Belarusian National Identity about Far More than Just Language
January 17 – It has long been an unquestioned article of faith among Russians
and unfortunately among many Russian experts in the West that Ukrainians and
Belarusians are “really” Russians who just happen to speak different “dialects”
and thus do not have a national identity worthy of independent respect.
years, Ukrainians have demonstrated the absurdity of such views with Russian-
speaking Ukrainians and ethnic Russians living in Ukraine showing that they are
committed to their nation and country and even prepared to die for it,
something few in Moscow talk about because this pattern undermines their
officially prescribed worldview.
Now, in a
development that may prove equally important, Belarusian activists are
demonstrating that “Belarusianness” is also not just a question of language but
is rooted in a national culture and history that make Belarusians – including not
unimportantly Belarusians who speak only Russian – very different from those
living in the Moscow-centric state.
while some nationalists in the non-Russian countries oppose any suggestion that
promoting their own languages is not a first-order task as of course it is, the
emergence of recognized Russian-speaking Ukrainians, Russian-speaking
Belarusians both undermines Moscow’s claims about “a Russian world” and helps
solidify the 1991 settlement.
photographer says she has involved literary figures, sociologists, directors
and artists in her project so far but she wants to hear from ordinary people
about what they think their country is and who those who live there in fact
are.Obviously, she continues, there won’t
be a single answer but rather a variety that can be woven into a tapestry.
tapestry, of course, involves more than things that are Belarusian alone:
Belarusians are part of the world and feel what is going on in it beyond their
borders as well as inside them. For her, Batryukova says, the word that comes
to mind first is “instantaneous,” not surprising she acknowledges because as a photographer
she seeks to capture that in her pictures.
she continues by saying that she is “connected with many things” in Belarus and
that is why she always “wants to return hoe even from unbelievably beautiful places
abroad.” The associations she has with it are powerful, although they may not
be those that others might expect.
her, the photographer says, “Belarus is not Victory Square. It is rather the
Belarusian forest,” a place where she can think and recharge. “When we say ‘Paris,’”
she continues, “associations immediately arise: the Eiffel Tower, cheese, wine,
chestnuts … But with the word Belarus,” the situation is more complicated and
requires visual stimuli.
says she is an urban Belarusian from childhood and did not encounter the
Belarusian language until 1994 when she joined the artists union. From that
time forward, she has been asking questions about her identity and the way it
is or isn’t linked to language.
is hard not to notice, she says, that “in any other country everyone speaks the
language of their country, but in Belarus, everything is different in that
regard.” But “if it isn’t the Belarusian language, then what does make us
Belarusians? What do people feel who were born here?”
says the ancient traditions of the Belarusians are most obvious in the
villages, adding that she is pleased that these traditions are being handed down
from one generation to the next rather than dying out as many had thought.These things too are part of what makes
Belarusians Belarusians, and her project now on Facebook will identify even
more of the sources of this.