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Belarus – Alternative Visions: Nation, Memory and Cosmopolitanism

Simon Lewis
BASEES / Routledge Series on Russian and East European Studies
Belarus – Alternative Visions
Belarus is often regarded as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, a fossilized leftover
from the Soviet Union. However, a key factor in determining Belarus’s devel-
opment, including its likely future development, is its own sense of identity.
This book explores the complex debates and competing narratives surrounding
Belarus’s identity, revealing a far more diverse picture than the widely accepted
monolithic post-Soviet nation. It examines in a range of media including
historiography, films and literature how visions of Belarus as a nation have been
constructed from the nineteenth century to the present day. It outlines a complex
picture of contested myths – the ‘peasant nation’ of the nineteenth century, the
devoted Soviet republic of the late twentieth century and the revisionist Belarusian
nationalism of the present. The author shows that Belarus is characterized by
immense cultural, linguistic and ethnic polyphony, both in its lived history and in
its cultural imaginary. The book analyses important examples of writing in and
about Belarus, in Belarusian, Polish and Russian, revealing how different modes
of rooted cosmopolitanism have been articulated.
Simon Lewis is a DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) Research Fellow in
the Institute for Slavonic Studies at the University of Potsdam.
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Simon Lewis
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Belarus – Alternative Visions
Nation, Memory and Cosmopolitanism
Simon Lewis
First published 2019
by Routledge
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List of figures vi
Acknowledgements vii
A note on transliteration, translation and
proper nouns x
Introduction: alternative visions 1
Contexts (1800–1991) 25
1 An abundant harvest: the emergence of Belarusian memory 27
2 By force of myth: the making of the partisan republic 53
Texts of resistance (1956–1991) 81
3 Memory at war: un-writing the partisan republic 83
4 Retrofitting rebellion: defiance and laughter as
hybrid memory 112
Texts of renewal (1991–2016) 137
5 Still fighting: the afterlife of the partisan republic 139
6 Divided legacies: towards cosmopolitan mourning 167
Afterword: on cosmopolitan memory 194
Bibliography 201
Index 224
2.1 Victory Square in Minsk 56
2.2 Khatyn Memorial Complex, ‘The Unconquered Man’ 72
3.1 Vasil’ Bykau, Minsk, 1960s 85
4.1 Uladzimir Karatkevich, 1974 114
5.1 Still from Okkupatsiia. Misterii, dir. by Andrei Kudzinenka, 2003 151
6.1 The Opera House in Minsk 172
This book is based on a doctoral dissertation written at the University of Cambridge
between 2010 and 2014. As such, it has been a long time in the making and has
traversed many different places, from the conception of a doctoral project at the
application stage, to the actual research and writing as a PhD student, to later
revisions in order to turn a hastily submitted thesis into a viable monograph. To
thank everyone who has benefitted the work during the course of these journeys
would be an impossible task: I cannot begin to list the librarians and administra-
tors who worked behind the scenes to keep me afloat in various institutions; the
many people, some of whose names I never even learned, who fielded challeng-
ing and intriguing questions at conferences and talks; the editors and anonymous
reviewers who gave insightful feedback to articles that I submitted to journals
and edited volumes, which included earlier versions of some sections of this book
(see below for details); and the students, friends and teachers who affected my
thinking without me ever registering their influence. In the unlikely event that any
of these people pick up this volume, I extend my gratitude, however impersonal.
My interest in Belarus first developed in around 2008 in Warsaw, Poland,
where I first became aware of the country’s culture and politics. It was here,
concurrently with studying for a Masters at the Institute of Philosophy and
Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, that I learned of contemporary
Belarusian music, documentary film, literature and visual art. Without the friend-
ship and advice of Mark Bence, Sasha Godina, Nelly Bekus, Helena-Alexandra
Reut, Inna Reut, Andrzej ‘Krzaku’ Strycharczuk, Vasil Lepesh, Alex Kirby, and
others, the first (and therefore the most vital) steps towards this study would
never have been made.
It was at Cambridge that the bulk of the work was completed. An enormous
debt of gratitude is owed to my first supervisor, Alexander Etkind, for guiding
me through the research process for the first three years. I am equally grateful
to Susan Larsen, who so ably took over the supervision of the thesis for the
final twelve months. Emma Widdis and Rory Finnin also provided indispensable
advice at numerous junctures during my time as a student, and Julie Fedor was a
tireless reader of many drafts as well as a kind neighbour and friend – alongside
Adam Fedor. The other members of the Cambridge team of the ‘Memory At
War’ project provided companionship and a fertile exchange of ideas: Uilleam
viii Acknowledgements
Blacker, Judy Brown, Molly Flynn, Rolf Fredheim, Olesya Khromeychuk, Tom
Rowley, Harald Wydra, and Tanya Zaharchenko. Jill Gather kept the project
running with her permanent kindness and expert administration. Mel Bach, the
Slavonic Specialist at Cambridge University Library, was always available to
consult on resources and to help in obtaining books. Nelly Bekus remained, as
ever, a vital source of knowledge about Belarus and a careful reader of several
draft chapters. Arnold McMillin was always at hand to offer suggestions of pri-
mary sources that should be consulted, and generously accompanied me on my
first visit to the Frantsysk Skaryna Belarusian Library in London. The late Fr
Alexander Nadson was very helpful in locating and suggesting materials at the
library itself, as well as being the spiritual leader of the Belarusian community in
London; he is greatly missed. In Belarus and Poland, Zmitser Navitski, Aliaksei
Bratachkin, Aleh Latyshonak, Jerzy Grzybowski, Anatol’ Mikhnavets, Tatsiana
Astrouskaya and Jan Maksymiuk assisted at various junctures, by providing
resources and crucial insights.
My research at Cambridge was funded by a doctoral stipend from the Arts and
Humanities Research Council. Travel grants for field trips and conference attend-
ance were also received from the Newton Trust (Cambridge), King’s College
(Cambridge), the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
(USA) and the Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies (UK).
The English Province of the Order of Preachers (the Hoper Dixon Trust) and the
Access to Learning Trust provided vital grants in the latter stages of writing up;
I am especially grateful to Benedict Jonak OP for his support in arranging the
former, as well as for his friendship over the years.
The book was finished in Warsaw and Berlin, for the most part while I was a
postdoctoral researcher at Freie Universität Berlin. Gertrud Pickhan and Halina
Zeman-Castillo welcomed me warmly to the Institute for East European Studies
of this university, and Łukasz Krzyżanowski helped to answer my lingering
queries concerning Polish linguistic and cultural matters (as well as helping to
assemble furniture). Yaraslava Ananka and Heinrich Kirschbaum helped to better
acquaint me with German-language scholarship on Belarus, and thereby inspired
me to continue with Belarusian Studies – a dynamically developing discipline,
thanks in part to them. I am also grateful to Peter Sowden and Rebecca McPhee at
Routledge, above all for their patience.
Images reproduced in this book were generously provided by the State Museum
of the History of Belarusian Literature in Minsk and by Hleb Malafeeu. I am
grateful to Elina Karlauna Svirydovich for her assistance in arranging the former,
and to Zmitser Navitski for helping to put me in touch with both.
My greatest debt, however, is to my wife Helena-Alexandra, who inspired the
project, and supported and accompanied me throughout. To her, and to our two
perfect sons, I dedicate this work. Without them, it may have been completed
earlier, but it would have been less worth it. All errors, inaccuracies and misjudge-
ments are exclusively my own.
Acknowledgements ix
Variations on sections of the manuscript have appeared previously in journal
articles and chapters of edited volumes (see list below) – for the most part, these
are earlier versions that have been expanded and revised for this book.
Earlier versions of sections from Chapters 2, 3 and 5 appeared in ‘The Partisan
Republic: Colonial Myths and Memory Wars in Belarus’, in Julie Fedor,
Markku Kangaspuro, Jussi Lassila, and Tatiana Zhurzhenko (eds), War and
Memory in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2017), 371–396.
Some paragraphs from Chapter 2 first appeared in ‘Khatyn and its Discontents:
Hegemonic Martyrdom and de-Sovietization in Belarus’, Journal of Soviet
and Post-Soviet Politics and Society 1.2 (2015), 367–401.
Earlier versions of sections from Chapter 6 were first published in ‘Towards
Cosmopolitan Mourning: Belarusian Literature between History and
Politics’, in Uilleam Blacker, Alexander Etkind and Julie Fedor (eds),
Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2013), pp. 195–216.
An earlier version of a section of Chapter 5 appears in ‘“Official Nationality”
and the Dissidence of Memory in Belarus: A Comparative Analysis of Two
Films’, Studies in Russian and Soviet Cinema 5.3 (2011), 371–387.
A note on transliteration, translation
and proper nouns
This study incorporates primary and secondary literature originally written in
Belarusian, Polish and Russian, as well as a number of secondary sources written
in German. Belarusian and Russian proper nouns and references are Romanized
using the Library of Congress system of transliteration without diacritics. This
choice may meet with disapproval, given that an autochthonous Belarusian
and UN-approved Romanization system exists and is considered ‘official’ for
international usage: the so-called ‘Instruction on Transliteration of Belarusian
Geographical Names with Letters of the Latin Script’. The ‘Instruction’ uses dia-
critics to render Belarusian visually closer to Western Slavic languages, and is also
adopted by a minority of Belarusian writers who prefer to habitually use the Latin
alphabet (arguing that the use of Cyrillic in modern Belarusian was a Russian
imposition). Belarusian has had many different ‘standard’ forms in recent history,
and none of the available transliteration systems would be unequivocally ‘value
free’. Thus, my decision to use the Library of Congress system is not motivated
by any political considerations, but my own perception of the likely ease of refer-
ence for anglophone readers, given that the book also frequently cites Russian
and Polish names. In isolated cases, however, Belarusian-language sources are
cited that employ a pre-Soviet version of the Belarusian language, using Latin
orthography with diacritics; in these instances, the original Latin-script form is
given (e.g. the title of Frantsishak Bahushevich’s 1891 poetry collection Dudka
Białaruskaja). Polish names and references are given using standard modern
Polish orthography. All translations are my own, unless otherwise indicated.
The spelling of Belarusian proper and personal nouns varies with the language
of the original source, date of publication and political views expressed in the
text. For instance, the present-day Belarusian capital city of Minsk is historically
referred to as Mińsk in Polish-language literature, and was officially known as
Mensk (pronounced M-yen-sk) in Belarusian until 1939, when the Belarusian
language was altered by the Soviet regime so as to be closer to Russian (which
renders the city as Minsk); today, its official name in both Belarusian and Russian
is Minsk, but many still refer to it as Mensk in order to express a covert protest
against the legacy of Sovietization (or, in commercialized toponyms such as the
names of cafés, to invoke a mild nostalgia). In the interests of consistency and
ease of reference, this book uses the Belarusian forms that are currently in official
A note on transliteration, translation and proper nouns xi
use (e.g. Minsk). Belarusian personal names are given in the Belarusian-language
form (e.g. Bulhakau, Bykau, Ramanouski); however, where a Russian-language
text written by a Belarusian author is cited, the reference gives the Russian version
of the name in keeping with spelling used in the original source (e.g. Bulgakov,
Bykov, Romanovskii). In isolated cases, references are made to non-Belarusians
who lived and worked in Belarus, such as Lavrentii Tsanava (1900–1955, born
as Lavrentii Dzhanzhgava in present-day Georgia) and Konstantin Zaslonov
(1910–1942, a native of Tver’ region, Russia); their names are transliterated from
the Russian form. Places of publication are given using the original spelling in
the publication itself: thus, Belarusian-language books published in Vilnius are
typically published in ‘Vil’nia’, and books published in Minsk may give either
‘Minsk’ or ‘Mensk’ as their place of publication.
Finally, some words on the use of the terms ‘Belarus’ and ‘Belarusian’, both in
this note and in the main body of the book. The central argument of this thesis is that
Belarusian identity is a construct of culture that is constantly under negotiation, and
not something that is clearly definable a priori. In particular, when referring to events
and individuals of the nineteenth century and earlier, it is impossible to speak of
‘Belarusianness’ as a form of ethnolinguistic self-identification – as shown in detail
in Chapter 1, in which care is taken to qualify the use of these terms. Nonetheless,
there is a methodological tension between charting the many different uses of these
words, and maintaining clarity and consistency of reference. For this reason, the geo-
graphical term ‘Belarus’ is used consistently throughout this book to refer to the
territory of the present-day state – even though its political boundaries were estab-
lished only in 1945. Similarly, reference is made to the ‘Belarusian language’ even
when referring to uncodified and undifferentiated peasant vernaculars before the
establishment of a literary Belarusian language in the early twentieth century.
