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Struggle over Identity

The Official and the Alternative "Belarusianness"

By Nelly Bekus

Publication Year: 2010

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

Published by: Central European University Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. 1-10

During the past fifteen years in Belarus, a situation has emerged in which one part of society has the impression that the other part has betrayed it, while this other part considers the first part as traitors. Both consider themselves true Belarusians, both are certain that the other has...


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1. Nation-Formation Strategies in Contemporary Nation-Studies

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pp. 13-26

One of the problems of the studies of Belarusian post-communism transformation scenarios is the fact that the majority of them is based on several “basic truths” which, the longer they are used the more self-evident they become. One of these axiomatic truths of...

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2. State and Nation

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pp. 27-31

The issue of the relations between the state and the nation is one of the most significant ones in the nation definition. According to Gellner, Hobsbawm, and Anderson, a “state” is practically a synonym of the nation and simultaneously the main objective and aspiration...

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3. Nationalism, Capitalism, Liberalism: The East European Perspective

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pp. 33-40

The approach proposed by Brubaker enables to see the events of a new wave of nation-building in Eastern Europe in a different light. The national revival we observe in this region, Brubaker writes, “is not engendered by nations […] It is produced—or better, it is induced...

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4. Nationalism and Socialism: The Soviet Case

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pp. 41-50

The question about the functions and possibilities of the national ideology’s existence in a socialist society divides Western literature into two opposing camps. In one of them the fundamental belief about the Soviet Union is the premise that the revolution pitted...


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

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pp. 53-67

The Belarusian national movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was an almost classical example of small nation nationalism. Belarusians had no tradition of their own political independence and were dominated by a ruling class of more or less alien...

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6. Byelorussian Republic within the Soviet State

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pp. 69-77

Many researchers of the period following 1917 concur in their appraisal of the course of events as a tactical and largely forced decision by the Bolsheviks. N. Vakar states that the founding of the Belorussian Republic served a double purpose: (1) to attract into and...

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7. Post-Soviet Conditions for Independence

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pp. 79-82

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


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8. The Election of the First Belarusian President as a Mirror of Belarusian Preferences

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pp. 85-91

Quite a number of authors wrote about the sudden popularity of the new Belarusian president and his appearance on the political scene. In addition to several works devoted to A. G. Lukashenka, practically every text analyzing Belarus contains a special chapter describing the...

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9. “Labels” of the Belarusian Regime

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pp. 93-97

Attempts at categorizing the developments in post-communist Belarus are made continually. As a result there have appeared a number of labeling categories by means of which their authors try to find adequate criteria for the assessment of the political situation in Belarus. Elena...

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10. “Triple Transformation” and Belarus

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pp. 99-120

The most popular way to form an opinion of a country’s transition is to evaluate the state of three critically important processes that provide advancement of a new epoch in the life of society. The “triple transition” scheme that acquired classical status in political...

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11. Prerequisites of Democratization and Authoritarianism in Belarus

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pp. 121-129

In the early 1990s, the prospects of Belarus’s democratic transformation appear to be quite optimistic. Alexander Motyl wrote in 1991: “Virtually identical economic systems, common economic problems, and a shared cultural and historical legacy suggest that a new Eastern...


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12. Belarus as an Example of National and Democratic Failure

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pp. 133-138

In the early 1990s, at the beginning of the system transformations, the main force of Belarusian nationalism was the Belarusian People’s Front (BPF). The BPF was one of the few truly active mass organizations in post-communist Belarus. Being a modified party organization...

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13. The Russian Factor in Belarusian Self-Perception

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pp. 139-144

The integration project as a political undertaking and as a factor of mass consciousness is often considered as an evidence of Belarusians’ reluctance to preserve their independence. “Escape into common destiny, which is manifested in the search of a state to be ‘integrated’ with...

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14. The Paradox of “National Pride”

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pp. 145-150

The concept of “national pride” is part of a wider context of believes, purposes, and emotions that form the national identity. As the Polish sociologist Zbigniew Bokszański writes, the national pride is “both an assessment of one’s own people and a satisfying effect caused...

