Belarusian Themes


This compilation features books of the Central European University Press, published since its establishment in 1993, that have some relevance to Belarus, its history and culture. After the latest release, titles in the backlist are arranged by content: contemporary topics are on top, older themes below. For more substantial information about the content and availability, please click on the covers of the book, or on the links inserted into the citations.

“Vil’nia Belarusians pioneered the concept of independence, as they were the first to recognize the futility of the plans for a federation with neighboring nations.”—Belarusian Nation-Building in Times of War and Revolution.
“Benefiting from the concessions of the German military administration, Belarusian national elites promoted a range of schooling and publishing initiatives aiming to nationalize the peasantry, while facing the competing Lithuanian and Polish national projects.”
“In early 1917, Belarusian national activists were still hopeful for a strong federation of autonomous states in a future democratic Russia.”
“Only the signing of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty without Belarusian participation finally convinced Belarusian national elites of the need to take responsibility for their homeland and to proclaim the Belarusian Democratic Republic on March 9, 1918.”
“By early 1919, it had already become apparent that the Bolsheviks intended to use Belarusian statehood only as a buffer to protect the Soviet state.”

“The Polish gentry, which until 1795 had dominated Polish-, Ukrainian-, and Belarusian-speaking peasant masses, quickly realized that countering the occupying empires of Russia, Prussia, and Austria involved the challenge of convincing the Slavic peasants that a restoration of the Polish statehood was in their own interest.”—Globalization, Nationalism, and Imperialism.
“Poland was born as a liberal democracy—this comparatively large mini-empire of 32 million people featured a dramatic proportion of ethnic minorities: Ukrainians, Jews, Belorussians, and Germans, which together amounted to close to one-third of the country’s ethnic makeup.”
“As late as in the 1920s and 1930s, Polish peasants’ conviction that the state is an alien force aimed at peasant repression persisted. This resentment was doubled for Orthodox or Greek Catholic Belarusians and Ukrainians living in 1918–39 Poland, for whom the Polish state represented both national and class oppression. Only the end of World War II marked the end of Polish imperial nationalism.”

CEU Press books with a Belarusian focus:

What is Lukashenka’s secret? Energy is key. In some years more than a third of the exports is based on the oil sector – in one of the most gas- and oil-dependent countries in the world – which has enabled Belarus to live beyond its means for most of its first 20 years of independence. This monograph explains how besides smart gambling on the country’s geopolitical position, the interests of a variety of energy policy actors in Russia and Belarus have contributed to the successes of the regime.
Prospects however are bleak and the West must count with the huge social consequences of politically destabilizing implications if the gas-based development model expires.

For more than half a century the truth about Jewish life in post-war Belarus was sealed in inaccessible archives. The detailed presentation of the attrition that the small surviving Jewish community went through during the last years of Stalin’s rule required years of minutious studies that included browsing in KGB archives, thumbing through statistical tables and interviewing former Belarusian citizens in Israel. The roughly 200,000 Jews who remained of the one million Jews who had lived in Belarus within its 1941 borders actively participated in the restoration and reconstruction of the Belarusian economy and of its cultural, scientific, and educational projects. But in 1949–53 the Belarusian authorities were particularly zealous in their conducting of campaigns against “cosmopolitans,” the destruction of Yiddish culture, by the official silence on the Holocaust and its consequences and on the Jewish contribution to the victory over Germany, and finally, by the “Doctors’ Plot.” As a result, the Belarusian Jews suffered possibly considerably more than Jews in other regions of the USSR.

“Five hundred years ago they did not know they were Belarusians, but they had the largest state in Europe. By the time they realized it, Belarusians had no state and were considered either half-Russians or defective Poles. But they still existed. Finally, they got lumped in with the Soviet People. Now Belarusians do have a state but they have discovered that they no longer exist.” This quotation (from a film) fits the argument of the monograph about the co-existence of two parallel concepts of Belarusianness —the official and the alternative one.

Other titles from the backlist, contemporary topics on top, historical themes below:

“Belarus represents a special, deviant case that has been described as a ‘non-party political system’ where most seats go not to a ruling party but de jure independent candidates who support Lukashenko.”—the momentous endeavor of analyzing post-communist regimes.
“The chief patron may act after the election, detaining opposition members who were the primary vote-getters and leaders of protest movements. This technique has been frequently applied in Belarus.”
“Belarus is a more bureaucratic than informal patronal regime, as Lukashenko rather relies on the formal machinery of public institutions, running a unique, rustic and provincial model of an underdeveloped mafia state.”
“The official state ideology—which chief patron Lukashenko described as an eclectic combination of Marxism-Leninism, conservatism and liberalism—serves to ensure the achievement of pragmatic goals set out by him: to strengthen his personal control over the state apparatus, the education system and the media.”

