Saturday, January 27, 2018

Lukashenka’s ‘Soft Belarusianization’ All about Strengthening His Personal Power, BISS Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – Many in Moscow and the West view the Belarusianization of Belarus as certain to have fateful consequences for that country, with the former seeing Minsk’s moves in this direction as putting Belarus on the road to a Ukrainian situation Russia would need to address and the latter seeing it as a step to Minsk’s escape from Moscow’ control.

            But according to a new study by the Belarusian Institute of Strategic Studies, “From ‘Diseased’ to ‘Health’ Nationalism,” both of these views miss the true nature of what is going on. Belarusianization today is all about enhancing the power of Alyaksandr Lukashenka (

            According to Petr Ruditsky, BISS academic director and the author of the report, four developments have pushed the Belarusian leader away from his earlier hostility to and oppression of Belarusian symbols and language to a “soft” Belarusianization now.  They include:

·         “Growing economic and information pressure on Lukashenka from Russia.”

·         “The example of other post-Soviet authoritarian leaders regarding the strengthening of national identity.”

·         “The partial depoliticization of the discourse of ‘rebirth’” that had been dominant among the opposition.

·         “Lukashenka and his entourage have taken note that an appeal to national values gives definite image benefits in relations with the West.”

Despite those pressures, Ruditsky says, “it is improbable that Belarusianization will ever become for Lukashenka an independent value, that is, something more than an achievement of other goals.”

One reason he has found it easier to make the shift, the BISS expert says, is that Belarusian business by its choice to increase its use of the national language has changed the nature of Belarusianness for Minsk and made it easier for Lukashenka to accept than it would ever be for him to act on the messages of the opposition.
            In the last five or six years, the BISS author says, the Soviet, statist and Russian-speaking national “idea” Lukashenka had promoted when he hoped to head a union state has been pushed aside in favor of a more “natural version of Belarusian nationalism” based on the preservation of the national language and national symbols and outreach to the Belarusian diaspora.
            “’The soft Belarusianization’ which we see on the streets of Belarusian cities now is the result of an unplanned coming together of the movement of public activists, business an the powers in approximately the same direction. This process has a long history, and thus it isn’t accidental or ephemeral.” Consequently, it is likely to continue.
            But, and this Ruditsky repeatedly stresses, this isn’t likely to lead to a broad, intensive and “’hard’” move toward Belarusianization under Lukashenka.  Statist rather than national symbols will remain in place, and Russian will continue to be one of the state languages and be widely used.
            That is because, he concludes, “national just like Western European values are for [Lukahsenka] ‘a foreign language,’ one far from that to which he became accustomed in Soviet times and with which he still feels comfortable.”

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