Alternative visions
In his 1821 Polish-language prose work Pan Jan ze Swisłoczy, kramarz wędrujący
(‘Pan Jan from Swisłocz, an Itinerant Salesman’), Jan Chodźko (1777–1851)
describes a ‘famous fair, known to all Belarus’, which is visited by ‘merchants
from all over our empire [Cesarstwo, i.e. Russia]’. In the four weeks of the
annual summer fair, the town of Bieszeńkowicze (now Beshankovichy in east-
ern Belarus) becomes a colourful place indeed, where ‘you can find everything
you can possibly imagine, to fulfil the first needs of all people, and satisfy the
comforts and excesses of the wealthiest residents’. Goods are sold by Russians,
Jews, Greeks and Armenians amongst others, and are brought from all points
of the compass – the author names the cities of Riga, Königsberg, Berdychev
and Moscow. Throughout the days, ‘people of diverse estates, confessions and
nations’ produce an ‘incessant clamour’ – presumably a multilingual one, too.1
This image of immense polyphony is far from what is usually associated with
Belarus today. The modern-day state has been given various negative labels that
it has struggled to shake off: ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’,2 a post-Soviet ‘Jurassic
Park’,3 or the heart of the wartime ‘Bloodlands’.4 Whilst such monikers contain
elements of truth, they serve to petrify the image of an entire nation, consigning
it to being an object of pity, condescension, fear, and ignorance. If Ukraine is
‘Europe’s perennial terra malecognita’, as Rory Finnin once put it,5 then Belarus
is so far removed from the western consciousness that it tends to register only
through such opaque-yet-empty signifiers. Indeed, in one episode of the BBC
television series Sherlock, the contemporary detective Holmes returns to his
Baker Street apartment from a trip to Minsk, where he is asked by Dr Watson how
‘that Russian case’ worked out; ‘Belarus’, Holmes corrects him. The ability to
even distinguish Belarus as a separate country, it appears, is a sign of Sherlockian
brilliance. The brief scene that purportedly takes place in Minsk is symptomatic
of Belarus’s (absence of) place in the popular imaginary. The detective meets
a British citizen accused of murder, in a dark, non-descript room. There are no
Belarusians, and the only reference to a local context is the threat of a state judici-
ary that will hang the young man for his crime.6
Nonetheless, the aim of this book is not to show that Belarus is, despite
the stereotypes, still a vibrant, multi-ethnic trading hub akin to the suggestive
2 Introduction
microcosm presented by Chodźko. Nor is it to imply that television producers
should reconsider their approach to the former Soviet republic. Rather, I set out
to contextualize the historical forces that conditioned these dominant negative
images – namely imperialism, violence and mass murder, and political repression –
and to interpret how they have affected Belarusian culture, especially written
culture, in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The same mul-
tiplicity of cultural and political influences that underlay Chodźko’s description
of Bieszeńkowicze – the immense multicultural expanse of the Tsarist Empire,
and the continued relevance of Polish–Lithuanian feudal distinctions – played a
crucial and formative role in the development of modern Belarusian society. The
idea and narrative content of ‘Belarus’, a word which in Chodźko’s use denoted
a geographic region rather than a bounded national community, has changed and
evolved, but one constant factor has been its contestedness.
This study places memory at the centre of its focus; that is, it discusses ways
in which the act of depicting the past has been instrumental in conveying meaning
about people and places. Its point of departure is the discrepancy between history
and memory: in history, the territory we now call Belarus is an area characterized
by its polyphony and diversity; it has been known by several different names
and has inspired many contrasting forms of loyalty. However, in numerous ver-
sions of memory, expressed in different languages, Belarus has been competed
over as a finite resource: different discourses have claimed to exclusively rep-
resent Belarusian nationhood, including nineteenth-century Polish Romanticism,
post-war Soviet mythmaking, and multiple strands of Belarusian nationalism.
Amidst these polarizing and totalizing tendencies, this analysis discovers a cos-
mopolitan drive within modern Belarusian literary and cinematic culture. It shows
that despite numerous attempts to confine Belarusian cultural memory7 within
national limits, including (somewhat paradoxically) by dominating empires, crea-
tive impulses have reached out to past legacies of diversity and to global currents
of memory and identity.
The Commonwealth and its afterlife
Historically, the territory we now know as Belarus has been an arena in which
several ideologies – including nationalist, socialist and regionalist, and articulated
in different languages, including Belarusian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and
Yiddish – have clashed and interacted. The story of the five Iwanowski siblings,
who were born into a Polish-speaking gentry family in the vicinity of the present-
day Belarusian–Lithuanian border in the late nineteenth century, exemplifies the
multiplicity and heterogeneity of identities that have coexisted in Belarus. The
three eldest brothers have attracted most attention from scholars: Jerzy (1876–1965)
became a successful statesman in the interwar Polish republic, Wacław (1880–1943)
became a leading Belarusian intellectual of the early twentieth century under the
name Vatslau Ivanouski, and Tadeusz (1882–1970) embarked on a career as a
zoologist, as Tadas Ivanauskas, in Lithuanian Kaunas and Vilnius.8 In addition,
the youngest brother, Stanisław (1887–1970) was a lawyer who settled in Wilno
Introduction 3
and identified as a Pole. Perhaps most interesting, however, is Helena Iwanowska
(1886–1973), who studied at Newnham College, Cambridge and became an early
popularizer of Belarusian folklore abroad – she is said to have produced the ‘first
known English translations of Belarusian literature’.9 Nonetheless, she kept the
Polish spelling of her name10 and spent the latter part of her life in Poland, work-
ing as a translator between Polish and English.11 Against the background of her
brothers, Helena’s example illustrates the possibility of cultural identification that
refuses rigid ethnolinguistic borders.
Yet Helena’s case was exceptional. A comparison of two generations of
Iwanowskis can be understood as a representative microcosm of broader processes
that swept Central and Eastern Europe in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The
father, Leonard Iwanowski (1845–1919), had been an engineer and scientist in
the Russian imperial service who married Jadwiga von Reichel (1840–1934),
the daughter of an ethnic German who had settled in central Poland.12 Whereas
Leonard and Jadwiga were content for German, Polish and Russian influences to
colour their lives without conflict or complication, their sons felt compelled to
choose a nationality and their paths diverged along political lines. Leonard and
Jadwiga were members of the last cohort who could claim cultural allegiance to
the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a multi-ethnic and multiconfessional state
that, at its peak in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, was one of the
largest polities in Europe.13
The Commonwealth was a dualistic state composed of the Kingdom of Poland
and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), the latter approximately correspond-
ing, in territorial terms, to today’s Lithuania and Belarus.14 Having been formally
created in 1569 by the Union of Lublin, the Commonwealth disappeared from
the map of Europe at the end of the eighteenth century, when it was partitioned
by the Austro–Hungarian Empire, Prussia and Russia. Meanwhile, the Union of
Lublin sparked the decline of the old Ruthenian language and its replacement
by Polish in the upper echelons of society in the GDL. The Chancery Slavonic
used by Ruthenian nobles in the sixteenth century, in which historic documents
such as the Lithuanian Statutes (1529, 1566 and 1588) were written, became
extinct in the course of the seventeenth century.15 The Statutes themselves were
translated into Polish in 1614 and thereafter published only in translation, and in
1696 Polish officially became the only language of administration in the GDL.16
Nonetheless, the retention of significant cultural and administrative autonomy in
the GDL (which continued to have its own army, treasury and ministries) resulted
in ‘the maintenance of a strong feeling of Lithuanian identity among nobles
who were, paradoxically, increasingly Polish in speech and culture’.17 Historian
Juliusz Bardach refers to the ‘two-levelled nature’ (dwuszczeblowość) of identity
in the territory of the GDL, according to which the sense of belonging to a politi-
cal and cultural Polish community did not contradict, but rather supplemented,
a regional (and not ethnic) Lithuanianness.18 This fluid and multilayered sense
of identity retained its appeal for nearly a century after the demise of the union
state, when most of the GDL’s territory (including all of what would later become
Belarus) was annexed by the Russian Empire. For instance, Adam Mickiewicz
4 Introduction
(1798–1855; born in Navahrudak, now in Belarus), often referred to casually as
‘Poland’s national poet’,19 famously proclaimed Litwa (the GDL) as his home-
land in the opening line of his epic Pan Tadeusz (1834). Much of his (early)
oeuvre heralds not Polish nationalism per se, but a wave of regional (‘krajowy’)
patriotism that sought to restore the Grand Duchy of Lithuania within a resur-
rected Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.20 As the Lithuanian-born Polish poet
and literary critic Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004) put it: ‘Mickiewicz enraptured
his Polish-speaking contemporaries, strengthened the bond between Poland and
Lithuania, and bid them fight together for independence.’21 Remembering the
Commonwealth, in other words, was a cosmopolitan act.
Delayed nationalism
Nonetheless, the manifold nature of Polish–Lithuanian identity contained the
seeds of its own gradual demise. The layering of geocultural allegiances also
entailed significant semantic slippage. Whilst Mickiewicz’s affection for Litwa
was celebrated in many of his youthful works, it also became increasingly clear
that he considered himself a Polak, i.e. a representative of a larger ‘family’ that
brought together all of the people of the bygone Commonwealth: as he put it in
his messianic manifesto Księgi narodu polskiego i pielgrzymstwa polskiego (‘The
Books of the Polish People and of the Polish Pilgrimage’, 1832), ‘the Lithuanian
and the Masovian are brothers; do brothers quarrel about one having the name
Władysław and the other Witowt? They have the same surname, that of the
Poles’.22 The problem here, from the point of view of a civic Polish–Lithuanian
identity, is that the civic and ethnolinguistic markers overlapped. It was a small
leap for someone who spoke Polish and considered himself a Pole (in the political
meaning) as well as a Lithuanian (in the territorial sense) to begin to adhere to a
Polish identity based on increasingly popular Romantic ideas of organic collec-
tives. Likewise, a resident of the GDL who spoke the Lithuanian language could
easily narrow the semantic field of the term ‘Lithuanian’ to include carriers of
the Baltic language only.23 But, as Mickiewicz shows, the Polish speaker might
also consider the Lithuanian speaker to be a Pole, because the latter still belonged
to the broader territorial entity; this belief would likely have been accompanied
by a disdain for the lower-status Lithuanian language, and a conviction that the
self-styled Lithuanian ‘should’ identify as a Pole.24 In turn, a self-identifying
Belarusian who laid claim to the legacy and symbolic heraldry of the Grand
Duchy of Lithuania (as a political entity) would face significant resistance from
ethnolinguistic Lithuanians.25 To compare, the lexically distinct civic concept of
‘British’ is neatly separated from ethnoregional identities such as ‘English’ and
‘Welsh’. UK identities can co-exist without complication (although they may not
necessarily do so), but Polish–Lithuanian ones were prone to disputation.
Thus, in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the former
territory of the Commonwealth, where there was previously one political nation –
the imagined community of Polish-speaking aristocrats – there gradually emerged
separate ethnolinguistic communities that vied for supremacy, frequently claiming
Introduction 5
the same spaces.26 A city such as Lviv was ‘contested between the Poles and the
Ukrainians and understood often as a Polish or Ukrainian Piedmont as well as the
“Mother of Israel”’.27 Vilnius was similarly an object of Belarusian, Lithuanian,
Polish and Jewish aspirations, whilst also remaining a centre of Russian impe-
rial administration.28 The growth of these parallel ethnonational movements was
propelled by the codification of vernacular languages and their increasingly exten-
sive use in multiple spheres of writing.29 Nationalist historiographies developed,
giving purportedly objective backing to nascent ideas about the national specific-
ity of the past.30 Józef Ignacy Kraszewski (1812–1887) and Henryk Sienkiewicz
(1846–1916) stand out as exemplary ‘historicizers’ of Polish identity through
imaginative literature; Taras Shevchenko’s (1814–1861) poetry mythologized the
idea of an autonomous, historically Cossack Ukraine; and Simonas Daukantas
(1793–1864) pioneered the Lithuanianization of the GDL’s history through his
historiographical and ethnographic work.31
Belarus, however, was the notable latecomer to this trend.32 One important
reason was that printing in Belarusian was banned in the Russian Empire until
1905, and Belarus since the Partitions of the Commonwealth had been fully incor-
porated into Russia (unlike e.g. the majority-Ukrainian lands, half of which had
been annexed by the Habsburg Empire, where Ruthenian/Ukrainian writing could
flourish).33 The first Belarusian history was published in only 1910, and the first
standardized grammar appeared in 1918.34 Meanwhile, the muted nature of schol-
arly attention to Belarusian culture in the nineteenth century can also be explained
by the alignment of linguistic identity with social status: Polish and Russian were
the languages of privilege, whilst Belarusian was no more than a rural peasant
vernacular. The fact that there were virtually no Belarusian-speaking members of
intellectual society meant that Belarusians were perceived as an inert and uninte-
grated mass, characterized above all by:
a very low level of historical consciousness, a tendency to treat their own
language as a ‘simple’ tongue not worthy of being printed or being used to
communicate with educated and cultured people [. . .]. Also, insularity, indif-
ference (weak social mobility), collectivism, and conservatism35
Thus, Belarusian national consciousness emerged belatedly because there was
little scope for the outbreak of ‘scholarly interest’ in the culture of the Belarusian-
speaking folk among Belarusian speakers themselves – the first prerequisite for
the development of nationalist thought, according to Miroslav Hroch.36 The avail-
ability of Russian and Polish, two languages of privilege that were politically
opposed to each other but both similar to Belarusian, made Belarusian an unlikely
choice as a language of political protest: a Belarusian speaker who was disen-
chanted with Russian policies was prone to drift towards Polish identity (and vice
versa), or adopt social rather than cultural frames of identification, rather than
declare an allegiance to the stigmatized peasant identity of a Belarusian.37
Belarusian nationalism therefore had peculiar origins in the gaps between national
and social identity, and was coloured to a substantial extent by external forces.