“In 2011–2012 the Russian ruling class speculated about a Eurasian Parliament but the idea was shelved until better times, following rather wary reaction from Russia’s junior partners in integration, Belarus and Kazakhstan.”—on constructing Russia as a supranational entity.  
“Patriarch Kirill stated after St. Lawrence of Chernigiv: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus—that is the Holy Rus.”
“We are making a grave mistake when we speak of ‘brotherly’ peoples of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. We are one family: there are Great Russians, there are West Russians, there are South Russians and there are Russians living abroad.”
“The creation of the Customs Union and the single economic space based on the troika of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan is a crucial step towards expanding the market for Russian goods and services.”

“Lukashenka may be described as a first generation urban citizen, with a different value system than the urban residents of other European countries. These first generation urban Belarusians are committed to paternalism and patron-client ties.”—Stubborn Structures.
“Shushkevich lost the moral right to lead the democratic forces in 1992, when, as Speaker of the Parliament, he refused to endorse the initiative of a referendum on the dissolution of the Supreme Council.”
“The absence of Western democratic influence was used by Russia to create and gradually consolidate the sultanistic political regime, fully dependent on the Russian polyarchy.”
“National populism works well in times of crisis, as is evidenced by the experience of Russia, Hungary and other countries with mafia state systems. Social populism in the current economic crisis, however, cannot bring anything but disappointment and frustration.”

“The only place where Hebrew script became official was Soviet Belarus, with Belarusian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish as its official languages between 1924 and 1938.”—Words in Space and Time.
“In 1995, Belarus lost full isomorphic status due to the introduction of Russian as a co-official language, which became the country’s de facto leading language at the expense of the marginalized official and national Einzelsprache of Belarusian.”
"The political disagreement on the orthography of Belarusian led to the unique rise of two separate Belarusian language Wikipedias, one composed in the state-approved Soviet-style spelling, while the other in the traditional, pre-Soviet one, preferred by dissidents and the Belarusian diaspora.”
“No typical monolingual Belarusian-medium university was ever established until 2018, when the Nil Hilevič University was tentatively founded in Minsk. It is a private initiative, only the future will tell whether it is going to be successful.”

The relationship between history and politics in Eastern Europe experienced many dramatic changes since the beginning of Perestroika over 25 years ago. The "archive revolution" in the 1990s was very productive for historians. But the latest years show dramatic U-turn in historical politics, including examples from Belarus. A textbook found “the deeds of NKVD and the activities of the McCarthy Commission in USA quite comparable.” 

“Eastern Belarus is a charming countryside, but not especially prosperous and somewhat stuck in time. The paved roads that span the river or that run nearby are generally potholed and poorly marked, and many others are covered with coarse gravel or are simply dirt roads.”
The Dniapro river from Russia through Belarus and Ukraine to the Black Sea.
“The Dnipro is a cartographer’s nightmare where it forms a part of the boundary between Ukraine and Belarus because of tight bends and shifting channels.”
“The Chornobyl disaster was the result of both operator error and faulty design. Soviet authorities were not immediately forthcoming about the grave health risks to the public and were slow in organizing evacuation and providing assistance. Dubroŭna, Orša, and Mahilioŭ, all of which have the most painful memories of World War II, suffered the greatest costs to health from these same poisons.”
“Belarus adds to upper basin pollution levels. Sewage treatment at Belarusian livestock farms is notoriously inadequate, such that surface waters and groundwater are polluted with the compounds of manure.”

Gorbachev: For instance, it turns out that in 1940 Stalin gave a few regions of Byelorussia to Lithuania. Now Byelorussians are demanding the return of their land. They say their republic suffered from the Chernobyl disaster. Many districts of Gomel Oblast had to be resettled due to the radioactive fallout. Even now they want to use the former Byelorussian regions to settle their citizens there. They adopted a resolution, which we tried to keep under wraps by the way, but they made it public it themselves. May, 1990
Face to face conversations of superpower leaders at the end of the Cold War on a thousand pages.
Gorbachev: Then Stalin said that the nationalities problem no longer existed; there was a “Soviet” nationality. The Byelorussian language had almost died out. So once the dam burst, the nationalities issues burst out into the open. June, 1990
Just a couple of weeks after Lithuania adopted the Act of Restoration of Independence and recognized the entry into the USSR as illegal, Byelorussia raised the question about returning its territories, which were given to Lithuania when it entered the Soviet Union. This includes the Vilnius region, where 40 percent of the population are Polish-speaking, and where there are many Russians. July, 1991
Yeltsin (to Bush)
: We got together today, Mr. President, the leaders of the three states—Byelorussia, Ukraine, and Russia. We gathered and after many lengthy discussions that lasted about two days agreed that the system in place and the Union Treaty everyone is pushing us to sign does not satisfy us. And that is why we got together and literally a few minutes ago signed a joint agreement. This accord, consisting of 16 articles, is basically a creation of commonwealth or group of independent states. December, 1991

