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19 Dec

Hanna Vasilevich, Belarusian Review, October 26, 2012 (Belarus)

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Belarusian Studies: Underestimated Potential

Belarus can hardly be described as a country which attracts much attention from international scholars and analysts. Despite this fact all Belarus-related studies and analyses may roughly be described as those produced within a so-called “triadic nexus” that consists of Belarusian authors, foreign authors who focus on Belarus, and the authors who come from Belarusians living abroad, either from indigenous minorities in the neighboring countries or from Belarusian diasporas of migrant origin.

The “triadic nexus” framework is used by a well known American scholar Rogers Brubaker who focuses on analyzing the relations among the kin-state, a minority and a nationalizing state (the one that accommodates the minority). It aims to show the role and influence that a kinstate can impose on the minority-majority relationship. One can apply the same idea of “triadic nexus” framework to the current situation in Belarusian studies. However, it would be similar to the scheme produced by Brubaker only in its name and its modality in order to consider and measure the importance of each participating actor as well as to reveal the challenges and opportunities that Belarusian studies and analyses see worldwide.

As mentioned above, there are three elements of the triadic nexus – Belarusian authors and researchers, foreign authors focusing on Belarus, and foreign Belarusians from diasporas/minorities. The biggest problem in fact exists between the first two elements since they have quite different visions of the situation in Belarus even though they use the same facts and sources. These two often opposing visions may be found not only in political or economic areas, but also in regard to language, culture and history.

A thorough debate on this situation would take at least a couple of long articles, so we will provide a rough and quite simplified overview of the situation. One of the major problems rests upon the fact that a considerable part of foreign authors and researchers see Belarus as a young country that lacks its own history and distinct identity and has no experience of any historical statehood. Hence, Belarus is largely seen as an artificial by-product of the collapse of the USSR whilst its independence is largely seen as occasional and vaguely grounded. As a result,, processes taking place in Belarus are viewed through the starting points described in the previous two sentences. These foreign-produced analyses therefore portray Belarus as another young country that has no other milestones than its Soviet heritage. Lukashenka’s election and the country’s advanced integration with Russia are also explained through this perception. Moreover, the apparent assent of the Belarus-Russia integration by the Belarusian population is explained through the prism of a lack of a distinct Belarusian identity and allegedly large cultural and linguistic similarities between the two countries. This problem goes along with the relative reluctance toward the Belarusian language based on quite a pragmatic economic approach. This reluctance has two varieties, an active and a passive one. Active reluctance may be described as the use of the Russian language for the media, analysis or policy products aimed at the Belarusian society (Deutsche Welle program, Friedrich Ebert Foundation website, etc.). Passive reluctance is exemplified by the proficiency of certain scholars in only Russian and by the use of the Russian-language transliteration for Belarusian personal and geographic names.

Belarusian authors and researchers largely refer to the rich historical heritage of the Belarusian nation and emphasize the role of language and culture in the identity and distinctiveness of the country. The European Union (mostly equated with the term Europe) and its values are seen as the ultimate solution for the most of the Belarusian problems (both political and economic). For these scholars there is no need to additionally prove Europeanness since the European nature of Belarus and its society is taken for granted. It is often emphasized that Belarus was once the most democratic and tolerant European country (the Grand Duchy of Lithuania which is seen as the Golden Age of the Belarusian historical statehood). The current ruling practices of Lukashenka are portrayed as those that denounce and neglect all that is Belarusian and European. A small push caused by the regime change is often seen as the ultimate solution and a starting point for the European integration.

In fact, the problem of the Belarusian authors and researchers is that they know only a little about foreign studies on Belarus. However, foreign authors and researchers know even less about Belarus. Without an indepth analysis of the reasons for this situation, one can explain such a poor knowledge of the Belarusian realities through the foreign perception of the studies produced in Belarus. They are often seen as either ideologized, or nationalistic, or methodologically weak.

As a result, the two parallel worlds do not co-exist. They neither interact with each other nor have a basis for a durable cooperation. Such connections may be created by the Belarusian diasporas/minorities. This element both has insider perception of the Belarusian situation and applies western approaches. It has much to offer both Belarusian and foreign scholars. However, its abilities are hardly used.

The recent international recognition of Belarusian Lacinka may be seen as a starting point for establishing cooperation. It gives Belarusian language an opportunity to promote both its visual distinctiveness from the Russian and Ukrainian languages, as well as to conveniently establish itself as a part of the linguistic continuum of the Slavic and Baltic languages of the CEE. Initiatives proposed by Belarusian experts and supported by the Belarusian state and international experts may be promoted for a wider scholarly and analytical audience in the West. And it is the Belarusian diasporas that may play the key role in this process.

Article published:

This article appeared in Belarusian Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, section Editorial.
© 2012 Belarusian Review

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