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Marková, A., "Language, Identity, and Nation: Special Case of Belarusian State- and Nation Formation", in: The Journal of Belarusian Studies, Vol. 8, issue 3, 2018, pp. 25-39.



The article deals with the processes and mechanisms of nation-building and identity formation in the framework of the nationality policy of Belarusization as it took place in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) during the period from 1924 to 1929. The article argues that the processes of the Belarusian nation-building and nation-formation are unique in the context of other European national movements because they represent a special case of Soviet nation-formation (i.e. identity formation after state-formation). In addition, the article analyses the post-soviet period of independent Belarus as well as the new wave of national movement, the so called Neo-Belarusization, which took place from 1990 to 1995.
Language, Identity, and Nation:
The Special Case of Belarusian
State- and Nation-Formation1
Throughout its history, Belarus has experienced several periods of its own
statehood as well as several attempts at re-establishing it, such as the interwar
Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR), and others. Lately, the short-lived attempt
at independence of the BNR has become the subject of increased attention of
Belarusian researchers and publicists on the occasion of its 100th anniversary
(Chernjakevich, 2018; Kavalienia and others, 2018; Šupa 2018).
However, of all past periods and attempts, there is one truly unique and especially
ambiguous case of Belarusian nation- and state-formation. This particular case
took place after the dissolution of the BNR (1919) and followed several other failed
attempts at statehood.2 This unique case in uenced both directly and profoundly
recent Belarusian history as well as contemporary Belarusian society, but most
importantly it affected Belarusian nation and identity formation. Therefore, our
attention will be primarily focused on the nationality policy of Belarusisation
and on analysing the processes and mechanisms of nation-building and identity
formation in the framework of Belarusisation as it took place in the Belarusian
Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which, in its nal form, emerged in 1922. In
addition, the analysis will examine the post-Soviet period of independent Belarus
as well as the new wave of national movement, the so called Neo-Belarusisation,
which took place from 1990 to 1995.
1 The publication was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (GA ČR) – GAČR 18-18108S,
Neo-Belarusization Processes in Post-soviet Belarus in the National Independence Era (1990-1995) -
Charles University, Faculty of Humanities, 2018.
2 For example, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), which was for the rst time declared
on January 1st 1919 and the succeeding Lithuanian–Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (Lit-Bel)
Language, Identity, and Nation 26
What then was Belarusisation? Belarusisation was a soviet nationality policy
initiated by the Bolsheviks. It took place in the Belarusian Soviet Socialist
Republic (BSSR). In Belarus, the nationality policy was of cially introduced and
implemented in 1924 and it lasted until 1929, for almost 5 years. The Belarusisation
policy could be viewed as the massive Soviet support of the processes of Belarusian
nation-building and nation-formation in the interwar period.
First of all, Belarusisation meant the signi cant and intensive promotion of the
national language (i.e. Belarusian language, which was the mother tongue of the
majority of the population of the Belarusian Soviet Socialistic Republic of that
period). This promotion was accompanied by goal-directed language planning. The
national language was promoted in all spheres of state and party administration,
as well as in the education system; it was introduced into the academic eld, and
boosted in public discourse (i.e. Belarusian was the language of the press and so
on). At the same time, the development of national culture as well as of Belarusian
academic studies gained substantial and massive state support.
Yet another essential part of Belarusisation was the so-called “indigenisation”
(korenizatsia), which meant the promotion of ethnic Belarusians into leading
working and administrative positions in the state administration, into the ranks of
the dominant Communist party, within the public service, educational system, and
into the cultural and academic spheres.
This policy was originally drafted, developed and discussed already in
1921 during the 10th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks)
(RKP(b)), and then again two years later in 1923 during the 12th Congress of the
RKP(b). In Soviet Belarus the nationality policy was started only one year later,
in 1924 (Pastanovy i rezaliucyji UsieKP(b) i KP(b)B pa nacyjanaĺnym pytanni
1926, 39-44).
What reasons did the Bolsheviks have for launching the nationality policy
in 1924? There are several plausible answers which one could consider. One
reason could be the echo of the foregone threat of an alternative statehood in the
Belarusian People’s Republic. The Belarusian People’s Republic wasn’t successful
because it couldn’t receive recognition on the international political stage and
thus it disintegrated in 1919. Nevertheless, it was a serious attempt at re-gaining
and defending a Belarusian statehood, which wasn’t derivative or related to the
Bolshevik state or Bolshevik ideology.
However, probably the main reason behind the initiation of Belarusisation
was the urgent necessity to promote, consolidate and rst of all localise Soviet
power and Soviet (i.e. communist) ideology in ethnically non-Russian areas and
The Journal of Belarusian Studies
republics of the Soviet Union such as Ukraine, Belarus and others. It was assumed
that in order to succeed in this power transition, the regime needed to use the local
language and thereby bring the Soviet government closer to the local ethnically
non-Russian population (Stalin 1934, 112).
