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Struggle over Identity

The Official and the Alternative "Belarusianness"

Nelly Bekus is a Belarusian social scientist and publicist, and a member of the European Cultural Parliament. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and is Assistant Professor at the East Slavonic European Studies Department, University of Warsaw.

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.


Introduction Part I. Nation in Theory 1. Nation-Formation Strategies in Contemporary Nation-Studies 2. State and Nation 3. Nationalism, Capitalism, Liberalism: The East European Perspective 4. Nationalism and Socialism: The Soviet Case Part II. The Rise and Development of the Belarusian National Idea 5. The First Belarusian Nationalist Movement: Between National and Class Interests 6. Byelorussian Republic within the Soviet State 7.Post-Soviet Conditions for Independence Part III. Belarusian Post-Communism 8 The Election of the First Belarusian President as a Mirror of Belarusian Preferences 9. “Labels” of the Belarusian Regime 10. “Triple Transformation” and Belarus 11. Prerequisites of Democratization and Authoritarianism in Belarus Part IV. Arguments and Paradoxes of Weak Belarusian Identity 12. Belarus as an Example of National and Democratic Failure 13. The Russian Factor in Belarusian Self-Perception 14. The Paradox of “National Pride” 15. Paradoxes of Political and Linguistic Russification 16. Lack of Religious Basis for National Unity Part V. The Struggle over Identity 17. Two Ideas of “Belarusianness” in Place of “Sole” National Idea 18. Belarusian-Specific Nature of the Public Sphere: Invisible Wall 19. Belarusian Tradition: The Alternative and Official Historical Narrations 20. Political Discourses of Alternative Belarusianness 21. National Ideology of the Belarusian State as a Political Articulation of Official Belarusianness Part VI. Cultural Manifestation versus Social Reification 22. Two Belarusian Approaches to the Politics of Identity 23. “The Belarusian Globe”: An Encyclopedia of What Existed before Communism 24. Belarusian National Movie Misterium Occupation: Distancing Themselves from Soviets and Russians 25. Free Theater: Alternative Belarusianness on the Stage 26. Independent Rock Music: Critical Reflection and Protest 27. Medieval Reenactors: A Manifestation of Belarus’s European History 28. The Official Politics of Identity: Social Reification Strategy Conclusion Bibliography

"Nelly Bekus, a Belarusian social scientist who teaches in the University of Warsaw’s East Slavonic European Studies department, has written a book that offers answers at least to the basic questions about Belarus. In Struggle Over Identity Bekus sees Belarusianness as a competition between pro-government and opposition concepts. It is necessary to understand the ubiquity of what she calls Belarusianness in day-to-day life, culture, and identity. In fact, in the context of the current media battle with Russia, to be Belarusian means constantly asking yourself what it means to be Belarusian." - Transitions Online TOL

"The welcome beginning of Bekus's book is the extensive theoretical elaboration of nationalism, comprising not one, but two chapters. The first chapter provides a general overview of theories of nationalism. Basically, as Bekus notes, there are two trends. According to one theory, national identity is directly related to objective categories, which cannot be changed arbitrarily. the proponents of the other theory hold that national identities ares subjective and can be constructed. The second introductory chapter provides a review of theories of ethnic relationships in the USSR. Here, as the author implies, three opposing theories also exist. According to one of them, the USSR was almost a classical colonial empire where Russians dominated helpless minorities. For others, it was a perfect example of the blending of people of different ethnicities into one nation. Finally, for others, it was a country where actually minorities ruled over ethnic Russians; at least this was the case in the very beginning of the USSR's history. As the author of the quoted book suggests, none of the above-discussed theories can be applied in totality, but all provide clues for understanding the USSR, its numerous ethnicities and the development of nationalism in the post-Soviet period." - Europe-Asia Studies

"Toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Lukashenka regime began to present itself as the defender of Belarus’s independence against both the west and the east. The government had developed an official concept of Belarusian national identity that emphasized independence while downgrading the pro-Russian vector of the post-Soviet official image of the Belarusian idea. Meanwhile, civil society continued to create multiple patterns of Belarusian national identity, present them to the public, and negotiate and renegotiate various visions of “Belarusianness.” Still suppressed and marginalized, this discourse continues to exist alongside the offi cial Belarusian national identity designed for the sole purpose of strengthening the ruling regime. Nelly Bekus explores this process in detail, bringing in relevant theoretical sources and employing a combination of comparative historical methods with approaches rooted in cultural anthropology. In so doing, she brings to light aspects of Belarusian national identity, both old and new, which until now were only available to Belarusian-speaking scholars with access to Belarusian media and archives. - Slavic Review

312 pages
978-963-9776-68-5 cloth $50.00 / €45.00 / £40.00