6 Introduction
Per Rudling’s recent monograph makes this point in detail in relation to the early
twentieth century, demonstrating that the smaller nationalisms of the eastern
European borderlands, such as the Belarusian movement and the Jewish Bund,
exerted mutual influence on each other and forged ideologies that were ‘leftist
in orientation and concerned as much as with issues of class as with nation’.38
Between the wars, this hybrid Belarusian nationalism was a stateless rogue in
a territory where new nation states were emerging, and it was manipulated as
an instrument of Polish, Soviet, and Lithuanian foreign policy. In 1921, the ter-
ritory of Belarus was divided between the newly formed Polish Republic and
Bolshevik Russia. In interwar Poland, Belarusian speakers were an insignificant
minority whom the Warsaw government actively tried to assimilate; Belarusian
demands for autonomy and self-representation were routinely dismissed.39 In
Soviet Belarus in the 1920s, the socialist regime encouraged a form of nation-
building under the policy of korenizatsiia (‘nativization’);40 this was a period in
which historical consciousness was actively cultivated by the state, in order to
‘appropriate the Belarusian “national” history for Soviet Belarus, as the legitimate
heir and representative of the Belarusian national tradition’.41 Any ‘gains’ that
had been made by Belarusian nationalism, albeit within the ideological confines
of communist ideology, were soon reversed by the Stalinist Terror of the 1930s,
which resulted in the murder of huge swathes of the cultural elite and heralded
the onset of a wave of Russification.42 The overall result, Rudling argues, was
that early-twentieth-century attempts by Belarusian intellectuals to ‘awaken’ the
masses became ‘less a vehicle for liberation than a tool for dominance’.43
Thus, it was only after the Second World War, and particularly during the
Thaw period with its newly permissive atmosphere, that Belarusian culture
entered a relatively unproblematic formative phase, albeit within Soviet ideo-
logical constraints. For the first time in history, the majority of Belarusians found
themselves bound by a unitary sovereign administrative territory, the Belarusian
Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which now included the western regions that
had belonged to Poland before the war. Questions of Belarusian identity were
discussed and debated in scholarship, literature and the arts, with state cultural
and educational institutions devoted to supporting national forms of public life.44
In the 1960s, established voices began to dissent from the previously undisputed
Russocentric theories pertaining to Belarus’s past; for example, the historian
Aliaksandr Korshunau, who in 1965 published a monograph that positively evalu-
ated the 1569 Union of Lublin. The author was harshly criticized for deviating from
the accepted narrative, according to which the only positive influence on Belarus
or its historical forebears (in this case, the GDL) could come from Russia.45 It was
also at this time that a historically reflective prose literature emerged in Belarus
that enabled Belarusians to develop a sense of connectedness to the past – as writ-
ers such as Sienkiewicz had done for Polish culture in the previous century. Later
chapters of this book will analyse how this imaginative writing critiqued the offi-
cial Russocentric myths, and also, effectively for the first time, articulated a sense
of Belarusian identity that was in dialogue with historical events. In this way, in
the era of de-Stalinization, Belarusian literary memory was born.46
Introduction 7
Two competing versions of Belarusian nationhood vied for supremacy in the
late Soviet era, and national identity has remained a politicized field since 1991.
Several scholars have argued that Belarus is unique among post-Soviet states in
that a neo-Soviet narrative of nationhood remains a potent political force, alongside
a revisionist Belarusian nationalism. According to this view, Belarusian nation-
hood is split between eastward- and westward-facing, or Eurasian and European,
discourses.47 On the macro-scale, the ‘two Belaruses’ theory is borne out by a
substantial body of evidence. The Russocentric narrative propounded by the
Lukashenka regime and its official historians holds that Belarusians were oppressed
by the Poles and Lithuanians (conceived in ethnolinguistic terms) throughout pre-
modern history, until the Russian Empire intervened by annexing a portion of the
Commonwealth. In this account, the process of Belarusian self-realization began in
harmonious union with Russia, and truly flourished in the Soviet period in which
Belarus developed its own political and cultural institutions.48 Meanwhile, a broad
swathe of opposition activists and figures of culture conceive of Belarus as part of (a
highly idealized) pan-European civilization: they claim that Belarus is an heir of the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and is therefore
essentially ‘western’. Insisting on a civilizational border that separates Belarus from
Russia, this narrative advances the argument that liberal values such as democracy
and tolerance have always come naturally to Belarusians.49 Whilst these two domi-
nant forms of Belarusian nationhood offer cardinally different views of identity,
they are also similar in that a mythical notion of the past predominates in each.
Belarusian identity is essentialized, historicized and totalized: it is condensed into
a set of knowable and definable traits (such as language and supra-national belong-
ing), treated as a historical constant with a linear past, and rendered as an absolute
category that tolerates no overlap with other national identities.50 The diversity and
polyphony of the antecedents of present-day Belarus are reduced to a limited set of
memory practices.
Accidents and contingencies
This book diverges from previous dichotomizing treatments of Belarusian
nationhood by adopting a transnational approach whilst focusing on fictional rep-
resentations, especially literature. As Renate Lachmann argues, literature is ‘the
mnemonic art par excellence. [. . .] [It] is a mnemonic medium that not only cre-
ates new texts to be remembered but also recovers suppressed knowledge, revives
obsolete knowledge and reincorporates formerly rejected unofficial or arcane
traditions of knowledge.’51 Imaginative texts are inherently pluralistic, mutually
referential and often subversive; they are indispensable, even essential instru-
ments in the articulation and mediation of memory, but impossible to confine
within conceptual or political boundaries. Studying fiction allows us to peer into
the spaces between politicized discourses and to uncover articulations of memory
that refuse to align with the prevailing essentialisms. When we consider its writ-
ten and artistic culture, Belarus ceases to appear polarized and begins to look
diverse and polyvalent.
8 Introduction
Scholarship on Belarusian literature has tended to conform to the nationalist
fallacy described by Benedict Anderson: ‘If nationalisms are widely considered
[by scholars] to be “new” and “historical”, the nation states to which they give
political expression always loom out of an immemorial past and, still more impor-
tant, glide into a limitless future’.52 For example, an influential and persistent
brand of Belarusian literary history claims that Adam Mickiewicz, alongside
other Belarus-based Polish-language writers such as Jan Chodźko, Jan Czeczot
(1796–1847) and Władysław Syrokomla (pseudonym of Ludwik Kondratowicz,
1823–1862), were Belarusian – thereby imputing ethnocultural belonging – or that
their work was infused with a Belarusian ‘spirit’ and thus inaugurates the dawn-
ing of modern Belarusian literature.53 This claim is often accompanied by a belief
that ‘almost all of the Belarusian writers of the nineteenth century were, in one
way or another, harking back to the origins of the Belarusian literary tradition.’54
By searching for a linear history of Belarusian literature, such treatments inevi-
tably privilege the epistemological standpoint of nationalism; they essentialize
‘Belarusianness’ as a knowable and timeless (if undefined) entity that is actively
‘resuscitated’ by the Polish-language authors of the region.55 In these accounts,
literary history slips into a quest for a Belarusian past and national point of origin,
becoming itself a form of myth-making.56
This book claims that historical identities in Belarus have been pluriform
rather than monadic and national, and correspondingly, that no single paradigm
of nationalism theory can capture the specifics of the Belarusian case. Hroch, for
example, claims that ‘a “memory” of some common past, treated as a “destiny”
of the group’ is an ‘irreplaceable’ component of a national community.57 In Belarus,
however, such affirmative visions of the past were generated by external pow-
ers, whereas Belarusian cultural activists sometimes chose to reject memory as a
unifying allegory, or to complicate their country’s history by exploring its multipo-
larity and polyphony. Thus, rather than asking when and with whom Belarusian
nationalism begins, and thereby imposing external standards concerning a text’s
‘contribution’ to the development of national culture, this study asks what kind of
identity claims about Belarus are made by Polish, Russian and Belarusian narra-
tives of the country’s past. Put differently, it embarks on what Michel Foucault
calls a ‘genealogy’:
Genealogy does not pretend to go back in time to restore an unbroken con-
tinuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things [. . .] [T]o
follow the complex course of descent is to maintain passing events in their
proper dispersion; it is to identify the accidents, the minute deviations – or
conversely, the complete reversals – the errors, the false appraisals, and the
faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and
have value for us; it is to discover that truth or being does not lie at the root of
what we know and what we are, but the exteriority of accidents.58
This book charts the ‘complex course of descent’ of Belarusian memory, from the
nineteenth century to the post-Soviet present day. It shows that the relationship
Introduction 9
between Belarusian identity and memory has changed over time, conditioned by
various ‘accidents’ and ‘deviations’. Moreover, Belarusian memory discourses
have engaged, often creatively and subversively, with the powerful claims about
Belarus that have been propounded by Polish and Russian writing, rather than
evolving according to a nationally specific and linear logic. Belarusian memory
is shown to be in constant dialogue with representations of the past; it is elusive,
malleable and always contested.
The majority of authors and artists on whom I focus are unwilling to impose
a monolithic vision of national history; rather, their works are characterized by a
constant tension between the narration of collective identity and the exploration
of the Belarusian territory’s inherent transnationality. The viability of memory
that is not confined to nations has been theorized by scholars such as Daniel Levy,
Natan Sznaider and Michael Rothberg. Levy and Sznaider argue for the emer-
gence of ‘cosmopolitan memory’, whereby ‘memories of the Holocaust facilitate
the formation of transnational memory cultures, which in turn, have the potential
to become the cultural foundation for global human rights politics.’59 Rothberg
examines the intersections between the memory narratives of the Holocaust and
of colonialism, proposing that ‘we consider memory as multidirectional: as sub-
ject to ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing; as productive and
not privative.’60 This common concern with memory as an unbounded, infinitely
renewable and inherently dialogue-based phenomenon is central to understand-
ing how the representation of the past has been approached by intellectuals and
policymakers in Eastern Europe. However, Levy, Sznaider and Rothberg mostly
study the cross-cultural flows of ideas and interdependencies of memory, rather
than geographically and linguistically rooted texts. Combining their insight with
Kwame Anthony Appiah’s concept of ‘rooted cosmopolitanism, or [. . .] cosmo-
politan patriotism’61 enables an appraisal of the ways in which Belarusian culture
remembers against the grain of monolithic nationalism. For Appiah, a rooted
cosmopolitan is ‘attached to a home of one’s own, with its own cultural particu-
larities, but tak[es] pleasure from the presence of other, different places that are
home to other, different people’. An important feature of this sentiment is that
‘it flows from the free decisions of individuals or of groups’.62 By extension,
a rooted cosmopolitan memory represents the past in a way that both exudes a
sense of national pride and celebrates the historical influence of other groups. As a
feature of products of culture, rooted cosmopolitan memory is by nature dialogic
in the Bakhtinian sense, in order to allow for the ‘free decision’ of the reader or
viewer: the conjuring of the past using words or images does not dictate closed
and absolute truths about past events, but is ‘[a]ware of its audience, it knows that
it is heard against its social and political background and evaluated in terms of its
speaker’s personality.’63 This book offers analyses of the narrative innovations of
authors who write in, for and about Belarus, and whose writing advances a civic
Belarusian identity that is based on an open-ended and self-reflexive memory.
In foregrounding this cosmopolitan drive within Belarus-based culture, this
study is also intended as a theoretical intervention in scholarship about the coun-
try and the broader region of Eastern Europe. The few existing treatments of
10 Introduction
Belarusian history, memory and culture tend to be limited by the fact they are,
precisely, studies of Belarus, i.e. they place a methodological and epistemologi-
cal accent on the modern nation state: there is a clear preponderance of works
that investigate national memory politics,64 the national allegiance of individual
authors,65 or the nation’s historical development.66 Indeed, it has long been the
norm to study Central and Eastern Europe (and other regions) through the prism
of national histories.67 Notwithstanding the wealth of original insights that the
loosely defined field of ‘Belarusian Studies’ can offer, no analysis exists that relates
modern Belarusian culture to the territory’s historical polyphony and variety.68
Meanwhile, accounts of the aftermath of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
that attempt to offer a corrective to the predominance of nation-based history-
writing are few and far between, and they tend to focus on Poland and Ukraine,69
or otherwise to be broad overviews that offer disparate individual biographies
or country- and period-specific studies.70 By maintaining a sustained focus on
Belarus as an object of memory, my analysis will demonstrate that transcultural-
ity is a well-rooted feature of East European nationhood. It is not only Belarusian
history that is inherently varied and cosmopolitan; so is Belarusian memory.