Thus, we could argue that the policy was in essence based on very pragmatic
and almost mercenary initial reasons, and that these were the reasons which stood
behind a nationality policy in a state which proclaimed the primacy of the ideology
of proletarian internationalism. To avoid confusion: from the Bolshevik point of
view, this policy was not intended as a means to promoting and establishing a
truly independent Belarus, nor was it supposed to contribute to the awakening
of national identity. Yet the processes initiated by the policy nonetheless lead to
a phenomenon similar to a national awakening typical to the efforts of classical
national movements of the 19th century.
Preconditions of Belarusisation
The intensive processes of Belarusisation in the course of the 1920s
corresponded to, or supplemented, the processes of modern Belarusian
national formation, as a nation emerging from an ethnical group. Or, to use the
terminology of Anthony Smith (Smith 1991), one might argue that in the course
of Belarusisation, i.e. in the course of this intensive nation-formation, a leap from
an ethnic category to an ethnic community (ethnie) was realised.
Belarusisation emerged, very much like a typical European national movement,
at the moment when the Belarusian language had become almost completely
driven out of the public space, social communication, out of administrative
of ces, out of the press, education and schools. This was the result of alternating
waves of Polonisation and Russi cation. The second important aspect of the
situation was that the majority of the ethnically Belarusian population (which
in the early 20th century was predominantly rural) often understood its identity
mainly as belonging to a local ethnical group (this is the phenomenon of so called
“local people”, or tutejšyja, tutejšaść).
In other words, they did not perceive their identity as belonging to an abstract
nation. Their identity was rst and foremost a local one where the local (Belarusian)
language served as a marker of belonging to a certain social group or to a local
ethnic group. In this sense, language was not understood as an abstract attribute
of an abstract nation. This particular aspect was yet to play a signi cant and
unfavourable role during the course of Belarusisation and during the accompanied
massive promotion of the Belarusian language, which happened “from above”. Due
to the local population’s view of the Belarusian language, the often unprestigious
Language, Identity, and Nation 28
local language was not immediately well-received and did not easily become a part
of the new everyday life reality of the new socialist state, the BSSR.
Language and its Promotion
As a part of the new nationality policy, Belarusisation, attempts were made at
a de nitive codi cation of the Belarusian language. The codi cation as such was
signi cantly complicated by the considerable linguistic fragmentariness of local
Along with the process of codi cation, a process of intellectualisation of the
national language also took place. Intellectualisation included the process in which
the newly codi ed national language develops and takes its nal shape (Hroch 2000,
77). Within the framework of intensive support for publications in Belarusian (that
is academic as well as popular or mass-produced), Belarusian literature and poetry
were being supported and developed, as well as journalism, Belarusian theatre,
academic monographs, translations into Belarusian, and so on (Głogowska 1996).
For example, newspapers started being published in Belarusian. Starting
on January 1st 1927, the central periodical of the Belarusian communist party
Zviazda was to be published in Belarusian too. Regional periodicals also began
to be published in Belarusian (Pastanovy i rezaliucyji UsieKP(b) i KP(b)B pa
nacyjanaĺnym pytanni 1926, 69–71). Direct support was provided for Belarusian
theatre: there were no less than three national theatres in Belarus during the
Belarusisation period – the Belarusian State Theatre-1 (Bielaruski dziaržaŭny
teatr) or BDT-1 (1920, Minsk), the BDT-2 (1926, Vitebsk), and probably the most
popular, the Travelling State Theatre (Bielaruski dziaržaŭny vandroŭny teatr)
founded by Uladzislaŭ Halubok. This third national theatre performed mostly
in regions outside the capital (later in 1931 it became BDT-3). There were other
professional and amateur theatre ensembles as well, which frequently staged plays
in Belarusian.
The production of artistic literature, such as ction and poetry, in Belarusian
was also generously supported. Many authors considered today the classics of
Belarusian literature, worked or started their authorship during this period (Źmitrok
Biadulia and Jakub Kolas are just two examples of writers whose works have
become parts of the Belarusian cultural heritage).
Belarusisation was accompanied by a phenomenon typical of the beginnings of
a national movement, the so-called classical praise or celebration and defence of the
national language, which is still in need of symbolic justi cation and of the defence
of its usefulness (Hroch 2015, 205). Such argumentation was often sought in the
The Journal of Belarusian Studies
glorious national past, such as, for example, in the history of the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania, i.e. the Golden Age of Belarusian history. In that period, Belarusian was
the language of state administration as well as the language of all the Statutes, of
this prime and prominent example of law-making.
The above-mentioned celebration, defence, and glori cation of the Belarusian
language, was to be found not only in the popular production of Belarusian literary
classics, but also and primarily on the academic level (Ihnatoŭski 1926, 100; Pičeta
2005, 53-154; Harecki, Dziaržynski and Karavai 1926, 251; Harecki 1921, 38),
that is in the form of educational literature, school textbooks, and academic studies
such as the works of the historian Uladzimir Pičeta, the rst rector of the Belarusian
State University, founded in 1921. In his 1924 work, Belarusian Language as a
National-Cultural Factor, Pičeta presented scienti c grounds for the uniqueness of
Belarusian as a full- edged language of independent value (Picheta 1924).