“It was so inspiring! I remember we lived in the same tiny apartment, all of us, forced to sleep like sardines in a can, but it was some kind of amazing too” – a Belarusian artist recollects about the first unofficial artistic contacts “abroad” in the 1980s, ironically in another Soviet republic, Estonia. The avant-garde art festival in 1988 in Narva was a landmark in this connection.
The collective book with 35 contributors that analyzes artistic interactions both within the Soviet bloc and with the West between 1945 and 1989.
In the first years of independence Poland was the most important place for artistic connections. In 1991, the Belart exhibition of unofficial Belarusian artists was organized in a deserted factory in the center of Warsaw. “It was not possible to take more than five pieces of work abroad. This is how certain techniques were invented, such as stretching several canvases over the same frame or hiding finished works underneath an unused canvas.”
Nuisance prevailed also in the following years: “The crew of six to seven artists lived in the same apartment, working in the night and visiting the galleries where they left their works during the day.” 

“Although Serbs and Poles also suffered during World War II, Belarusians were hit hardest of all. Belarusians, for the most part, believed that they are alone with this history of suffering, and they are right.”
“What dominates in Belarus is a version of liberation from the East. Lukashenko is trying to pass on that very narrative to the next generation, and he might as well be successful. The important thing about the way this narrative functions is that it is anti-Western. It is much more anti-Polish than it is anti-German, because it is more convenient to be anti-Polish than to be anti-German. It presents Belarus as being in a sort of vanguard of protecting civilization. The barbarians were in the West and we in Belarus are the ones who were protecting Russia from the aggression of the West. This particular story makes it very hard to imagine that the Belarusian foreign policy could change any time soon.” 

“In Ukraine, famine was accompanied by massive repression of teachers, cultural functionaries, and others, viewed as the result of and the vehicle for a ‘wrong’ indigenization. In Belarus, the measures taken were similar, if somewhat less severe.”
This book is an attempt to keep the attention of contemporary analysts focused on the social and cultural legacies of totalitarian experience in the space between Prague and Pyongyang.
“Official propaganda exploited Ukrainian and Belarusian nationalisms to justify the new partitioning of Poland following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and put forward the notion that it was a matter of completing the unification process of Ukrainian and Belarusian territories with those oppressed by Poland.”
“The Soviet version ascribed the blame for Katyn to the Nazis. This myth lay at the heart of the efforts to advertise the fate of the Belarussian village of Khatyn, razed to the ground by the Germans… After the collapse of the USSR, further investigations were also hindered by the difficulties of working in the newly independent states of Belarus and Ukraine… The Memorial society has repeatedly raised the issue of the identity of Ukrainian and Belarusian victims of the massacre, and their burial sites.”
“Soviet troops were withdrawn from the Baltic states, the peaceful and cooperative denuclearization of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan was successfully implemented.”

“Piłsudski embraced the concept of a commonwealth of nationalities, in which Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Jews, Germans could live in their common state side by side, cooperating and enjoying equal rights. Roman Dmowski (1864–1939) wanted to expel Germans, Lithuanians, and Jews from Poland, and to assimilate non-Polish Slavs (meaning mainly Ukrainians and Belarusians) into the Polish national body.”—from a book on current values in Poland.
“In local elections held in November 2014, the Belarusian minority candidates took part in cooperation with Polish political parties. Representatives of the Belarusian minority took office in many municipal councils.”
“Germans, Lithuanians, Slovaks, and Ukrainians are substantially supported by their mother-states, with the minority languages maintained and developed. The situation of the Belarusian minority seems to be quite different, as the Belarusian nation-state is thought to be disinterested in continuing Belarusian language development.”

“Just like Yiddish, Belarusian was often referred to in the Russian discourse as jargon.  This kind of approach to Belarusians was typical even of rather liberal-minded imperial officials, such as the education minister Tolstoi, for example.”—The Tsar, the Empire, and the Nation.
“Often, people who professed the Catholic faith and spoke one of the Belarusian dialects at home would answer questions about their nationality by saying they belonged to the “Catholic nation,'”
“In Vil’na governor general Krshivitskii’s opinion, in order for Belarusians to ‘become nationally aware,’ i.e., identify themselves with Russians, a whole swathe of measures had to be implemented: ‘to ensure as quickly as possible’ that additional Catholic prayers be held in Belarusian; to open primary schools where Belarusian is taught.’”
“Krshivitskii’s suggestions were completely unacceptable to the absolute majority of officials because they were considered dangerous to the integrity of the Russian nation.”