On postcolonial memory
The rooted cosmopolitanism of modern Belarusian culture is also an expression
of postcolonial marginality and hybridity. The resistance of the colonized often
takes on a worldly, border-crossing stance, as Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo argues:
Imperialism and Orientalism were in fact forms of European cosmopolitan-
ism, and more specifically of the ways Europeans constructed their defini-
tions of self and community in relation to and through their relationship to
the broader world. [. . .] It should come as no surprise, then, that responses
and resistance to these totalizing and hegemonic cosmopolitanisms also often
employ cosmopolitanism as a conceptual frame.71
As the first two chapters of this book will show, questions of how Europeans – in
this case, in the eastern half of the continent – defined ‘self and community in
relation to and through their relationship with the broader world’ can be analysed
with recourse to multiple, nested72 layers of cosmopolitan hegemony. Russian
and Polish discourses of cultural superiority produced power-wielding knowledge
over an ‘inner’, also European, object of inquiry (i.e. the Belarusians), whilst also
constructing boundaries of identity in relation to the world at large. Later chap-
ters then turn to anti- and postcolonial responses to these colonial impositions by
Belarusian authors.
The notion that peoples and cultures of East-Central Europe and the former
Soviet Union can be studied using tools from postcolonial theory is no longer
new: diverse interdisciplinary initiatives have aimed to incorporate the specific
historical circumstances of this extended region and thereby to work towards a
postcolonialism that reflects the differences from the paradigmatic cases of British
Introduction 11
and French imperialism. Scholars have reassessed the colonial pressures of both
nineteenth-century European imperalisms (i.e. Russian, Prussian, Habsburg and
Ottoman rule) and twentieth-century communist domination, as well as ways in
which these imperial legacies continue to affect subjectivities and strategies of
self-identification.73 A number of existing analyses have advanced the case for
interpreting Ukrainian and Belarusian literature in postcolonial terms;74 yet no
work elaborates in detail on the long-term effects of both Polish and Russian
(Tsarist and Soviet) influence in either culture. The present study aims to contribute
to these conversations by placing a critical focus on Belarus, a place that has still
been marginal to scholarly discussions on Eastern European (post)colonialism,
despite its clear suitability as a candidate for this line of analysis.
At the same time, postcolonial approaches to Central and Eastern Europe
are not without their problems. As several scholars have pointed out, there has
been a tendency for the term ‘postcolonial’, which in academic discourse origi-
nated in the critical theorizing of Marxist, feminist and poststructuralist thought,
to be appropriated by right-wing conservatives and nationalist revisionists.75 As
Tomasz Zarycki explains: ‘from the relatively autonomous Western intellectual
field they [postcolonial concepts] move to the much more politicized (heter-
onomous) intellectual fields of the Eastern European periphery’.76 In Belarus,
the uptake of postcolonialism is observable in the works of intellectuals such
as Uladzimir Abushenka (1957–2015), Valiantsin Akudovich (born 1950) and
Viachaslau Rakitski (born 1953), who have propounded diverse re-imaginings
of Belarusian history and identity.77 What these models have in common is their
exploration of Belarus as a borderland, a periphery territory alienated from itself
due to the multiple legacies of colonial subjugation – with Poland, Tsarist Russia
and the Soviet Union identified as historical oppressors. With varying degrees
of sophistication, these theorists imply a moral and/or intellectual imperative to
reconstruct a lost ‘Belarusianness’: they essentialize national identity, whether
as a ‘creole’ phenomenon (Abushenka), a mode of ‘absence’ (Akudovich), or
by suggesting that colonialism has destroyed an ‘authentic’ Belarusianness that
existed in a mythical past (Rakitski).78
This book seeks to avoid the pitfalls of such restorative postcolonialism, whilst
reading against the grain of peripheralizing and exclusionary colonial discourses
in the Belarusian context. This is a task that demands critical awareness of the
functions and limitations of theory in the specific cultural instance. Writing about
Ukraine, historian Yaroslav Hrytsak argues that the ‘postcolonial paradigm is not
the only or even the most efficient one to help bring the Ukrainian past and present
into the global context’. One of his principal justifications is that ‘the Russian and
Soviet administrations saw Ukraine as belonging to the imperial core – contrary
to, say, Transcaucsia or Turkestan’.79 A similar argument could be made about
Belarus, although with some reservations: both the pre-Soviet and Soviet era
authorities in Moscow saw Belarus as a constituent element of the ‘core’, ‘Russian’
community, unlike distant dominions in the empire’s east and south, but far fewer
Belarusians (compared to Ukrainians) took up senior positions in the imperial
administration, and Belarus was generally marginal to the central workings
12 Introduction
of empire. Russian and Soviet rule in Belarus, then, straddled the boundary
between internal and external colonization. Alexander Etkind’s theory of Russia
‘colonizing itself’ does not quite apply here,80 as the Belarusian territories were, at
the end of the eighteenth century, foreign lands (as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania)
that were annexed by force; and in practice, Moscow continued to administer the
‘North-Western Territory’ as an external dominion whilst claiming in discourse
that it was ‘Russian’.81 This tension between self and other, internal and external,
maintains its salience throughout the present study, and is never fully resolved.
The methodological focus on cosmopolitanism dissolves the hard border, show-
ing that self and other can co-exist within the same identity constructs.
The term ‘internal colonization’ (wewnętrzna kolonizacja) was in fact sug-
gested by Czesław Miłosz to describe an earlier historical process by which the
Belarusian and Ukrainian peoples (amongst others) became colonial subjects of
a sort within the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Miłosz’s account is brief
and, perhaps surprisingly for a poet and literary critic, based entirely on socio-
economic factors:
Increased opportunities for the export of grain made it favourable to adopt
methods of intensive farming [. . .] Only plantations, and therefore a form of
agricultural factory, could answer to the new needs and ensure the flow of
moneys [. . .] The end result was that the ‘free’ peasant almost entirely disap-
peared, and if the peasant’s fate was slightly better than that of the black slave
in an American plantation, because the organic ties of the village and a form
of semi-possession were retained, it was not the law that protected him, but
certain local patriarchal traditions. [. . .] The result of this system of economy
was a caste system within society, much more pronounced than in the West.
There were essentially only two castes, the peasants and the lords [pany] [. . .]
Internal colonization took place in Poland, the Czech lands, Hungary, the
Baltic countries, Ukraine and Russia, not everywhere taking the same form.
The further east one went, the worse the situation of the peasant became.82
Miłosz elaborates no further on his theory, neither providing historical evidence
nor attempting to differentiate between the practices of ‘internal colonization’
in the various territories he lists. A significant conceptual flaw of this scheme
is that it takes no account of ethnic, cultural or linguistic differences between
the two ‘castes’. Nevertheless, as the first chapter of this book shows in more
detail, the notion of a colonial relationship between Polish-speaking landlords
and Belarusian-speaking peasants (many of whom were enserfed until 1861) is
borne out in several works of literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centu-
ries. Through close reading of written texts, I aim to build on Miłosz’s insight by
working towards a theory of internalizing or domesticating colonial discourse.
I show that Polish-language representations of the Belarusian folk bore traits
similar to Edward Said’s well-known concept of the discourse of ‘Orientalism’,
whilst also preserving important differences:83 above all, they were founded
not on a racializing distinction between self and other, but on a simultaneous
Introduction 13
assertion and negation of the alterity of the other. Furthermore, Russian impe-
rial discourse in the nineteenth century mirrored the Polish striving to internal-
ize the belarusophone peasantry, resulting in a dual domestication from both
East and West.
The paradoxes of Soviet domination also make it necessary to adapt existing
theories of (post)coloniality. Soviet expansion entailed a reversal of the dynamic
between what Partha Chatterjee has called the ‘inner, spiritual realm’ of culture
and the ‘outer, material’ realm of state institutions.84 The Soviet Union created
the outer shells of nation-states, giving the republics outward autonomy and sov-
ereignty, and in the case of Belarus and Ukraine, full member-state status within
the United Nations, and actively modernized the peripheral republics in terms of
infrastructure and industry. At the same time, national cultures were subjected to
intense ideological control, and especially after the Second World War, linguistic
Russification intensified dramatically: in post-war Belarus, the majority of public
institutions (civic administration offices, schools, courts of law, etc.) and broad-
casting outlets (television and radio, as well as cinema) adopted Russian as their
language of normal use.85 Another major component of the Soviet assault on cul-
ture was the manipulation of memory. Pre-Soviet history, such as that of the early
modern period in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was downplayed and distorted,
or simply erased, as were Soviet crimes against Belarusian civilians. After the
Second World War, a cult of memory was created around the myth of the Great
Victory, which for Belarus was especially significant because of its status as the
‘partisan republic’. The partisan myth – that the entire republic had united under
the banner of Soviet statehood to fight the German occupation – became the basis
of collective identity for post-war Belarusian society. In other words, the Soviet
authorities adapted the nineteenth-century strategy of discursive domestication
to their own needs, in particular by foregrounding a kinship metaphor: Belarus
became a ‘fraternal republic’ in the Soviet family that had Moscow as its undis-
puted head. Built on a hero myth of loyalty and thoroughly Russified, Belarus
gained a reputation as the ‘most Soviet of the Soviet republics’.86 In contradistinc-
tion to the Indian case discussed by Ranajit Guha, the Soviets achieved a form of
dominance with hegemony:87 persuasion and coercion worked in equal measure
to subdue the territory and its people.
Nonetheless, it was a peculiar paradox of the Soviet colonization of national
cultures that those cultures were also actively promoted by the state.88 Literature
in the Belarusian language was given a nominal independence (within the con-
fines of censorship) whilst the vast majority of the cultural space was Russified.
Belarusian literature flourished, at the same time that Belarusian was effectively
taught as a foreign language in schools. A small minority of intellectuals (includ-
ing most literary personalities) remained loyal to the Belarusian language, and
became a marginal group within society. The result was that Belarusian culture
became subaltern in a new way: it could speak, but people were tacitly encour-
aged not to listen.
This study maintains that Belarusian literature’s concern with the past, both in
the late Soviet and the post-Soviet periods, is always a dialogue with the dominant
14 Introduction
myths and colonial stereotypes about Belarus. In other words, Belarusian memory
is both anti- and postcolonial. However, as Michael Rothberg notes, theories of
postcolonialism and of memory have historically failed to take each other into
account, even though ‘issues related to cultural memory make up some of the
core concerns of postcolonial studies’.89 Belarus is a distinctive case study for the
intersection of memory and (post)coloniality, firstly, because of the suppression
of Belarusian memory in pre-Soviet times, and secondly, in view of the enormous
emphasis placed by Soviet colonial discourse on the discursive manipulation of
Belarusian identity via the myth of the partisan republic. Because of these lega-
cies of erasure, the retrospective construction of a Belarusian past is problematic,
but writers discernibly grapple with an imperative to reclaim the past from the
clutches of colonial discourse in order to rebuild an alternative and autochtonous
sense of collective identity.
Because of this tension between the loss of the past and the need for memory,
postcolonial narrative demands substantial self-reflexivity and an acute aware-
ness of its own contingency. According to Homi Bhabha, ‘remembering is never
a quiet act of introspection or retrospection. It is a painful re-membering, a putting
together of the dismembered past to make sense of the trauma of the present’.90
Literary scholar Sam Durrant concurs with Bhabha: postcolonial writing, he
argues, cannot endeavour to recover a lost past; instead, it is in its very essence
involved in a work of mourning which is ‘ultimately a recognition of the impos-
sibility of retrieval – and it is this impossibility that renders the work of mourning
interminable’.91 The related concepts of ‘trauma’ and ‘mourning’ – respectively,
an injury to the self and a reaction to the loss of an other – can facilitate an under-
standing of how a postcolonial subjectivity is reconstituted in Belarusian literary
narrative. The works discussed in the second half of this study both creatively
piece together traces of the past to make sense of the disjointed present, and
mourn the loss of memory itself.
Haunting and hunting
The specificities of Belarus’s postcolonial memory can be understood with reference
to one of the classic works of modern Belarusian literature, Uladzimir Karatkevich’s
Dzikae paliavanne karalia Stakha (‘King Stakh’s Wild Hunt’, 1964). In the novella,
set in the late nineteenth century on a gentry estate in southern Belarus (then in
the Russian Empire), the Wild Hunt is a ghostly, primordial force which terror-
izes the Ianouski family, who own the estate. The origins of the Hunt lie in the
seventeenth-century murder of a rebel, named Stakh, who stood up for the interests
of the peasant masses; prevented from fulfilling his emancipatory mission, Stakh’s
spirit is reputed to have vowed long-lasting revenge on his murderer’s household
for twenty generations to come. Transformed into legend, the ghostly riders repre-
sent the legacy of the repressed past and the subjugation of the Belarusian masses at
the hands of the gentry. Unmourned and poorly understood, knowledge about them
circulates only in hearsay. However, it transpires at the end of the story that the
Introduction 15
Hunt that persecutes Nadzeia Ianouskaia, the family’s last heiress, is a fiction: other
landlords in the vicinity have conspired to dress up as the mythical riders in order to
scare Ianouskaia away from her estate and seize the land.