At the same time the standardisation of Belarusian also took place. This activity
was mainly associated with the Institute of Belarusian Culture (Inbielkuĺt) and
its departments and committees (most importantly the Department of Belarusian
Language and Literature, but also others), which was founded in 1922. One of
the many achievements of the Institute was the elaboration and publication of
textbooks and dictionaries with Belarusian academic terminology and technical
terms in the elds of military, technical, and medical science (Cvikievič 1926;
Kaściuk and Petrykaŭ 1993).
However, rst and foremost one of the most important aspects of Belarusisation
was the promotion of Belarussian in all areas of state administration, party
apparatus, and public discourse. But even more signi cant was the compulsory
introduction of Belarusian into schools at all levels – from elementary school to
universities. An exam in Belarusian language became an obligatory prerequisite
for admission to universities (Praktyčnaje vyrašennie nacyjanaĺnaha pytannia ŭ
Bielaruskaj Savieckaj Sacyjalistyčnaj respublicy 1928, 141).
Finally, the full equality of the Belarusian language was secured legislatively.
Since 1920, the principle of equality of Belarusian with three other state
languages (Polish, Russian, and Yiddish) had been in force.3 Such a situation was
truly unique and unprecedented: interwar Belarus was a state with four of cial
languages – Belarusian, Polish, Russian, and Yiddish. Later, in the Constitution of
the BSSR from 1927, this linguistic equality was con rmed alongside the right of
minorities to use their national languages. BSSR was the only Soviet Republic to
guarantee the equality of all state languages in the Constitution.
3 The equality of Belarusian, Yiddish, Polish, and Russian was protected by the Declaration of
Independence of the Belorusian Soviet Socialist Republic of 31 July 1920.
Language, Identity, and Nation 30
Identity Formation
Particularly close attention should be paid to the processes of identity formation
and to the actual model of national identity which emerged and was being promoted
during the Belarusisation period, 1924-1929. The newly formulated national identity
effectively distanced itself from the Soviet nationality policies, represented in the
all-pervasive motto that they should be “national in form but socialist in content”
(Stalin 1952, 133). The new conception was primarily based on the cultural, ethnic,
linguistic and historical uniqueness of Belarus’s independent state formation.
Firstly, a new conception of Belarusian national history was developed, which
in itself is an important feature. This conception deserves particular attention. In the
new Belarusian history (especially in the works of Uladzimir Pičeta and then also
Usievalad Ihnatoŭski) the European-ness of Belarusian history was emphasised as
well as the long-term independence from neighbouring countries – mainly from
Russia and Poland – and its independent national development (Ihnatoŭski 1926;
Pičeta 2005).
One of the crucial historical periods stressed in the new conception was the
Principality of Polatsk, which was perceived as the rst Belarusian state. Secondly,
it was the Smolensk Principality, which had a signi cant role due to the fact that it
was comprised of essential parts of the ethnic Belarusian territory, which in uenced
the independent historical development of the Belarusian lands (Pičeta 2005, 98-
101). Very much like in the conception of national history of the Czech national
revivalist František Palacký, which was based on the mutual “coexistence and
confrontation” of Czechs with their German neighbours in the course of history
(Kutnar and Marek 1997, 219–229), Belarusian national development, as well as
its cultural and linguistic uniqueness, continuously contended with, distanced itself
from, and also engaged in confrontation with, the neighbouring Russian and Polish
states. Interestingly, this comparing and confronting pertained mainly to Russia
and Poland and to their historical and cultural in uence. There was, on the other
hand, no symbolic distancing from or confrontation with the Lithuanians or the
Ukrainians, as the new Belarusian history apparently did not need to distance itself
from them. This was due to the fact that, in the course of history, Russia and Poland
were the nations associated with language oppression, assimilation, and cultural
domination. Consequently, the newly formulated conception of national history
needed to disassociate itself from these two neighbouring states (Markava 2016,
Another interesting aspect of the newly formulated national identity was the
emphasis on the common ethnical origin of Belarusians, on their separateness or on
the independence of their ethnic development from the formation and development
of other close ethnic Slavic groups or nations – especially from the Russians. Strong
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emphasis was placed on the ethnical purity of Belarusians which was the result of
their isolation from invading forces and non-Slavic ethnical groups. Belarusians
never experienced a major invasion of non-Slavic nomadic groups, and according
to contemporaneous scholars they could be considered the “purest kind of a Slavic
tribe” as such, which is how Ihnatoŭski (Ihnatoŭski 1926, 10) or Smolič in his studies
and in his textbook on the Geography of Belarus phrased it (Smolič 1993, 126).