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15. Paradoxes of Political and Linguistic Russification

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pp. 151-155

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

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16. Lack of Religious Basis for National Unity

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pp. 157-159

In Belarus, traditionally, Eastern Orthodoxy is identified—either subconsciously or explicitly—as the Russian faith, while Catholicism is seen as the Polish creed. During the first years of Belarusian independence, these old clichés inherited from history were reanimated...


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17. Two Ideas of “Belarusianness”

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pp. 163-168

The underdeveloped character of the Belarusian nation and the weakness of the Belarusians’ national self-consciousness is perceived as the main reason for the defeat of the nationalist movement and for the failure of the country’s democratization. The linguistic Russification...

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18. Belarusian-Specific Nature of the Public Sphere: “Invisible Wall”

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pp. 169-177

The Polish political scientist E. Wnuk-Lipiński writes about the pluralization of the public sphere, which took place with the disappearance of the rigid control the communist system had over public life. In the conditions of a democratic system “articulation of interests and...

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19. Belarusian History: The Alternative and Official Historical Narrations

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pp. 179-196

In an 1882 lecture titled “What Is a Nation” Ernest Renan said: “Forgetting history, or even getting history wrong, is an essential factor in the formation of a nation.” This popular phrase communicates the fundamental truths about history: its significance for a nation...

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20. Political Discourses of the Alternative Belarusianness

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pp. 197-210

The manifestos, articles, and public presentations of Belarusian opposition politicians, as well as publications of political analysts, have been used as the basic material for the analysis of the political discourse of an alternative Belarusianness. Remarkably, this alternative Belarusianness...

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21. National Ideology of the Belarusian State as a Political Articulation of Official Belarusianness

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pp. 211-220

In alternative discourses, the Republic of Belarus governed by A. G. Lukashenka is presented as an anti-Belarusian and anti-national formation. Nevertheless, many authors who observe the developments in the country from the outside note that the process of intense...


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22. Two Approaches to the Politics of Identity

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pp. 223-225

The question of the mechanism of internalization of national ideas in constructing people’s self-perception does not have a simple and single answer. Certainly, the language of political declarations, even if it is backed by the corresponding historical narratives, is insufficient...

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23. Belaruski Globus: An Encyclopedia of What Existed before Communism

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pp. 227-228

If one puts “Sovietness” outside the Belarusian cultural landscape, it can be regarded as a sign of alternative Belarusianness. One such example is Belaruski Globus (The Belarusian Globe), a Web-based cultural project by the amateur photographer Andrei Dybovski. It is a collection...

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24. The Belarusian National Film Misterium Occupation: Distancing Themselves from Soviets and Russians

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pp. 229-233

World War II occupies a central position in the Soviet conceptualization of Belarusianness. The war, or more precisely, its image and the way of thinking about it has also become a catalyst for general attitude to history. The Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau (1924–2003), whose novellas...

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25. The “Free Theater” or the Alternative Belarusianness on Stage

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pp. 235-240

Another example of the alternative Belarusianness’ actualization is Svobodnyi Teatr (the Free Theater). It was conceived as an alternative drama troupe to the official Belarusian theatrical establishment. The main reason of such opposition was the aspiration to stage new...

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26. Independent Rock Music: Critical Reflection and Protest

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pp. 241-251

Another sphere conducive to an alternative Belarusianness that has access to public manifestation is Belarusian rock music. A number of Belarusian groups, many of which perform in Belarusian, have become symbols of Belarusian political nonconformism (Krama, Neuro...

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27. Medieval Reenactors: A Manifestation of Belarus’s European History

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pp. 253-259

The situation is different in the case of another noteworthy example of actualization of alternative Belarusianness, the youth movement represented by medieval reenactors organized in “knight orders.” The beginning of this movement dates back to 1992–93, and from an..

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28. The Official Politics of Identity: Social Reification Strategy

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pp. 261-276

In the official cultural space there are some examples that can be considered in the context of representation of the national idea. As cases of such cultural support provided by official cultural activity to the national state ideology, this chapter considers the annual Slavonic...

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pp. 277-282

In this work I intended to give an alternative interpretation to the theme of the Belarusian national idea and nationalism in the context of the systemic transformation of Belarusian society. The thesis of the weak and undeveloped character of the Belarusian nation has occupied...


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pp. 283-301


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pp. 303-306

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9786155211843
Print-ISBN-13: 9789639776685

Page Count: 314
Publication Year: 2010