Karatkevich’s metaphor of the Wild Hunt, therefore, allegorizes two related
features of cultural memory in Belarus. The first is the country’s alienation from
the past: Belarusian history is characterized by a series of failures that have
rendered the past epistemologically murky. In the novella, the failures include
the suppression of the peasant rebellion, infighting between the nobles (many
of whom had assimilated to Polish and Russian culture), and the fact of living
under Russian imperial domination. As Rainer Lindner shows, the persistent epis-
temological conflict in Belarus in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries between
official, institutionalized historiography and nationalist revisionist scholarship
politicized the past, and ultimately, history itself was the victim: ‘As a function of
the political or the national, history was not researched; rather, it was constructed
and deconstructed, it was haggled over as an object of political exchange, or it
was simply laid out as fact.’92 Thus, the metaphor of the Wild Hunt suggests that
Belarus is haunted by its exclusion from its own history: allegory, myth and magic
fill the place of a knowable Belarusian past. Meanwhile, the second meaning of
the Wild Hunt is conveyed by the novella’s ‘real’ Hunt, which is revealed to be
a hoax: it symbolizes the way in which myths and memories can be manipulated
for political or financial gain.
However, Karatkevich’s concept of a ‘hunt’ can also be extended to convey
something of the difficult search for truth that has been carried out in Belarus,
from the nineteenth century to the present day. The novella’s first-person nar-
rator and protagonist is an intellectual, named Belaretski; he is introduced as a
researcher of Belarusian folklore, and later in the story, he solves the mystery
of the ghosts. Belaretski is also a hunter, a hunter for truth, whose untiring and
subversive quest for knowledge enables him to expose the conspiracy and rescue
the heiress. Likewise, in modern Belarus, the efforts of writers, artists and other
figures of culture to liberate Belarusian memory from the clutches of politicized
manipulation have created counter-discourses that expose official falsehood, and
also enable some form of exorcism of the ghosts of the past.
Karatkevich’s novella provides an apt metaphor for the topic of this book as a
whole: the politics and poetics of memory and mourning in Belarus. My overall
argument is based on the notion that in Belarus, the problem of how to represent
the past has two dimensions: on the one hand, the legacies of the past project their
traumatic effects into the present (like the Wild Hunt); on the other, the politi-
cal and epistemic strictures of the present turn memory into a zone of conflict,
at all historical junctures from the nineteenth century to the post-Soviet era (like
Belaretski’s detective work). I foreground mourning as a particularly important
form of remembrance in Belarus; because Belarusian history has been filled with
disaster, from colonial subjugation to the Stalinist purges and the Second World
War, the most significant memory discourses are primarily concerned with coming
to terms with a sense of loss.
16 Introduction
Plan of the book
This study employs a part-thematic, part-chronological division into six main
chapters, which are grouped into three sections consisting of two chapters each.
Part I, Contexts, examines the historical contexts of the emergence of Belarus
as an object of cultural memory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In par-
ticular, it analyses the dominant narratives produced about Belarusians, primarily
by non-Belarusians. The structural division into chapters is both chronologi-
cal and thematic. Each chapter examines one of the principal stereotypes about
Belarus: the ‘peasant nation’ (Chapter 1) and the ‘partisan republic’ (Chapter 2).
Both of these epistemic constructs have strongly influenced the post-Thaw and
post-Soviet narratives of Belarusian identity that are analysed in the latter sections
of the book. I contend that an understanding of the histories of these two rigid ste-
reotypes is vital to the interpretation of post-war Belarusian literature and culture.
Part II, Texts of resistance, closely analyses the literary output of Vasil’ Bykau
(1924–2003; Chapter 3) and Uladzimir Karatkevich (1930–1984; Chapter 4),
treating them as exemplary case studies in post-war Belarusian literature’s rooted
cosmopolitanism. This central section departs from the practice of the remainder
of the book and analyses single authors in depth, for three reasons: first, Bykau and
Karatkevich have a canonic status in Belarus unmatched by most other figures who
are studied here; second, they were among the first Belarusian writers to dedicate
practically the entirety of their corpuses to historical themes; and third, close read-
ing of their works reveals sophisticated and unusual ways in which cosmopolitan
memory is articulated in writing. Bykau and Karatkevich were prominent mem-
bers of the Thaw-era contingent of authors who began to challenge the dogmas of
Soviet ideology in Belarus, in particular the myth of the partisan republic. Between
them, they made a significant contribution to the development of a Belarusian
memory that challenged Soviet representations of Belarusian identity, and that dis-
pensed with the stereotype of Belarusians as a peasant nation. The importance of
their work is reflected in post-Soviet cultural developments in which their influence
is clearly felt (as shown in Part III).
Part III, Texts of renewal, focuses on post-Soviet developments, analysing the
mnemonic innovations of contemporary Belarusian authors. With no monolithic
ideology dictating Belarusian identity and memory, a multitude of memory narra-
tives have emerged that challenge the received stereotypes about Belarus: Chapter 5
examines the refiguring of the partisan myth in post-Soviet Belarus, and Chapter 6
considers how the trope of pre-national diversity has been explored in three recent
novels. However, these works are no longer interested in the past per se as a
subject of enquiry. Rather, post-Soviet Belarusian narrative has concerned itself
with unmaking the legacies of Soviet hegemony; it tries to reconstitute a post-
Soviet subjectivity by remembering the appropriation of the past. In responding
to the passing of Soviet hegemony, post-Soviet Belarusian discourse creatively
combines tropes of postmodernism and postcolonialism. It both incorporates
Soviet myths and subverts them, explicitly engaging with Soviet-era intertexts.
The idea of Belarusian nationhood that emerges is open and hybrid, and often
Introduction 17
contains a clear indictment of revisionist nationalism. Post-Soviet enunciations
of Belarusian identity go beyond the national, breaking down previously stable
borders of identity to articulate a sense of endless fragmentation.
1 Jan Chodźko, Pan Jan ze Swisłoczy, kramarz wędrujący: dziełko uznane przez rząd
Cesarskiego Wileńskiego Uniwersytetu za pożyteczne dla szkół parafijalnych (Wilno:
A. Marcinowski, 1821), pp. 1–2.
2 This well-known slogan is attributed to then-US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
who in 2005 called Belarus ‘truly still the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart
of Europe’; ‘Rice: Belarus is “Dictatorship”’,, 20 April 2005, <http://edi>. All online references were
last accessed and available on 17 April 2018, unless otherwise stated.
3 See e.g. Boris Kagarlitsky, ‘Belarus: A post-Soviet “Jurassic Park”?’, Green Left
Weekly, 19 September 2011, <
4 Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (New York: Basic
Books, 2010), p. 225.
5 Rory Finnin, ‘Ukraine: Europe’s Terra Malecognita’, The Huffington Post, 6 July
2012, <
6 Sherlock, Series 1, Episode 3 (‘The Great Game’), dir. by Paul McGuigan (BBC,
Hartswood Films, WGBH, 2010).
7 The term ‘cultural memory’ is understood in the sense outlined by Jan Assmann, who
argues that, strictly speaking, only individuals remember, but memory is also always
‘socially and culturally determined’. The study of cultural memory involves analy-
sis of the interrelations between individuals, collectives and ‘symbolic and cultural
frameworks’ of memory, i.e. texts, visual culture, symbols, monuments, museums
and artefacts, stereotypes about the past, and so on. See Jan Assmann, ‘Introduction:
What is Cultural Memory?’, in his Religion and Cultural Memory, trans. by Rodney
Livingstone (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), pp. 1–30.
8 The Polish-Belarusian historian Jerzy Turonek was the first to shed light on the story
of ‘three brothers’, in his Wacław Iwanowski i odrodzenie Białorusi (Warszawa: Gryf,
1992), p. 7. This version of the family’s history has been reproduced by a number
of other scholars as an illustration of the historical diversity of Belarus, e.g. Barbara
Törnquist-Plewa, ‘Cultural and National Identifications in Borderlands: Reflections
on Central Europe’, in Collective Identities in an Era of Transformations: Analysing
Developments in East and Central Europe and the Former Soviet Union, ed. by Klas-
Göran Karlsson, Bo Petersson and Barbara Törnquist-Plewa (Lund: Lund University
Press, 1998), pp. 79–107 (p. 98); Per Anders Rudling, The Rise and Fall of Belarusian
Nationalism: 1906–1931 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015), p. 4.
9 Svetlana Skomorokhova, ‘“Arising from the Depths” (Kupala): A Study of Belarusian
Literature in English Translation’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of
Warwick, 2012), pp. 33, 181–95.
10 See, for example, her literary explorations, which include a four-part collection of
translated folk songs published in London with a ten-year hiatus: H. Iwanowska &
H. Onslow, ‘Some White Ruthenian Folk-Songs’, Folklore, 25 (1914), 91–109 and
212–26, 35 (1924), 63–82 and 166–75.
11 K. Iwanowski., A. Iwanowska-Kornecka, ‘Skinderowa Helena z Iwanowskich’, in
Ziemianie polscy XX wieku, Słownik biograficzny. Cz. 6, ed. by Janina Leskiewiczowa
(Warszawa: DiG, 2002), pp. 170–71.
18 Introduction
12 Turonek, Wacław, p. 15.
13 Piotr S. Wandycz, The Price of Freedom: a History of East Central Europe from the
Middle Ages to the Present (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 66.
14 Historical overviews that balance the perspectives of both Poland and the GDL are pro-
vided by: Juliusz Bardach, O Rzeczpospolitą Obojga Narodów (Warszawa: Krajowa
Agencja Wydawnicza, 1998); Daniel Stone, The Polish–Lithuanian State, 1386–1795
(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001); Robert Frost, The Oxford History of
Poland–Lithuania. Volume I: The Making of the Polish–Lithuanian Union, 1385–1569
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).
15 Janusz Tazbir, ‘Procesy polonizacyjne w szlacheckiej Rzeczypospolitej’, in Tryumfy
i porażki. Studia dziejów kultury polskiej XVI–XVIII w., ed. by Maria Bogucka
(Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1989), pp. 9–45.
16 Juliusz Bardach, ‘O świadomości narodowej Polaków na Litwie i Białorusi w XIX – XX
wieku’, in his O dawnej i niedawnej Litwie (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM,
1988), pp. 191–246 (p. 202).
17 Stone, p. 63. See also Bardach, O Rzeczpospolitą, pp. 27–54; Artūras Tereškinas,
Imperfect Communities: Identity, Discourse and Nation in the Seventeenth-century
Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Vilnius: Lietuvių literatūros ir tautosakos institutas, 2005).
18 Bardach, ‘O świadomości’, pp. 201–11.
19 For an incisive deconstruction of the ‘national poet’ myth, see: Roman Koropeckyj,
‘Symbolizing (the Real) Mickiewicz’, East European Politics & Societies, 24 (2010),
20 Nina Taylor, ‘Mickiewicz et la Lituanie: Genèse du mythe literarire’, in Les confins de
l’ancienne Pologne: Ukraine. Lituanie. Biélorussie XVIe–XXe siècles, ed. by Daniel
Beauvois (Lille: Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1988), pp. 69–80; Dariusz Szpoper,
Sukcesorzy Wielkiego Ksieştwa: myśl polityczna i działalność konserwatystów pols-
kich na ziemiach litewsko-białoruskich w latach 1904–1939 (Gdańsk: Arche, 1999);
Aliaksandr Smalianchuk, Pamizh kraevastsiu i natsyianal’nai ideiai: Polski rukh na
belaruskikh i litouskikh ziamliakh, 1864–1917h. (Hrodna: Hrodzenski Dziarzhauny
Universitet, 2001); Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine,
Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 26–30;
A.P. Loika, ‘Da pytannia ab natsyianal’nai samasviadomastsi shliakhty Belarusi u
paeme Adama Mistkevicha “Pan Tadevush”’, in Pratsy histaryshnaha fakul’teta BDU.
Navuk. zb. Vyp. 8, ed. by U.K. Korshuk et al. (Minsk: BDU, 2013), pp. 72–83.
21 Czesław Miłosz, Szukanie ojczyzny (Kraków: Znak, 1992), p. 16.
22 Adam Mickiewicz, Dzieła, 16 vols (Warszawa: Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza—Czytelnik,
1955), VI, Pisma Prozą, Część II: Księgi narodu polskiego i pielgrzymstwa polskiego,
Pisma polityczne z lat 1832–1835, p. 37.
23 Tomas Venclova, ‘Native Realm Revisited: Mickiewicz’s Lithuania and Mickiewicz
in Lithuania’, Lituanus, 53.3, (2007), <
24 As Venclova (ibid.) puts it: ‘Lithuanian separatism was [for Mickiewicz] an extravagant
and transitory deviation at best, a mortal sin at worst.’
25 On the competition between Lithuanian and Belarusian nationalisms (amongst oth-
ers), see e.g.: Dangiras Mačiulis and Darius Staliūnas, Lithuanian Nationalism and the
Vilnius Question, 1883–1940 (Marburg: Verlag Herder-Institut, 2015).