The common origin, common national history, cultural heritage, and glorious
past were meant to empower and strengthen the rising national consciousness. All
of the above-mentioned history, origin, and historical consciousness, were designed
to build a common platform for the future unity of the Belarusian nation.
Another important aspect of the nationality policy was that within its framework
the incomplete social structure of the ethnical Belarusian population was to be
completed. These processes took place as part of the so-called korenizatsia, that is in
the promotion of Belarusians into leading positions in state or party administration,
in the educational system, and in academia. Korenizatsia involved the students of
universities as well, with the actual effect of positive discrimination of applicants
of peasant origin, which in that period in Belarus almost always meant ethnical
Belarusians (Sobranie Uzakonenij i Rasporiazhenij Raboche-krestjanskogo
praviteľstva BSSR 1925, 1–2). Gradually, leading cultural and political elites of
Belarusian origin emerged and the social structure of the population of the republic
signi cantly changed.
Korenizatsia was initiated when the majority of the adult Belarusian population
was illiterate and the Belarusian intelligentsia was very small. In the Russian
Empire, the Belarusian population was not able to obtain middle or university
education in their mother language, and social ascent often depended on assimilation
and acceptance of the cultural and linguistic identity of the ruling ethnical group
(Russian or Polish).
Thus, korenizatsia could be compared to the social emancipation of the
Belarusian ethnic group which in this sense hadn’t been very successful within
the Russian Empire, where Belarusians as one of many disadvantaged non-ruling
ethnical groups had only had very limited possibilities of social success.
Belarusisation as a National Agitation
The abovementioned processes of social, cultural and linguistic emancipation
belong to the nationality policy of Belarusisation. These processes closely
Language, Identity, and Nation 32
correspond to the linguistic, cultural and social programme of a national movement
or to the demands of the social, cultural and linguistic emancipation of a national
movement as de ned by Miroslav Hroch (Hroch 2000). According to Hroch, a
national movement passes through three phases in the course of its development:
phase A, or the so-called academic phase, or the phase of scholarly interest, which
is promoted by scholars and intellectuals whose activities target the non-ruling
or non-dominant ethnical group such as Czechs, Slovaks or Belarusians within a
multicultural empire. Phase A is usually followed by phase B, the phase of active
national agitation. During this phase, national patriots (often called revivalists)
make active efforts “to persuade members of non-ruling ethnical groups that they
are actually members of a nation with a value of its own and the right to the same
attributes of other nations already in existence.” (Hroch 2000, 13). Then phase
C follows. This is the phase of mass response and mass support of the national
movement, political mobilisation, and nally a mass national movement. This
phase involves the promotion of political demands. The arrival of this phase usually
signals the success of the national movement.
The development of the phases, as well as the development of national demands,
is mostly continuous and subsequent, i.e. from the demands of cultural and language
emancipation to the demands of political emancipation, from phase A to C. At the
symbolical end of a successful national movement stands a national state.
Therefore, the nationality policy of Belarusisation in Belarus of the interwar
period and all related processes can be considered as a massive and active national
agitation (or phase B) conducted by national revivalists. Ironically enough, some of
these revivalists, whom we usually picture in the context of the 19th century, were
in fact enthusiastic communists and fervent members of the Communist Party such
as, for example, Usievalad Ihnatoŭski and others. Many were on the other hand
without any political membership, such as the abovementioned author of one of the
most well-known school textbooks of the interwar period, Arkadź Smolič.
Uniqueness of the Belarusian Type of Nation-Building and
Thus, there are some obvious features that distinguish the Belarusian type of
nation-building and nation-formation and make it unique. Firstly, the national
agitation which was conducted in the situation of an incomplete nation-formation
received massive support, and the national language and national cultural activities
were promoted by state-sanctioned programmes.
Another unique feature was the fact that the demands for cultural development,
of linguistic and cultural emancipation, were developed suddenly, very intensively
The Journal of Belarusian Studies
and during a very short time period (the Belarusisation processes were limited to
only ve years and then their intensity rapidly declined), almost like in a pressure
Thirdly, and this is probably the main distinctive feature which makes these
processes so unique – these processes took place in the situation of an already
existing statehood. In most European national movements statehood comes
afterwards, that is at the end of a national movement, when the social, language
and political demands are ful lled and a national state logically completes the
trajectory of the successful national movement. The Belarusian national movement
was not such a case. The Belarusian State (BSSR) had been established before the
process of Belarusian nation-building could have been completed and before the
demands of the national movement could be ful lled. The statehood of the BSSR
was symbolic in nature, because the state was a satellite of Moscow and depended
on the central administration for its decision-making, whereas formally it was an
independent state and even had the right of secession at its disposal, that is, it could
theoretically leave the Soviet Union, which eventually did happen in the 1990s.
Active national agitation as well as acceptance of the national language by the
general population were not, however, successful. The reason behind the failure
can be seen in the high Russi cation of the majority of the urban population, in
the cautious reaction of other social groups, peasants including, to the new state
language, in the extremely short duration of the language agitation, and in other
Another unique feature is that even though national agitation was not entirely
successful, the failure did not endanger the already achieved statehood, which would
otherwise, in the situation of a developing national movement, not be possible (the
movement would disintegrate after a failed agitation or phase B, because the idea
of the nation would not have gained popular support).
