Struggle over Identity

The Official and the Alternative "Belarusianness"
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Paperback is forthcoming in September 2023
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312 pages

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. 

Table of Contents

Part I. Nation in Theory
Chapter 1 Nation-Formation Strategies in Contemporary Nation-Studies
Chapter 2 State and Nation
Chapter 3 Nationalism, Capitalism, Liberalism: The East European Perspective
Chapter 4 Nationalism and Socialism: The Soviet Case

Part II. The Rise and Development of the Belarusian National Idea
Chapter 5 The First Belarusian Nationalist Movement: Between National and Class Interests
Chapter 6 Byelorussian Republic within the Soviet State
Chapter 7 Post-Soviet Conditions for Independence

Part III. Belarusian Post-Communism
Chapter 8 The Election of the First Belarusian President as a Mirror of Belarusian Preferences
Chapter 9 “Labels” of the Belarusian Regime
Chapter 10 “Triple Transformation” and Belarus
Chapter 11 Prerequisites of Democratization and Authoritarianism in Belarus

Part IV. Arguments and Paradoxes of Weak Belarusian Identity
Chapter 12 Belarus as an Example of National and Democratic Failure
Chapter 13 The Russian Factor in Belarusian Self-Perception
Chapter 14 The Paradox of “National Pride”
Chapter 15 Paradoxes of Political and Linguistic Russification
Chapter 16 Lack of Religious Basis for National Unity

Part V. The Struggle over Identity
Chapter 17 Two Ideas of “Belarusianness” in Place of “Sole” National Idea
Chapter 18 Belarusian-Specific Nature of the Public Sphere: Invisible Wall
Chapter 19 Belarusian Tradition: The Alternative and Official Historical Narrations
Chapter 20 Political Discourses of Alternative Belarusianness
Chapter 21 National Ideology of the Belarusian State as a Political Articulation of Official Belarusianness

Part VI. Cultural Manifestation versus Social Reification
Chapter 22 Two Belarusian Approaches to the Politics of Identity
Chapter 23 “The Belarusian Globe”: An Encyclopedia of What Existed before Communism
Chapter 24 Belarusian National Film Misterium Occupation: Distancing Themselves from Soviets and Russians
Chapter 25 Free Theater: Alternative Belarusianness on the Stage
Chapter 26 Independent Rock Music: Critical Reflection and Protest
Chapter 27 Medieval Reenactors: A Manifestation of Belarus’s European History
Chapter 28 The Official Politics of Identity: Social Reification Strategy


"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... more
"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... more
"Nelly Bekus’ book is a unique contribution, as it deals with the seldom-covered topic of Belarusian national identity.After twenty years of independence, Belarus remains a special case among European nations as the only non-democratic regime on the continent. Until recently, the Belarusian identity issue was primarily covered in the West by scholars of non-Belarusian origin, such as David R. Marples and Grigory Ioffe. This trend has only begun to change within the last ten years, as articles by Belarus-born social scientists such as Natalia Leshchenko and Alexander Pershaihave started to appear in Western journals. Bekus’ book, however, is the firstmonograph devoted to Belarusian identity written by a Belarusian scholar and published in English in the West. It thus presents a comprehensive ‘insider’s view’ of Belarusian identity. The basic idea of the book is to show and explain the origins of two Belarusian national identities that (co)exist and compete in Belarusian society,... more
"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."