26 Juliusz Bardach, ‘Od narodu politycznego do narodu etnicznego w Europie Środkowo-
wschodniej’, Kultura i Społeczeństwo, 37.4 (1993), 3–16; Ryszard Radzik, ‘Formowanie
się narodów w Europie Środkowo-wschodniej’, Kultura i Społeczeństwo, 37.4 (1993),
27 John Czaplicka, ‘Lviv, Lemberg, Leopolis, Lwów, Lvov: A City in the Crosscurrents of
European Culture’, Harvard Ukrainian Studies, 24 (2000), 13–45 (p. 16).
28 Mačiulis and Staliūnas, Lithuanian Nationalism; Theodore R. Weeks, Vilnius Between
Nations 1795–2000 (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2015).
Introduction 19
29 Tomasz Kamusella, The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central
Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 346–430; see also Snyder,
30 An excellent comparative study is provided by Katarzyna Błachowska, Wiele histo-
rii jednego państwa: obraz dziejów Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego do 1569 roku w
ujęciu historyków polskich, rosyjskich, ukraińskich, litewskich i białoruskich w XIX
wieku (Warszawa: Neriton, 2009). On Polish historiography, see: Joan S. Skurnowicz,
Romantic Nationalism and Liberalism: Joachim Lelewel and the Polish National Idea
(Boulder: East European Monographs, 1981); Nation and History: Polish Historians
from the Enlightenment to the Second World War, ed. by Peter Brock, John D. Stanley
and Piotr J. Wróbel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006). On Ukrainian his-
toriography, in particular its ‘father’ Mikhailo Hrushevsky, see: Thomas M. Prymak,
Mykhailo Hrushevsky: the Politics of National Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1987); Serhii Plokhy, Unmaking Imperial Russia: Mykhailo Hrushevsky and
the Writing of Ukrainian History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005). On
the Lithuanian case, see: Snyder, Reconstruction, pp. 32–40; Darius Staliūnas,
‘Historiography of the Lithuanian National Movement: Changing Paradigms’, Studies
on National Movements, 1 (2013), 160–82.
31 Andrei Vashkevich, ‘Heroi natsyianal’naha panteona: pamizh pamiatstsiu i zabytstsem’
ARCHE, 2/2013, 162–72 (pp. 162–63). On Polish-language writers, see e.g.: Maria
Janion and Maria Żmigrodzka, Romantyzm i historia (Warszawa: Państwowy Instytut
Wydawniczy, 1978); Romantik und Geschichte. Polnisches Paradigma, europäischer
Kontext, deutsch-polnische Perspecktive, ed. by Alfred Gall, Thomas Grob, Andreas
Lawaty and German Ritz (Wiesbaden: Harassowitz Verlag, 2007). On national mem-
ory in the poetry of Shevchenko, see George Grabowicz, The Poet as Mythmaker: a
Study of Symbolic Meaning in Taras Ševčenko (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1982), esp. Ch. 2; Miroslav Shkandrij, Russia and Ukraine: Literature and
the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to Postcolonial Times (Montreal: McGill-
Queen’s University Press, 2001), pp. 134–46.
32 Vashkevich, ‘Heroi’, pp. 162–63. See also Steven L. Guthier, ‘The Belorussians:
National Identification and Assimilation, 1897–1970, Part 1, 1897–1939’, Soviet
Studies, 29 (1977), 37–61; Rudolf A. Mark, ‘Eine verspätete Nation? Anfänge weißrus-
sischer Identitätsfindung im ausgehenden Zarenreich‘, in Ein weißer Fleck in Europa
. . . Die Imagination der Belarus als Kontaktzone zwischen Ost und West, ed. by Thomas
M. Bohn and Victor Shadurski (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2011), pp. 139–50.
33 Roman Szporluk, ‘The Making of Modern Ukraine: The Western Dimension’, Harvard
Ukrainian Studies, 25 (2001), pp. 57–90; Snyder, Reconstruction, p. 47.
34 Vatslau Lastouski, Karotkaia Historyia Belarusi (Vil’nia: Drukarnia Martsina Kukhty,
1910; repr. Minsk: Universitetskae, 1992); Branislau Tarashkevich, Belaruskaia hra-
matyka dlia shkol (Vil’nia: vydan’ne Belaruskaha Kamitetu, 1918).
35 Ryszard Radzik, Między zbiorowością etniczną a wspólnotą narodową. Białorusini
na tle przemian narodowych w Europie Środkowo–Wschodniej XIX stulecia (Lublin:
Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej, 2000), p. 257.
36 Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe: a Comparative
Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European
Nations, trans. by Ben Fowkes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 23.
37 Snyder, Reconstruction, pp. 41–46.
38 Rudling, The Rise, p. 65.
39 Krystyna Gomółka, ‘Polityka rządów polskich wobec mniejszości białoruskiej w
latach 1918–1939’, Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne, 4 (1995), 106–20; Rudling, The
Rise, pp. 164–208, 243–74.
40 On korenizatsiia in general, see Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations
and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
2001). On the Belarusian case, see Nelly Bekus, ‘Nationalism and Socialism: “Phase D”
20 Introduction
in the Belarusian Nation-building’, Nationalities Papers, 38 (2010), 829–46; Rudling,
The Rise, pp. 123–63; Alena Marková, Shliakh da savetskai natsyi. Palityka belaru-
sizatsyi, 1924–1929, (Minsk: Haliiafy, 2016).
41 Rudling, The Rise, p. 132; see also Rainer Lindner, Historiker und Herrschaft.
Nationsbildung und Geschichtspolitik in Weißrußland (München: R. Oldenbourg,
1999), pp. 147–300.
42 Rudling, The Rise, pp. 209–42, 275–303.
43 Ibid., p. 315.
44 Questions of national identity did not, however, make a significant impact on the party
political discourse. Rayk Einax, ‘Much Ado about De-Stalinisation? The Belorussian
Soviet Republic, 1953–1965’, in De-Stalinisation Reconsidered. Persistence and
Change in the Soviet Union, ed. by Thomas M. Bohn, Rayk Einax, and Michel
Abeßer (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2014), pp. 145–60; Rayk Einax, Entstalinisierung
auf Weißrussisch: Krisenbewältigung, sozioökonomische Dynamik und öffentli-
che Mobilisierung in der Belorussischen Sowjetrepublik 1953–1965 (Wiesbaden:
Harassowitz Verlag, 2014).
45 Aleh Dziarnovich, ‘Akademichnaia dyskusiia siaredziny 1960-kh hadou: heroi i akh-
viary’, ARCHE, 2/2013, 195–238. See also Henadz’ Sahanovich, ‘Khrushchouskaia
adliha u belaruskai histaryiahrafii’, in Rocznik Centrum Studiów Białoruskich / Hadavik
Tsentra Belaruskikh Studyiau, nr. 2 (Warszawa: Studium Wuropy Wschodniej, 2016),
pp. 248–67.
46 This is not, of course, to suggest that there was no historical literature or past-oriented
thought in the Belarusian language in the interwar period and earlier. As later chapters
(especially 1 and 4) will show, however, such imaginings were relatively marginal and
subject to sharp political fluctuations.
47 David R. Marples, Belarus: A Denationalized Nation (London and New York:
Routledge, 1999); Natalia Leshchenko, ‘A Fine Instrument: Two Nation-Building
Strategies in Post-Soviet Belarus’, Nations and Nationalism, 10 (2004), 333–52
(p. 333); Nelly Bekus, Struggle over Identity: The Official and the Alternative
‘Belarusianness’ (Budapest: Central European University, 2010); Alexandra Goujon,
‘Memorial Narratives of WWII Partisans and Genocide in Belarus’, East European
Politics & Societies, 24 (2010), 6–25.
48 See e.g. V.A. Mel’nik, Osnovy ideologii belorusskogo gosudarstva (Minsk:
Vysheishaia shkola, 2009). For critical examinations of this ideology, see e.g.: Ales’
Smalianchuk, ‘Ad Abetsadarskaha da Trashchanka, abo evaliutsyia belaruskai “dyrek-
tyunai histaryiahrafii”’, in Repressivnaia politika sovetskoi vlasti v Belarusi, ed. by
I. Kuznetsov and Ia. Basin, 3 vols (Minsk: Memorial, 2007), III, 351–61; Henadz’
Sahanovich, ‘Istoricheskaia politika v postsovetskoi Belarusi’, Russkii vopros, 2
(2009); Tat’iana Ostrovskaia, ‘Genealogiia istoricheskoi pamiati Belorusov v kon-
tekste obrazovatel’nykh praktik’, 20 October 2010, Belarusian Institute for Strategic
Studies <>. For an analysis of cin-
ematic projections of this ideology, see Simon M. Lewis, ‘“Official Nationality” and
the Dissidence of Memory in Belarus: A Comparative Analysis of Two Films’, Studies
in Russian and Soviet Cinema, 5.3 (2011), 371–87.
49 Perhaps the best textual example of this version of Belarusian nationhood is the book:
Naiias’neishaia Rech Paspalitaia: Tsyvilizatsyia; Kul’tura- Relihiia; Palityka; Avantura;
Heroika; Uspamin, ed. by Aleh Dziarnovich, (Mensk: Lohvinau, 2007). A number of
popular illustrated histories have also appeared that idealize the ‘Belarusian’ past, e.g.:
Uladzimir Arlou and Z’mitser Herasimovich, Kraina Belarus’ (N.p: n.p., 2003).
50 These terms are borrowed from Graham Smith, Vivien Law, Andrew Wilson, Annette
Bohr, Edward Allworth, Nation-building in the Post-Soviet Borderlands:. The Politics
of National Identities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 15–16.
51 Renate Lachmann, ‘Cultural Memory and the Role of Literature’. European Review, 12
(2004), 165–78 (pp. 172, 173).
Introduction 21
52 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism, 2nd edn (London: Verso, 1991), pp. 11–12.
53 On Mickiewicz in particular, see Stanisław Stankiewicz, Pierwiastki białoruskie w pol-
skiej poezji romantycznej: Część I. Do roku 1830 (Wilno: Wydawnictwo Towarzystwa
Pomocy Naukowej im. E. i E. Wróblewskich, 1936); Bazyli Białokozowicz, Między
wschodem a zachodеm: Z dziejów formowania się białoruskiej świadomości nar-
odowej (Białystok: Białowieża, 1998), pp. 20–23. For examples of the retrospective
Belarusization of the region’s Polish-language literature in general, see: Adam Mal’dzis,
Tvorchae pabratsimstva: Belaruska-pol’skiia litaraturnyia uzaemasuviazi u XIX
stahoddzi (Minsk: Navuka i tekhnika, 1966); Pachynal’niki: z historyka-litaraturnykh
materialau XIX st., ed. by Henadz’ Kisialeu (Minsk: Navuka i tekhnika, 1977); A.A.
Loika, Istoryia belaruskai litaratury: Dakastrychnitski peryiad. Chastka 1. (Minsk:
Vysheishaia Shkola, 1977); Uladzimir Markhel’, Krynitsy pamiatsi: Staronki belaruska-
pol’skaha litaraturnaha sumezhzha (Minsk: Mastatskaia litaratura, 1990); M.V.
Khaustovich, Historyia Belaruskai litaratury 30–40–kh hh. XIX st. (Minsk: BDU, 2001);
Litaratura Belarusi XIX stahoddzia: Antalohiia, ed. by K.A. Tsvirka, I.S. Shpakouski,
K.U. Antanovich (Minsk: Belaruskaia navuka, 2013).
54 Markhel’, p. 71.
55 A similar criticism is levelled by one Belarusian literary historian: Žanna Nekraševič-
Karotkaja, ‘Identitätsfigurationen polnischsprachiger Schriftsteller aus Belarus-Litauen
in belarussischen literaturhistorischen Diskursen’, in Wiedergänger, Pilger, Indianer:
Polen-Metonymien im langen 19. Jahrhundert, ed. by Heinrich Kirschbaum (Frankfurt:
Peter Lang, 2017), pp. 280–303.
56 I am not, however, suggesting that all Belarusian literary scholarship approaches its sub-
ject from the standpoint of methodological nationalism. See e.g. Valer Bulgakov, Istoriia
belorusskogo natsionalizma (Vilnius: Institut belorusistiki, 2006), pp. 135–36; Aleh
Latyshonak, ‘Mit litaraturnykh pachynal’nikau: da pytan’nia peryiadyzatsyi stanaulen’nia
novai belaruskai litaratury’, in his Natsyianal’nasts’ – Belarus (n.p.: Instytut belarusistyki,
2009), pp. 414–19.
57 Miroslav Hroch, ‘From National Movement to the Fully-formed Nation: The Nation-
building Process in Europe’, in Mapping the Nation, ed. by Gopal Balakrishnan (New
York: Verso, 1996), pp. 78–97 (p. 79).
58 Michel Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in Language, Counter-memory,
Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault, ed. by Donald
F. Bouchard, trans. by Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1977), pp. 139–64 (p. 146).
59 Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, ‘Memory Unbound: The Holocaust and the Formation
of Cosmopolitan Memory’, European Journal of Social Theory, 5 (2002), 87–106
(p. 88). See also Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, The Holocaust and Memory in the
Global Age, trans. by Assenka Oksiloff (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005).
60 Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age
of Decolonization (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), p. 3.