For these reasons, it is legitimate to view the processes of the Belarusian nation-
building and nation-formation as unique and highly unusual in the context of other
European national movements. One could even talk about this being a special
type or special case of Soviet nation-formation, of identity formation after state-
Neo-Belarusisation as a New Attempt?
At the turn of the 1990s, Belarus witnessed another wave of national, cultural
and political emancipation which continued even after the country gained
independence from the USSR in 1990. The newly-formed Belarusian national
Language, Identity, and Nation 34
movement of the 1990s exhibits a surprisingly close similarity to the Belarusisation
of the 1920s.4 As in the early 20th century, the new national movement demanded
the development of national culture and a more intensive promotion of national
language in the public and of cial spheres (especially in state administration,
education, mass media, etc.), directly relating to the intensive Russi cation Belarus
experienced under the USSR.
The processes were concurrent with the legislative anchoring of Belarusian as
the only state language of the newly-formed republic (Act “On Languages” of the
11th Supreme Soviet of the BSSR from January 26, 1990). Noticeably, the new Act
phrased the signi cance of national language in an almost Herderesque way, the
rst sentence stating that: “Language is not only a means of communication, but
rst and foremost the soul of the nation, the basis and the most important part of its
culture.” (Zakon ab Bielaruskaj Savieckaj Sacyjalistyčnaj Respubliki ab movach u
Bielaruskaj SSR 1990, 4). The Act further maintains that the size of the geographic
area of where Belarusian is used has become signi cantly narrower and that “its
[the Belarusian language’s] existence is in peril. It necessitates the protection of
the Belarusian language on its state and ethnical territory.” (Zakon ab Bielaruskaj
Savieckaj Sacyjalistyčnaj Respubliki ab movach u Bielaruskaj SSR 1990, 4). The
Act ascribed to Belarusian the status of the only state language of Belarus, and
proclaimed it the language of the cultural and academic spheres.
Following the rati cation of the Act “On Languages”, government resolutions
devised concrete measures and a time schedule for the change to Belarusian. The
time schedule advanced a gradual conversion of of cial mass media and the written
agenda of state institutions (judicial, nancial, etc.) to Belarusian. The government
initiated teaching in Belarusian in public schools, constituted it the language of
admission exams, made it the principal educational language of the republic, and
so forth. It was assumed that in order to support and facilitate this conversion,
numerous re-quali cation courses (such as Belarusian language courses), teaching
materials, and dictionaries, would be required, as well as nancial funding and
adequate staf ng.
Last but not least, this period, later known as the parliamentary republic period
(1990-1994),5 distinguished itself as a new era of Belarusian studies, an era for
the bloom of historiography, ethnography, and other areas. In the political eld,
demands focused on greater state independence and the freedom of independent
4 Many common features notwithstanding, there are also many speci c differences, i.e. speci c
features which only appeared in the late 20th century (faster social communication, stronger mass
media in uence, and so on).
5 The period of parliamentary republic will be limited in this study to the years 1990-1994 (that is
since the declaration of independence of the Republic of Belarus in 1990, until the 1994 election
of the rst President of the Republic of Belarus, A. Lukashenko, after which the Republic became
parliamentary-presidential and, since 1996, a presidential republic).
The Journal of Belarusian Studies
policy-making within the emerging democratic system. In the social sphere they
were, in Hroch’s formulation, demands for establishing a liberal market economy
and civic society with a complete social structure, that is incorporating the middle-
class and private entrepreneurs (Hroch 2016, 278).
Just as in the 1920s, in the 1990s Belarus was swept by a new wave of cultural
emancipation which emphasised the distinctiveness of national culture. Of cial
state and national symbols which referred to pre-Soviet Belarusian history were
created and approved (the state coat of arms, Pahonia [“Pursue”], was the coat of
arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and of the Belarusian People’s Republic
in 1918, and a white-red-white ag as a state heraldry legacy from the Belarusian
People’s Republic of 1918-1919).
Another similarity to the 1920s Belarusisation, was the closer attention paid
to national history. Previous interpretations of history were revised in accordance
with the new demands (see, for example, Kasciuk et al. 1995). A new conception
of national history which re-evaluated the Soviet past as well as pre-Soviet national
history emerged, a new pantheon of national heroes was introduced, and history
textbooks were re-written. New models of national identity were sought after,
created, and revised, in order to meet the new demands. These efforts and actions
support the use of the term “Neo-Belarusisation” for the 1990s national movement
in Belarus.
However, all of the abovementioned processes were then reversed, and the
reversal started almost immediately after the execution of the 1995 referendum.
