Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Belarus on Its Way to Becoming the Next Ukraine, Russian Nationalist Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 24 – Many Russian nationalists have comforted themselves with the notion that Belarus is “’more Russia than Russia itself,’” Vladimir Zotov says; but recent events and particularly the readiness of Belarusians to fight against Russia in Ukraine show that Russia’s western neighbor is rapidly becoming the next Ukraine, anti-Russian in the extreme.

            Indeed, he argues, “the complete absence of Russia in the humanitarian, cultural and media spheres of Belarus, with which it officially is in a political union is logically leading to the adoption by the locally politicized youth of an openly anti-Russian identity on the Ukrainian model” (

            And as a result, he continues, “even bearers of Russian first names, last names and genes [among the young in Belarus] not simply accept this: they are ready to kill for it.  Very soon, representatives of this age category will form the majority in the Belarusian powers that be. And that we will hear the next ‘never will we be brothers’” from a new direction.

            After that, of course, “the machine guns will begin to sound.”

            With the passing of the older generation and the rise of the new, Zotov says, Belarusians are changing their identities even though “the overwhelming majority of them speak and think in Russian.”  That has meant a growth in Russophobia among the politicized part of the population, something “the official authorities at a minimum haven’t blocked.”

            Zotov draws these conclusions on the basis of his analysis of the fact that Belarusians are fighting on both sides in Ukraine and Minsk so far has treated them the same rather than viewing those who are fighting for Russia as acting in accord with the requirements of the union state and those who are fighting for Ukraine as acting against it.

            “Many Belarusians who are in the units of the LNR and DNR,” he says, “wear Russian (but not Belarusian) flags on their uniforms, while their opponents [on the Ukrainian side] always use the standard Belarusian nationalist symbols, the white-red-white flag and the Horseman shield.”

            Those Belarusians fighting for Ukraine are “all supporters of radical nationalism and are ready to lay down their lives in the struggle against the Russian world. One of the most widespread motivations,” Zotov says, is the desire “to stop Russia in Ukraine so that it won’t seize Belarus, since, in the opinion of Belarusian radicals, the Kremlin dreams only about this.”

            “’I did not go to fight for the freedom of Ukraine,’” Zotov quotes one of their number as saying.  “’I did so for the freedom of Belarus’” because “if the Horde isn’t hit in the face here in the Donbass, it will go further – and Belarus, I am absolutely convinced will be swallowed up like Crimea in a couple of days.’”

            What is striking about this, the Russian commentator says, is that “the majority of the personages have normal Russian last names and think in Russia. More than that, until recently, the basic mass of Belarusian ultra-rightists and fanatics stood in the main on all-Russian positions. However, lately, the situation has changed.”

            In short, although Zotov does not say this, anti-Russian attitudes in Belarus have spread from the liberal intelligentsia, the normal object of attack by Moscow writers, to the right-wing nationalists, an indication of the growing power of Belarusian nationalism and thus a threat to Russia’s position there

            According to the Russian commentator, Alyaksandr Lukashenka is of two minds about the Belarusians who are fighting in Ukraine. One the one hand, it is clear, he values his relations with Kyiv. But on the other, he equally clearly feels threatened by the return to Belarus of combat veterans of either side.

            That explains why Minsk officials routinely talk about arresting such people without being specific as to which side they were fighting, a situation that has led those on each side to think their supporters are being victimized more than the other and thus have become heroes for one position or the other.

            As a result, some Belarusians who have fought for Ukraine are taking Ukrainian citizenship and remaining there, Zotov says. And it is likely the case, although he doesn’t mention it, that some Belarusians who have fought for the Russian side are taking Russian citizenship and  heading to that country.


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