61 Kwame Anthony Appiah, ‘Cosmopolitan Patriots’, Critical Inquiry, 23 (1997), 617–39
(p. 618).
62 Ibid.
63 Gary Saul Morson, Hidden in Plain View: Narrative and Creative Potentials in ‘War
and Peace’ (Stanford: Stanford Univesity Press, 1987), p. 9.
64 E.g. Leshchenko, ‘A Fine Instrument’; Bekus, Struggle; Goujon, ‘Memorial Narratives’;
David R. Marples, ‘History, Memory, and the Second World War in Belarus’, Australian
Journal of Politics & History, 58 (2012), 437–48; David R. Marples, ‘Our Glorious
Past’: Lukashenka’s Belarus and the Great Patriotic War (Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag,
65 E.g. Zina J. Gimpelevich, Vasil Bykaŭ. His Life and Works (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s
University Press, 2005).
22 Introduction
66 E.g. Andrew Wilson, Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2011). This work, the first synthetic history of Belarus to appear in
English since the country gained independence, is notable for not citing a single Polish-
language source.
67 A useful critique, focusing on the historiography of the Holocaust, is provided by:
Timothy Snyder, ‘Commemorative Causality’, Modernism/modernity, 20 (2013),
77–93. On methodological nationalism with regard to the study of Ukraine,
see A Laboratory of Transnational History: Ukraine and Recent Ukrainian
Historiography, ed. by Georgiy Kasianov and Philipp Ther (Budapest: CEU Press,
2009). For the wider context of nationalism as a ‘birth defect’ of modern histo-
riography, see Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History? (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2016), p. 3.
68 However, a small number of works have appeared very recently which analyse the
memory of ethnic ‘Others’ in contemporary Belarus: Andrej Kotljarchuk, ‘World
War II Memory Politics: Jewish, Polish and Roma Minorities of Belarus’, Journal of
Belarusian Studies, 7.1 (2013), 7–17; Per Anders Rudling, ‘The Invisible Genocide:
The Holocaust in Belarus’, in Bringing to Light the Dark Past: The Reception of
the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe, ed. by John-Paul Himka and Joanna Beata
Michlic (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013), pp. 58–82.
69 E.g. Poland and Ukraine: Past and Present, ed. by Peter J. Potichnyj (Edmonton:
The Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 1980); Porównanie jako dowód: polsko-
ukraińskie relacje kulturalne, literackie, historyczne, 1890–1999, ed. by Bogusław
Bakuła (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2001); Stefan Kozak, Polacy
i Ukraińcy: w kręgu myśli i kultury pogranicza: epoka romantyzmu (Warszawa:
Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2005).
70 Ostatni obywatele Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego, ed. by Tadeusz Bujnicki and
Krzysztof Stępnik (Lublin: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu M. Curie-Skłodowskiej,
2005); Razem w Europie, ed. by Irena Mikłaszewicz and Rūstis Kamuntavičius
(Kaunas: Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas, 2006); The Book of the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania / Kniha Vialìkaha Kniastva Litouskaha / Letuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštytés
knyga / Księga Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego, ed. by Izabela Korybut-Daszkiewicz
et al. (Sejny: Fundacja Pogranicze, 2008); Polska Wschodnia i Orientalizm, ed. by
Tomasz Zarycki (Warszawa: Scholar, 2013).
71 Ifeoma Kiddoe Nwankwo, Black Cosmopolitanism: Racial Consciousness and
Transnational Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Americas (Philadelphia: University
of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), p. 9.
72 This term is borrowed from Milica Bakić-Hayden, ‘Nesting Orientalisms: The Case of
Former Yugoslavia’, Slavic Review, 54 (1995), 917–31.
73 Early musings on the possibility of postcolonial theorization in post-Soviet space
include: David Chioni Moore, ‘Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet:
Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique’ PMLA, 116 (2001), 111–28; Gayatri Spivak,
Nancy Condee, Harsha Ram, and Vitaly Chernetsky, ‘Conference Debates: Are We
Postcolonial? Post-Soviet Space’, PMLA, 121 (2006), 828–36; Sharad Chari and
Katherine Verdery, ‘Thinking Between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism and
Ethnography after the Cold War’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51
(2009), 6–34. Numerous edited volumes and thematic issues have explored postcolonial
questions in Eastern European cultures more broadly, such as: Der Osten des Ostens:
Orientalismen in slavischen Kulturen und Literaturen, ed. by Wolfgang Stephan Kissel
(Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2012); ‘Galicja postkolonialnie. Możliwości i granice’, the-
matic issue ed. by Jan Surman and Klemens Kaps, Historyka: studia metodolgiczne,
42 (2012); Orientalismen in Ostmitteleuropa: Diskurse, Akteure und Disziplinen vom
19. Jahrhundert bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg, ed. by Robert Born and Sarah Lemmen
(Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2014); Postcolonial Europe? Essays on Post-Communist
Literatures and Cultures, ed. by Dobrota Pucherová and Róbert Gáfrik (Amsterdam:
Introduction 23
Brill Rodopi, 2015); Postcolonial Slavic Literatures After Communism, ed. by Klavdia
Smola and Dirk Uffelmann (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2016). For an enlightening metathe-
oretical discussion of postcolonial theory as a cultural practice, see Dirk Uffelmann,
‘Theory as Memory Practice: The Divided Dicourse on Poland’s Postcoloniality’, in
Memory and Theory in Eastern Europe, ed. by Uilleam Blacker, Alexander Etkind and
Julie Fedor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp. 103–24.
74 E.g. Marko Pavlyshyn, ‘Post-Colonial Features in Contemporary Ukrainian Culture’,
Australian Slavonic and East European Studies, 6:2 (1992), 41–55; Miroslav Shkandrij,
Russia and Ukraine: Literature and the Discourse of Empire from Napoleonic to
Postcolonial Times (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2001); Bulgakov,
Istoriia; Vitaly Chernetsky, Mapping Postcommunist Cultures: Russia and Ukraine
in the Context of Globalization (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007);
Nelly Bekus, ‘Constructed “Otherness”? Poland and the Geopolitics of Contested
Belarusian Identity’, Europe–Asia Studies, 69 (2017), 242–61.
75 See, for example, on the Polish case: Claudia Snochowska-Gonzalez, ‘Post-colonial
Poland: On an Unavoidable Misuse’, East European Politics and Societies and
Cultures, 26 (2012), 708–23; Stanley Bill, ‘Seeking the Authentic: Polish Culture
and the Nature of Postcolonial Theory’,, 12 (August 2014), <http://
colonial-theory>. Similar criticisms in a Ukrainian context are provided by e.g.:
Roman Dubasevych, ‘Dity rozpachu’,, 20 December 2010, <https://>; Mariya Mayerchyk, ‘Ukrainian Feminism at
the Crossroad of National, Postcolonial, and (Post)Soviet: Theorizing the Maidan
Events 2013–2014’,, 24 November 2015, <
76 Thomas Zarycki, Ideologies of Eastness in Central and Eastern Europe (Abingdon:
Routledge, 2014), p. 91.
77 Uladzimir Abushenka, ‘Kreol’stva i prablema natsyianal’na-kul’turnai samaidentyfi-
katsyi’, in Antalehiia suchasnaha belaruskaha mys’len’nia, ed. by Ales’ Antsipenka,
Valiantsin Akudovich (Sankt-Petsiarburh: Nevskii prastor, 2003), reproduced online
at <>; Valiantsin Akudovich, Kod
adsutnastsi: asnovy belaruskai mental’nastsi (Minsk: Lohvinau, 2007); Viachaslau
Rakitski, Belaruskaia Atliantyda. Kniha druhaia: mity i brendy kalianizavanai natsyi
(Praha: Radyio Svabodnaia Europa / Radyio Svaboda, 2010).
78 Akudovich’s ideas are discussed in more depth in Chapter 5; see also the reference in
Chapter 5, note 41. Rakitski is undoubtedly the most radically conservative of the three
authors mentioned here. He writes about Belarus as a ‘colonized nation’ with no critical
reflection on the meaning of the term ‘colonized’, and without reference to established
scholars of postcolonial theory; his writing purports to reveal an ‘authentic’ and pri-
mordial Belarusianness, and thereby essentializes national identity.
79 Yaroslav Hrytsak, ‘The Postcolonial is not Enough’, Slavic Review, 74 (2015), 732–37
(pp. 737, 732).
80 Alexander Etkind, Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience (Cambridge:
Polity, 2011).
81 The standout historiographical work on Russian imperial rule in the nineteenth century is
Mikhail Dolbilov, Russkii krai, chuzhaia vera: Etnokonfessional’naia politika imperii v
Litve i Belorussii pri Aleksandre II (Moskva: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2014).
82 Czesław Miłosz, Rodzinna Europa (Paris: Instytut Literacki, 1959), pp. 17–18.
83 Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
84 Laura Adams, ‘Can We Apply Postcolonial Theory to Central Eurasia?’, Central
Eurasian Studies Review, 7:1 (2008), 2–7; Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its
Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1993), p. 6.
24 Introduction
85 Marples, Belarus, p. 50; Zachar Szybieka, Historia Białorusi: 1795–2000 (Lublin:
Instytut Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, 2002), pp. 388–90, 414; Eugeniusz Mironowicz,
Białoruś (Warszawa: Trio, 2007), pp. 250–52, 272–75.
86 Iuliia Cherniavskaia, ‘Samaia sovetskaia iz sovetskikh’, Neprikosnovennyi zapas, 78
(2011) <>.
87 Ranajit Guha, Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).
88 Ronald Grigor Suny, The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution and the
Collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 84–126.
89 Michael Rothberg, ‘Remembering Back: Cultural Memory, Colonial Legacies, and
Postcolonial Studies’ in The Oxford Handbook of Postcolonial Studies, ed. by Graham
Huggan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 359–79 (p. 360).
90 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 2nd edn (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 91.
91 Sam Durrant, Postcolonial Narrative and the Work of Mourning: J.M Coetzee, Wilson
Harris and Toni Morrison (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), p. 8.
92 Lindner, Historiker, p. 16.
... Despite the view from abroad that Belarus, allegedly the "last European dictatorship", has created a unified, loyal, obedient and monolithic society, despite the regime's emphasis on a homogeneous Belarusian post-Soviet people, and despite the nationalist opposition's demands for ethnic unity, Belarus is not a homogeneous entity. Indeed, the country's artistic, cinematic and literary cultures have long been extraordinarily vibrant (Lewis 2019). ...
... A lot of research has been done on memory in this region. Scholars analysed memory discussing it in the context of political discourses, international politics, literature, and monuments (Karlsson, Petersson, and Törnquist-Plewa 1998;Törnquist-Plewa 1992, 2001Shevel 2016;Mälksöö 2010;Lewis 2018;Etkind and Blacker 2013;Zhurzhenko 2013;Portnov 2009Portnov , 2013Yurchuk 2014). Scholars also have written on media and their role in cultural memory construction (Erll and Rigny 2008;Erll and Nunning 2008). ...
Full-text available
The article focuses on the increasing adoption of media logic and the corresponding change of habitus in the field of academic history in Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on Ukraine. Departing from both mediatisation theory and memory studies, authors consider a range of relevant phenomena from across the region, before considering in more depth the case of LikBez, a grassroot initiative of Ukrainian historians, aimed at debunking historical myths spread both inside and outside Ukraine. The amalgamation of historical knowledge and multiple media platforms to convey it, it is argued, ushers in the era of mediatisation of history.
... In my focus group discussions, I used only three categories of celebrations (state, religious and secular celebrations) to create the interactive flash card exercise described above. This article offers only a limited perspective on commemorative events; a more thorough examination of literature on memory politics in Belarus(Fedor, Kangaspuro, Lassila, & Zhurzhenko, 2017;Lewis, 2019) would go beyond the scope of this article. The period of 2003-2004 was marked by the government's initiatives to establish ideological control over education, culture and public events. ...
Full-text available
National celebrations have been defined as manifestations of collective identities that glorify the nation and strengthen the national community. However, the magnitude and design of celebrations in autocratic states indicate a different ideational function that these symbolic events play in an autocratic political system. Autocratic elites have the administrative capacity to distort everyday routines and impose ideological principles of how people participate in state celebrations. How citizens engage in official celebratory practices in an authoritarian political context formulates a valuable contribution to the conceptualisation of national celebrations. Drawing on focus group discussions and ethnographic observations, I investigate how people negotiate meanings of celebratory and commemorative practices in the context of autocratic Belarus. I discuss how volatile the symbolic politics is when the invention of new symbolic traditions or the reinvention of old narratives does not appeal to all social groups and lacks authenticity.
The present paper addresses the manner in which local population of the Polesie voivodeship perceived the Soviet invasion of Poland through the prism of encounter with “others”. In particular, this paper focuses on the local understanding of “others” and how this changed due to the invasion. Also, as an important part of its contextualization, I explore the image of the Soviets held by local communities before the war.