The 1995 state referendum resulted in reinstating Russian as the second of cial
language, reintroducing slightly modi ed Soviet state symbols (the red and green
ag, and the national emblem with a round ribbon and a ve-pointed red star instead
of the white-red-white ag and the charging knight, respectively), suspending the
conversion of the state institutions’ agenda into Belarusian, discontinuing the active
introduction and promotion of the Belarusian language at the state level, and at the
same time approving economic and political integration with Russia.
Conclusion: Ethnic or Civic?
Belarusisation and the new wave of the post-Soviet Neo-Belarusisation, in
a similar manner to other nationalist and revivalist efforts, aimed at shaping the
identity of a cultural or ethnic nation. That is, of a nation, whose identity is based
on having a common origin, common history, on sharing cultural traditions and
especially on belonging to the same unique cultural and language environment. In
this respect, we might even argue that the Belarusian attempt aimed at an ethnical
rather than cultural nation. However, this attempt at creating and re-creating a
Language, Identity, and Nation 36
cultural nation eventually not successful. This is the case with regards to the efforts
to secure a rm and superior position via the promotion of the Belarusian language
(as the national language).
In the course of interwar Belarusisation, as well as post-Soviet Neo-
Belarusisation, an attempt was made to emancipate the national language. Until
then only one language of social prestige and social ascent existed. That was the
Russian language, which had a dominant position within the Russian Empire as
well as in the Soviet Union. To use Joshua Fishman’s terminology (Fishman 1972),
Russian played the role of the so-called “H-Language”. During Belarusisation, and
later Neo-Belarusisation, an alternative language of social prestige and ascent was
promoted. A language which was supposed to be, like Russian, a prestigious and
self-suf cient state language – i.e. a new “H-Language”.
However, a much more important common factor of the movements’ failure
consists of the overall short duration of both Belarusisations (1924-1929 and 1990-
1995). The brevity of both periods precluded the newly-introduced changes in
language planning and language policy from being established rmly enough in
order to further reproduce without state support. Ideally, the people themselves
would reproduce the demands for new Belarusian schools or for education in
Belarusian without following orders from above, from state inspectors or public
education commissars (as in interwar BSSR), and demand wider use of Belarusian
in communication with public of ces, the media, and public discourse. However,
both of the abovementioned periods were too short to allow the measures to truly
take root and become part of everyday life.
The nal coup de grâce came with new waves of intensive Russi cation,
introduced immediately after the terminated Belarusisation in 1929, and after
the symbolical end of Neo-Belarusisation in 1995. Russi cation came in waves
of different intensity. Formally, both interwar and post-Soviet Belarusisation
processes continued, but in fact the majority of previous national activities were
suspended. The re-instated Russi cation came hand in hand with a smear campaign
targeting Belarusian national initiatives and active proponents of the Belarusian
national idea (denigrating them as a new generation of politicians, etc.), who were
labelled by the Soviet propaganda as national democrats (natsdemy), or later as
For these reasons it is adequate to declare Belarusisation and its later version,
Neo-Belarusisation, failed attempts at creating and later re-creating the Belarusian
nation as an ethnic and cultural nation.
Nevertheless, a civic nation and a civic nationhood has appeared instead. A
civic nation is built around shared citizenship in a state. i.e. a nation which isn’t
The Journal of Belarusian Studies
de ned by its language or national culture or shared national history, but a civic
nation whose identity is based on common territory, state borders, state sovereignty
and above all on citizenship. “I’m Belarusian because I was born there and I have
a blue passport” is probably the most frequent description of what it means to be
Belarusian today. The current situation is an echo of both Belarusisation processes
and of the failed attempts to create a cultural or ethnic nation.
Belarusisation processes, and Soviet as well as recent post-Soviet projects of
nation-building, have remained the subject of passionate and intensive discussions
since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Regardless of interpretations and opinions
one might have of the phenomenon, the nationality policy remains one of the
symbolical centres of recent Belarusian national history, an event with an extremely
signi cant impact. The lessons and experiences of Belarusisations demonstrate
that language activities and language promotion need massive as well as long-term
state support.
Azbukin, M., 1924. Heahra ja Eŭropy. Maskva, Lieninhrad: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva.
Cvikievič, A., 1926. Instytut bielaruskaj kuĺtury. Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva
Fishman, J., 1972. Language in Sociocultural Change. Stanford: Stanford
University Press.
Głogowska, H., 1995. Białoruś 1914–1929. Kultura pod presją polityki. Białystok:
Białoruskie Towarzystwo Historyczne.
Ihna toŭski, U., 1926. Karotki narys historyi Bielarusi. Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje
vydaviectva Bielarusi.
Harecki, M., 1921. Historyja bielaruskaje literatury. 2-oje vyd. Viĺnia: Vilienskaje
vydaviectva B. Kliockina.
Harecki, M., Dziaržynski, Ul., and Karavai, P., 1926. Vypisy z bielaruskaj literatury.
Častka 1. Vustnaja narodnaja tvorčaść. Staradaŭniaje piśmienstva. Maskva,
Lieninhrad, Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi.