International comparative research of verbal magic covered the entire continent from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, and includes the development of the index of the East Slavic charms, magical texts and prayers. In both Belarusian and Russian childbearing charms, the main theme is Holy Mary bringing keys for opening the woman’s body at childbirth, as here:
“Идзе Божья Мацерь, Хвартух подоткнутый, А в том хвартухе Золоты ключы. —Куда идзешь, Божья Мацерь, И с золотыми ключами? —Наце вам золотые ключы, Отмукайце ворота И выпускайце бладенца на свет”.

Why were there more pogroms in Belarus than in Lithuania? In the Belarusian provinces there were many instances of minor anti-Jewish violence or brawls in which the warring sides were divided according to ethno-religious identity. In the cities, where the pogroms most often occurred, a significant part of the population consisted not of Belarusians or Lithuanians but Poles or Russians.
The first widely publicized pogrom in Belarus in the twentieth century took place in 1903. The September 1–2 events in Gomel’ are regarded in historiography as the beginning of a new wave of anti-Jewish violence in the Russian Empire that lasted until 1906. During the 1905 Revolution, pogroms were motivated in large part by a desire to punish the Jews for being revolutionaries. The most severe pogrom in Belarus occurred on June 1–3, 1906, in Belostok. In the course of three days, eighty-two individuals (seventy-five Jews and seven Christians) were killed.
Pogroms should not be associated with Belarusian nationalism. The main mouthpiece for nascent Belarusian nationalism, Nasha Niva (1906–1915), wrote positively about Jews. It urged its readers not to listen to propaganda about how Jews were parasites of the Belarusian people. 

“In 1859, the use of Latin script for Ukrainian and Belarusian language was forbidden in order to minimize Polish influence. The restrictions were designed to prevent emancipation of these vernaculars and to establish Russian as the sole language of education".
Processes of nation-building within the Romanov Empire – including suppressions of national aspirations – are examined in parallel with related trajectories in other empires in Europe.
“The creation of the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republics, along with the vigorous Soviet policy of Ukrainization and Belarusization within the framework of the general drive toward korenizatsia in the 1920s, all were policies deconstructing the very backbone of the Russian nation-building project of the imperial time—the concept of the unity of Great, Little, and White Russians as the branches of a single nation. All the eastern territories of contemporary Ukraine and Belarus, which were deeply russified before WWI, were transferred to those Soviet republics, often in spite of the protests of the local population, like in the case of the Vitebsk or Donetsk regions. That move was motivated by the wish of the Bolsheviks to create Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet republics which would be attractive for those Ukrainians and Belarusians who found themselves under Polish rule after the Soviet-Polish war of 1920”. 

The city of Mir played a special role in the history of Gypsies. The institution of Gypsy overlords appointed by the Radziwiłłs in this town dates back to the beginning of the 18th century. Even greater fame was enjoyed by Smorgonie (Smargon’), known for its Bear Academy, a school of bear taming, from where bear-trainers headed towards the different cities of Europe.
The story of the Gypsies in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is based in greatest part on municipal archives.
“These Gypsy women, during my absence, when I was at the market on Tuesday on the eve of St. Elizabeth’s day, were drinking in my house and jumping around my manor and were doing other strange things. And then twenty kopas of groszes and two signet rings and other things were gone from my case”—a complaint in Ruthenian entered into the municipal books of Połock (Polatsk) in 1533. 

“In the year 1746, the representatives from Greater Poland put forth a proposal wanting the Ruthenian provinces to pay the same taxes as the rest, but a deputy from Wołyń would hear nothing of it, so he held up deliberations in the Sejm chamber for two days.”—as broadcast from the 18th century.
“In the average noble homes the drinks in fashion were: in Ruthenia: vodka, mead, cherry brandy, raspberry brandy; in Lithuania: vodka and mead; in Greater Poland and in Mazuria: vodka and beer.”
“In Poland they used cradles standing on the ground on rockers; in Ruthenia and Lithuania they hung them from ropes. That kind of cradle is better, for they don’t make noise like the ones on rockers do.”
“The Ruthenian peasant wore a coarse homespun coat of plain white wool, wide in the waist and sleeves, reaching to mid-calf. If ever a Ruthenian should come upon some carcass, he would easily be able to cut a piece of leather out of it and make moccasins without benefit of training as a cobbler.”