... civilization, Belarus and Belarusians, who are predominantly Orthodox and for centuries coexisted in the same political setting with Russia and Russians, are alien I am not afraid of saying this in Western Belarus

17 Did Alyaxander Lukashenka Read Samuel Huntington? Belarus straddles a civilizational fault line [Left: Huntington’s original map; Right: Eberhardt’s map]


19 Trans-culturalism for Belarus? Ihar Babkou: “Because Belarus straddles a cultural divide, it can develop only as a consciously trans-cultural society” “Adam Mickiewicz is a native alien, and Alexander Lukashenka is an alien native” Synthesis of national projects under civic nationalism umbrella? Unless and until this synthesis is accomplished nation-building morass will linger

20 Concluding Remarks The assertion that “Belarusian identity is there to comprehend, not to manifest” gets demystified That identity would be manifested as any other, if only Belarusians knew exactly what to manifest Much of what is attributed to Lukashenka’s ill-will pertains to Belarusian society Ten days from now, Lukashenka’s victory looks certain

21 Concluding Remarks He would win between one-half and 2/3 of the vote even without rigging the election What worked elsewhere has not worked in Belarus and it won’t A more imaginative strategy is overdue as is an attempt to understand Belarus on its own terms instead of fitting it into an ideological template of our own making

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