Hroch, M., 2000. In the national interest: demands and goals of European national
movements of the nineteenth century: a comparative perspective. Prague:
Faculty of Arts, Charles University.
Hroch, M., 2015. European nations: explaining their formation, London, Brooklyn,
New York: Verso.
Language, Identity, and Nation 38
Hroch, M., 2016. Hledání souvislostí. Eseje z komparativních dějin Evropy,
Praha: SLON.
Chernjakevich, A., 2018. BNR: Triumf pobezhdennych. Minsk: Januškievič.
Kaściuk, M., Ihnacienka, I., Vyšynski, U. and others, 1995. Narysy historyji
Bielarusi. U 2-ch častkach. Minsk: Bielaruś.
Kaściuk, M. and Petrykaŭ, P., eds., 1993. Instytut bielaruskaj kuĺtury. Minsk:
Navuka i technika.
Kavalienia A., Danilovič V., Mazec V. and others, 2018. Bielaruskaja Narodnaja
Respublika – krok da niezaliežnaśći. Da 100-hoddźiju abviaščennia. Histaryčny
narys. Minsk: Bielaruskaja dumka.
Kutnar, F., Marek, J., 1997. Přehledné dějiny českého a slovenského dějepisectví:
Od počátku národní kultury až do sklonku třicátých let 20. století. Praha:
Nakladatelství Lidové noviny.
Markava, A., 2016. Šliach da savieckaj nacyji. Palityka bielarusizacyji, 1924-
1929. Minsk: Bielaruski Histaryčny Ahliad.
Praktyčnaj e vyrašennie nacyjanaĺnaha pytańnia ŭ Bielaruskaj Savieckaj
Sacyjalistyčnaj respublicy. Častka 1. Bielarusizacyja, 1928. Mensk: Vydańnie
Nacyjanaĺnaj kamissii CVK BSSR.
Sobranie Uz akonenij i Rasporiazhenij Raboche-krestjanskogo praviteľstva
BSSR, 1925. Minsk: Otdel zakonodateľnych predpolozhenij i kodi kacii
Pastanovy i rezaliucyji UsieKP(b) i KP(b)B pa nacyjanaĺnym pytanni, 1926.
Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi.
Picheta, V., 1924. Belorusskij jazyk kak factor nacionalno-kulturnyj. Minsk:
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Bielaruskaha dziaržaŭnaha ŭniversiteta.
Smith, A., 1991. National Identity. London: Penguin.
Smolič, A., 1993. Heahra ya Biełarusi. 4-je vyd. Minsk: Bielaruś.
Stalin, J., 1934. Marksizm i nacyjanaĺna-kalanijaĺnaje pytańnie. Zbornik vybranych
artykulaŭ i pramoŭ. Minsk: Partyjnaje vydavectva.
Stalin, J., 1952. Sochinenija. T. 7. Moskva: Gosudarstvennoe izdateľstvo
politicheskoi literatury.
The Journal of Belarusian Studies
Šupa, S., 2018. Padarožža ŭ BNR: archiŭny raman. [Praha]: Radyje Svabodnaja
Eŭropa/Radyje Svaboda.
Zakon ab Bielaruska j Savieckaj Sacyjalistyčnaj Respubliki ab movach u Bielaruskaj
SSR, 1990. Minsk: Bielaruś.
... Korenizatsiia lasted in Soviet Belarus between 1924and 1929(Marková, 2018. The majority of monographs devoted to this period focus on Belarusianization, or the policy of turning Belarusian into a full-fledged language of administration, education and public life (cf. ...
... eir language is variously classiied as "Belarusian," "Polish," or "Russian," the categories of language and script confused and employed inconsistently. In June 2018, ...