National identity discourses and narratives of history and memory are highly politicized in post-Soviet Belarus. While official narratives stress the idea of brotherhood with Russia and the importance of the Soviet cultural legacy, counter-narratives focus on the idea of a national revival and on mourning for the pre-Soviet past. In the late 1990s and early years of the new millennium, authors of counter-narratives began to work with philosophical models in their rethinking of “Belarusianness.” The peak of this philosophical turn was marked by Ihar Babkoŭ’s Adam Klakotski and His Shadows (2001). Under the influence of post-colonial theory and post-structuralist/deconstructive philosophy, and with the help of narrative fragmentation devices, the novel proposed a unique reconceptualization of Belarusianness. Based on the assumption that every identity has a negative fundament, Adam Klakotski deconstructs the linearity of national(ist) narratives on different levels. In this article, the author analyzes the philosophical aspects of Adam Klakotski and the role the novel has played politically, and he compares it to the works of two other key figures of Belarusian counter-culture: Little Guidebook to the Sun City by Artur Klinaŭ, and Valiantsin Akudovich’s There Is No Me and The Code of Absence.
This article critically examines the prevalent nationalist interpretation of historical images featuring textiles from rural regions. In an effort to disentangle the threads of folk costumes, it proposes a conscious unlearning of the way we read images of rural material culture from the late 19th century. This period has entered historiography as a period of intensifying national movements and political use of rural culture, in particular in Central and Eastern Europe. So-called folk costumes have been viewed as a symbolic representation of the nation, whereas their broader social and economic role in the history of industrial society has been overshadowed. By bringing together the production, collection, and exhibition of rural material culture, this article reveals processes in industrial society that shaped the modern history of folk costumes. It draws on late-19th-century source material stemming from a network centered in Prague that promoted textiles from rural Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary, and Galicia as ethno-commodities. Textiles were integrated into women’s industrial education and presented at events promoting national economy and the latest technological innovations. Thus, this article contributes to nationalism studies by discussing capitalism and industrialism and seeks to further scrutinize the history of nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe.
In this chapter I discuss Nobel laureate and Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich’s series ‘Voices from Utopia’ focusing on its fifth and last book Secondhand Time. The Last of the Soviets. The series comprises of more than three decades of work collecting and representing the distinct lived experiences of the fictional human type of Homo sovieticus. First, I will discuss Alexievich’s art of inscribing individual voices into a polyphonic representation relating to cataclysmic events and large-scale societal transformations during the Soviet and post-Soviet era. Although Alexievich’s books consist of real people’s accounts, the author has a distinct role in the text. I suggest that by collecting personalized memories about the cataclysmic events of the Soviet period and focusing on particularly traumatic individual life stories Alexievich is constructing post-Soviet cultural memory, carving space for ‘cultural trauma’ as well as calling forth a wider social and cultural resonance. The sense of cultural trauma is constructed in and through the accumulative force of these accounts re-remembering the past and evoking powerful feelings and affect, calling forth a collective process of working through.
Romanian Germans, mainly from the Banat and Transylvania, have occupied a place at the very heart of major events in Europe in the twentieth century yet their history is largely unknown. This east-central European minority negotiated their standing in a difficult new European order after 1918, changing from uneasy supporters of Romania, to zealous Nazis, tepid Communists, and conciliatory Europeans. Migrating Memories is the first comprehensive study in English of Romanian Germans and follows their stories as they move across borders and between regimes, revealing a very European experience of migration, minorities, and memories in modern Europe. After 1945, Romanian Germans struggled to make sense of their lives during the Cold War at a time when the community began to fracture and fragment. The Revolutions of 1989 seemed to mark the end of the German community in Romania, but instead Romanian Germans repositioned themselves as transnational European bridge-builders, staking out new claims in a fast-changing world.
Weißrussische Historiker_innen stehen vor dem Dilemma, dass ihr Land im Laufe seiner Entwicklung immer Bestandteil übergeordneter Herrschaftsverbände war. Während die Nationalhistoriker eine kulturelle Verortung im Westen anstreben und den Mythos eines »Goldenen Mittelalters« pflegen, betreiben die Hofhistoriker nach wie vor eine russophile Geschichtsdeutung, die im Mythos der sowjetischen »Partisanenrepublik« gipfelt. Im Unterschied dazu fokussiert dieser Band nicht auf Staat und Nation, sondern auf die Bevölkerung und das Territorium. Damit eröffnet sich eine neue Perspektive auf die Geschichte der Belarus, verstanden als eine Welt der orthodoxen Bauern und jüdischen Händler, die von der Konstituierung der Adelsrepublik in Polen-Litauen im 16. Jahrhundert bis zur Zwangskollektivierung der Landwirtschaft und dem Holocaust in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts dauerte. Der Band versammelt populärwissenschaftliche Essays von Historikern, Slavisten und Journalisten und schließt durch seine innovative Perspektive einen weißen Fleck in der Forschungslandschaft.
'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
Modern Belarusian nationalism emerged in the early twentieth century during a dramatic period that included a mass exodus, multiple occupations, seven years of warfare, and the partition of the Belarusian lands. In this original history, Per Anders Rudling traces the evolution of modern Belarusian nationalism from its origins in late imperial Russia to the early 1930s. The revolution of 1905 opened a window of opportunity, and debates swirled around definitions of ethnic, racial, or cultural belonging. By March of 1918, a small group of nationalists had declared the formation of a Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR), with territories based on ethnographic claims. Less than a year later, the Soviets claimed roughly the same area for a Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). Belarusian statehood was declared no less than six times between 1918 and 1920. In 1921, the treaty of Riga officially divided the Belarusian lands between Poland and the Soviet Union. Polish authorities subjected Western Belarus to policies of assimilation, alienating much of the population. At the same time, the Soviet establishment of Belarusian-language cultural and educational institutions in Eastern Belarus stimulated national activism in Western Belarus. Sporadic partisan warfare against Polish authorities occurred until the mid-1920s, with Lithuanian and Soviet support. On both sides of the border, Belarusian activists engaged in a process of mythmaking and national mobilization. By 1926, Belarusian political activism had peaked, but then waned when coups d’états brought authoritarian rule to Poland and Lithuania. They year 1927 saw a crackdown on the Western Belarusian national movement, and in Eastern Belarus, Stalin’s consolidation of power led to a brutal transformation of society and the uprooting of Belarusian national communists. As a small group of elites, Belarusian nationalists had been dependent on German, Lithuanian, Polish, and Soviet sponsors since 1915. The geopolitical rivalry provided opportunities, but also liabilities. After 1926, maneuvering this complex and progressively hostile landscape became difficult. Support from Kaunas and Moscow for the Western Belarusian nationalists attracted the interest of the Polish authorities, and the increasingly autonomous republican institutions in Minsk became a concern for the central government in the Kremlin. As Rudling shows, Belarus was a historic battleground that served as a political tool, borderland, and buffer zone between greater powers. Nationalism arrived late, was limited to a relatively small elite, and was suppressed in its early stages. The tumultuous process, however, established the idea of Belarusian statehood, left behind a modern foundation myth, and bequeathed the institutional framework of a proto-state, all of which resurfaced as building blocks for national consolidation when Belarus gained independence in 1991. Modern Belarusian nationalism emerged in the early twentieth century during a dramatic period that included a mass exodus, multiple occupations, seven years of warfare, and the partition of the Belarusian lands. In this original history, Per Anders Rudling traces the evolution of modern Belarusian nationalism from its origins in late imperial Russia to the early 1930s. The revolution of 1905 opened a window of opportunity, and debates swirled around definitions of ethnic, racial, or cultural belonging. By March of 1918, a small group of nationalists had declared the formation of a Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR), with territories based on ethnographic claims. Less than a year later, the Soviets claimed roughly the same area for a Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). Belarusian statehood was declared no less than six times between 1918 and 1920. In 1921, the treaty of Riga officially divided the Belarusian lands between Poland and the Soviet Union. Polish authorities subjected Western Belarus to policies of assimilation, alienating much of the population. At the same time, the Soviet establishment of Belarusian-language cultural and educational institutions in Eastern Belarus stimulated national activism in Western Belarus. Sporadic partisan warfare against Polish authorities occurred until the mid-1920s, with Lithuanian and Soviet support. On both sides of the border, Belarusian activists engaged in a process of mythmaking and national mobilization. By 1926, Belarusian political activism had peaked, but then waned when coups d’états brought authoritarian rule to Poland and Lithuania. They year 1927 saw a crackdown on the Western Belarusian national movement, and in Eastern Belarus, Stalin’s consolidation of power led to a brutal transformation of society and the uprooting of Belarusian national communists. As a small group of elites, Belarusian nationalists had been dependent on German, Lithuanian, Polish, and Soviet sponsors since 1915. The geopolitical rivalry provided opportunities, but also liabilities. After 1926, maneuvering this complex and progressively hostile landscape became difficult. Support from Kaunas and Moscow for the Western Belarusian nationalists attracted the interest of the Polish authorities, and the increasingly autonomous republican institutions in Minsk became a concern for the central government in the Kremlin. As Rudling shows, Belarus was a historic battleground that served as a political tool, borderland, and buffer zone between greater powers. Nationalism arrived late, was limited to a relatively small elite, and was suppressed in its early stages. The tumultuous process, however, established the idea of Belarusian statehood, left behind a modern foundation myth, and bequeathed the institutional framework of a proto-state, all of which resurfaced as building blocks for national consolidation when Belarus gained independence in 1991. Modern Belarusian nationalism emerged in the early twentieth century during a dramatic period that included a mass exodus, multiple occupations, seven years of warfare, and the partition of the Belarusian lands. In this original history, Per Anders Rudling traces the evolution of modern Belarusian nationalism from its origins in late imperial Russia to the early 1930s. The revolution of 1905 opened a window of opportunity, and debates swirled around definitions of ethnic, racial, or cultural belonging. By March of 1918, a small group of nationalists had declared the formation of a Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR), with territories based on ethnographic claims. Less than a year later, the Soviets claimed roughly the same area for a Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR). Belarusian statehood was declared no less than six times between 1918 and 1920. In 1921, the treaty of Riga officially divided the Belarusian lands between Poland and the Soviet Union. Polish authorities subjected Western Belarus to policies of assimilation, alienating much of the population. At the same time, the Soviet establishment of Belarusian-language cultural and educational institutions in Eastern Belarus stimulated national activism in Western Belarus. Sporadic partisan warfare against Polish authorities occurred until the mid-1920s, with Lithuanian and Soviet support. On both sides of the border, Belarusian activists engaged in a process of mythmaking and national mobilization. By 1926, Belarusian political activism had peaked, but then waned when coups d’états brought authoritarian rule to Poland and Lithuania. They year 1927 saw a crackdown on the Western Belarusian national movement, and in Eastern Belarus, Stalin’s consolidation of power led to a brutal transformation of society and the uprooting of Belarusian national communists. As a small group of elites, Belarusian nationalists had been dependent on German, Lithuanian, Polish, and Soviet sponsors since 1915. The geopolitical rivalry provided opportunities, but also liabilities. After 1926, maneuvering this complex and progressively hostile landscape became difficult. Support from Kaunas and Moscow for the Western Belarusian nationalists attracted the interest of the Polish authorities, and the increasingly autonomous republican institutions in Minsk became a concern for the central government in the Kremlin. As Rudling shows, Belarus was a historic battleground that served as a political tool, borderland, and buffer zone between greater powers. Nationalism arrived late, was limited to a relatively small elite, and was suppressed in its early stages. The tumultuous process, however, established the idea of Belarusian statehood, left behind a modern foundation myth, and bequeathed the institutional framework of a proto-state, all of which resurfaced as building blocks for national consolidation when Belarus gained independence in 1991.
This book is a revised translation of two works by Miroslav Hroch, which together form a pioneering comparative analysis of the various struggles for national identity in nineteenth-century Europe. It is concerned with the decisive phase of 'national renaissance', when small groups of committed patriots successfully generated mass support. When and why was their propaganda effective? The author attempts to answer this fundamental question by locating the patriots within the contemporary social structure, and uses data derived from many different nationalisms. The work is divided into three sections; a theoretical examination of the origins of nationalism and nation-hood, a quantitative survey of the social and territorial structure of the patriots of eight representative national movements, and a comparative analysis of the social and professional groups that formed the milieu of patriotism. Numerous statistical tables and maps illuminate the text, which forms one of the most significant studies of the nationalist phenomenon to be published in recent years.
For decades, the formal peculiarities of War and Peace disturbed Russian and Western critics, who attributed both the anomalous structure and the literary power of the book to Tolstoy’s “primitive,” unruly genius. Using that critical history as a starting point, this volume recaptures the overwhelming sense of strangeness felt by the work’s first readers and thereby illuminates Tolstoy’s theoretical and narratological concerns. The author demonstrates that the formal peculiarities of War and Peace were deliberate, designed to elude what Tolstoy regarded as the falsifying constraints of all narratives, both novelistic and historical. Developing and challenging the ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, Morson explores Tolstoy’s account of the work’s composition in light of various myths of the creative process. He proposes a theory of “creation by potential” that incorporates Tolstoy’s main concerns: the “openness” of each historical moment; the role of chance in history and within narrative patterns; and the efficacy of ordinary events, “hidden in plain view,” in shaping history and individual psychology. In his reading of Tolstoy, he demonstrates how we read literary works within the “penumbral text” of associated theories of creativity.