Full-text available
The New Polish Cyrillic in Independent BelarusAfter the fall of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union, the religious life of the Roman Catholic community revived in independent Belarus. The country’s Catholics are concentrated in western Belarus, which prior to World War II was part of Poland. In 1991 in Hrodna (Horadnia, Grodno) Region, the Diocese of Hrodna was established. Slightly over half of the region’s population are Catholics and many identify as ethnic Poles. Following the ban on the official use of Polish in postwar Soviet Belarus, the aforementioned region’s population gained an education in Belarusian and Russian, as channeled through the Cyrillic alphabet. Hence, following the 1991 independence of Belarus, the population’s knowledge of the Latin alphabet was none, or minimal. For the sake of providing the faithful with Polish-language religious material that would be of some practical use, the diocesan authorities decided to publish some Polish-language prayer books, but printed in the Russian-style Cyrillic. This currently widespread use of Cyrillic-based Polish-language publications in Belarus remains unknown outside the country, either in Poland or elsewhere in Europe. Nowa polska cyrylica w niepodległej Białorusi Po upadku komunizmu i rozpadzie Związku Sowieckiego życie religijne wspólnoty rzymskokatolickiej przeżyło odrodzenie w niepodległej Białorusi. Katolicy tego kraju koncentrują się w zachodniej Białorusi, która przed II wojną światową była włączona w skład Polski. W 1991 r. w obwodzie hrodzieńskim (horadnieńskim/grodzieńskim) powstała Diecezja Hrodzieńska. Nieco ponad połowa ludności obwodu to katolicy, a wielu identyfikuje się jako etniczni Polacy. Zgodnie z zakazem oficjalnego używania języka polskiego w powojennej Białorusi sowieckiej ludność wspomnianego regionu zdobywała wykształcenie w językach białoruskim i rosyjskim, oczywiście zapisywanych cyrylicą. Stąd po odzyskaniu niepodległości przez Białoruś w 1991 r. znajomość alfabetu łacińskiego wśród tej ludności była nikła. W trosce o zapewnienie wiernym polskojęzycznych wydawnictw religijnych, które potrafiliby czytać i z nich korzystać w kościele i podczas osobistej modlitwy, władze diecezjalne postanowiły opublikować kilka książek w języku polskim, ale wydrukować je rosyjską cyrylicą. To zjawisko powszechnegokorzystania z książek religijnych w języku polskim drukowanych cyrylicą na zachodzie dzisiejszej Białorusi pozostaje nieznane poza granicami tego kraju, w tym w Polsce.
... In 2015, Per Anders Rudling highlighted the beginnings of the Belarusian nation at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (Rudling 2015). In 2018, Alena Marková spoke about the Bolshevik's nationality policy of Belarusisation and korenizatsiya (indigenisation) in the 1920s (Marková 2018), a topic that she picks up on this year in her article dedicated to the post-Soviet Belarusianisation of the 1990s [see later in this issue -eds.]. My own Annual lecture jumps twenty years forward and addresses the ongoing phenomenon of 'soft Belarusianisation' . ...
The past decade has seen the emergence of a new type of nationalism in Belarus, a process labelled as ‘soft Belarusianisation’. This trend differs from earlier, mostly top-down (elite-led) episodes of nation-building – the Belarusisation of the 1920s, the nationalists’ movement that followed perestroika, and the ‘Creole nationalism’ incarnated by A. Lukashenko since the mid-1990s. Instead, soft Belarusianisation seems to be a bottom-up process stemming mostly from civil society. It would be wrong to consider it as a traditional revivalist or genuinely grassroots phenomenon however. Yet it appears as an anti-colonialist process, one meant to avoid further assimilation of Belarusians within the Russian whole. Whereas signs of a timid national awakening appeared back in the early 2010s, two sets of factors contributed to shaping and accelerating soft Belarusianisation in recent years. First were exogenous drivers, notably Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Among the endogenous drivers is the Belarusian authorities’ benevolence towards soft Belarusianisation. Although they can exploit the rally-around-the-flag potential that the process entails for mobilising society in support of independence, the fact that soft Belarusianisation is perceived as anti-Russian in Russia proper creates a challenging situation for them. Should Belarusian nationalism overstep a red line, the likely consequences would be to put Belarusian sovereignty and national identity under a greater threat than it already is now.
Heahrafi ja Eŭropy. Maskva, Lieninhrad: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva
  • M Azbukin
Azbukin, M., 1924. Heahrafi ja Eŭropy. Maskva, Lieninhrad: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva.
Instytut bielaruskaj kuĺtury. Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi
  • A Cvikievič
Cvikievič, A., 1926. Instytut bielaruskaj kuĺtury. Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi.
Language in Sociocultural Change
  • J Fishman
Fishman, J., 1972. Language in Sociocultural Change. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Białoruś 1914-1929. Kultura pod presją polityki
  • H Głogowska
Głogowska, H., 1995. Białoruś 1914-1929. Kultura pod presją polityki. Białystok: Białoruskie Towarzystwo Historyczne.
Karotki narys historyi Bielarusi. Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi
  • U Ihna Toŭski
Ihna toŭski, U., 1926. Karotki narys historyi Bielarusi. Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi.
Historyja bielaruskaje literatury. 2-oje vyd. Viĺnia: Vilienskaje vydaviectva B. Kliockina
  • M Harecki
Harecki, M., 1921. Historyja bielaruskaje literatury. 2-oje vyd. Viĺnia: Vilienskaje vydaviectva B. Kliockina.
Vypisy z bielaruskaj literatury. Častka 1. Vustnaja narodnaja tvorčaść. Staradaŭniaje piśmienstva
  • M Harecki
  • Ul Dziaržynski
  • P Karavai
Harecki, M., Dziaržynski, Ul., and Karavai, P., 1926. Vypisy z bielaruskaj literatury. Častka 1. Vustnaja narodnaja tvorčaść. Staradaŭniaje piśmienstva. Maskva, Lieninhrad, Mensk: Dziaržaŭnaje vydaviectva Bielarusi.
European nations: explaining their formation
  • M Hroch
Hroch, M., 2015. European nations: explaining their formation, London, Brooklyn, New York: Verso.