Resurgent debates about nationalism and nationwide identities have turn out to be an indicator of the twenty-first century. Proper-wing populists with enhanced political standing world wide got here first, pushing narratives about ‘pure’ nationwide communities, blaming migrants for financial inequality and social injustice. Then Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine refocused the talk, bringing again discussions of nationwide liberation wars and, extra broadly, of the connection between nationalism, imperialism and conflict. Belarusian society, too, has not been proof against ongoing deliberations about collective id, which gained renewed impetus after the large protests of 2020.
Solidarity versus unified collective self-consciousness
Students of latest Belarusian nationwide id converse of it as weak, contradictory or problematic. Among the many causes given in Towards a New Belarus is the inhabitants’s failure to agree on ‘the cultural and historic distinctiveness of the Belarusian nation’, specializing in the Belarusian language as a key factor in nationwide id.‘ Fillip Bikanov takes the ‘unity of the Belarusian nation’, which means ‘a self-consciousness marked by frequent options and a shared relationship to nationwide tradition and historical past’, as his normative framework for investigating Belarusian nationwide id. The various, discordant ideas Belarusians maintain about their tradition and historical past are seen as proof of a weak Belarusian collective id.
In 2017, nevertheless, Maryia Rohava proposed a distinct method of approaching Belarusian nationwide id. Based mostly on her personal qualitative sociological analysis, she recognized many layers to Belarusian ‘on a regular basis nationalism’. As an alternative of collective self-consciousness, she emphasised Belarusians’ practices of quasi-public dialog about their nationwide id. Among the many layers she dropped at gentle have been geographic and historic creativeness, affiliation with a political group, tradition as a sense of identification with state or oppositional symbolism, and consumption practices. Rohava used the time period ‘hybrid id’, or battle amongst numerous discourses of id, to designate the range of those layers and the hyperlinks between them. And on the very finish of her evaluation, she drew the conclusion that ‘future protests in Belarus will extra probably be oriented towards quite a lot of issues quite than counting on questions of (cultural) id, the way in which they’ve in earlier years.’
Certainly, that’s what occurred. An unprecedented consolidation of Belarusian society occurred in 2020: the Belarusian anti-authoritarian protest, as reported by the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research (BISS), ‘ranks among the many 15 largest and longest mobilizations amongst greater than 100 international locations in 50 years. Even the Ukrainian mobilization of 2014 and the Venezuelan mobilization of 2017 are decrease in some parameters to the Belarusian one.’ And the protest wasn’t based mostly on a coherent narrative a few shared historic previous or a selection completely favoring the Belarusian language. A number of intersecting practices for reaching horizontal solidarity have been the driving power. They have been what introduced such disparate social teams into the streets throughout the complete nation for greater than 100 days. And so they haven’t misplaced their significance right now: the diaspora aids Belarusian political prisoners and reaches out to Ukrainians, each these preventing on the frontlines and refugees).
Politician Maria Kalesnikava’s expression ‘We Belarusians are unimaginable’ and the guts signal she made along with her fingers have been vital symbols for this solidarity. Kalesnikava, a musician and cultural administrator by career, chaired the electoral marketing campaign for Viktar Babaryka, who, in receiving 400,000 votes, turned the Republic of Belarus’ hottest presidential candidate in 2020. When the regime put him in jail, Kalesnikava began supporting Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was working rather than Sergei Tikhanvsky (Tsikhanouskaya’s already-jailed husband). In organizing a united ladies’s marketing campaign group, Kalesnikava, Tsikhanouskaya and Veranica Tsapkala, one other political activist, managed to mobilize Belarusian society in unprecedented numbers.
The guts and slogan signaled recognition for the contributions representatives of broadly disparate social teams made to the protests, exhibiting appreciation for his or her efforts, their creativity, and the inherent danger of going out into public house and participating in collective motion. These actions echo the Arab Spring revolutions. Scholar Asef Bayat mirrored on what number of regular folks – aged and adolescents, moms and grandfathers, little sisters or brothers, the poor and the better-off – turn out to be distinctive, reworking into those that transcend the boundaries of their on a regular basis actions to affix organizations for social motion, accumulate signatures, create posters, or help victims of violence. ‘The important thing to the beginning of the collective company is the spirit of the second, a sudden extraordinary constellation of voices, networks, and energies that prompts overlapping pursuits and positionalities and renders disparate subaltern teams to share a sense of collective ache and prospect.’ Exactly this transformation drives various teams of voters past their sectoral pursuits and emboldens them to affix a single motion of residents urgent for broader calls for.
Curator Antonina Stebur and artist Aleksei Tolstov use the umbrella time period ‘infrastructure of care’ to indicate practices for reaching solidarity that soak up the entire of Belarusian society. Of their opinion, the place buildings like skilled unions that would have supported the protests are absent and ‘in a state of affairs the place the life of each citizen is unstable and fragile, care turns into each a central political impulse and a programme’. An infrastructure of care unites society with out erasing variations and politicizes with out establishing a monopoly on energy. The BISS researchers cited earlier positioned the preconditions for forming this infrastructure once they pointed to the rising ethos of cooperation in Belarusian society since 2010.
‘Individuals who stay right here’
A very powerful and lasting expression of united Belarusian resistance to authoritarian state violence in 2020 and past is the demand of respect for human dignity or li͡udz’mi zvatstsa (the precise ‘to be referred to as folks’). This demand, as I display in my e-book on the Belarusian revolution of 2020, united folks collaborating in several sorts of protest throughout Belarus. li͡udz’mi zvatstsa, from a line in Yanka Kupala’s now traditional poem A khto tam idze? (And Who Goes There?, 1905-1907), is accompanied by one other idea the poet promoted: tutėĭshasts’ (individuals who stay right here), which resonates with our present understanding of hybrid Belarusian id.
This idea – or id – alludes to how Belarusians from the tip of the eighteenth century to the start of the 20th century referred to themselves as ‘individuals who stay right here’ (or locals) quite than as individuals who belong to a selected nation. The idea’s use was conditioned by the truth that totally different parts of Belarusian lands have been traditionally annexed to quite a lot of Central and Japanese European state formations: the Nice Principality of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Borders shifted and ‘titular nations’ got here and went. As Aleksandr Pershai writes, ‘totally different inhabitants teams – and typically totally different generations – got here to know “their very own” tradition, language, faith, legal guidelines, literature, and so forth, in several, “uneven” methods.’ In keeping with Alena Minchenia and Nadzeya Husakouskaya, exactly tutėĭshasts’, and never Belarusian nationwide id, generated solidarity and enabled the creation of broad alliances in 2020 by expressing the kind of group that arises for the aim of uniting ‘in instances of nice uncertainty, horrendous state violence, and the sense of urgency, solidarity and mutual help’.
The demand ‘to be referred to as folks’ additionally echoes the guiding slogan of the Ukrainian revolution of 2013-2014: the demand of respect for human dignity. Francis Fukuyama locations this demand central to a liberal, democratic, inclusive model of nationality for offering a method, in an period of variety, to maneuver past ubiquitous sorts of id politics towards ‘broader types of mutual respect for dignity that may make democracy extra practical.’
Such a requirement could be formulated within the language of a secure cultural id with requisite references to the distant previous, understood in an unambiguous trend, however this type of formulation is hardly definitive. Skilled teams can formulate the demand of respect for human dignity by way of equitable, authorized and democratic guidelines for regulating the labour market and defending their collective pursuits. Ladies can formulate it by way of the battle for gender equality. And the aged can invoke the battle to eradicate ageism from society for a dignified outdated age.
One other instance in Belarus is the present battle towards linguistic discrimination or, extra exactly, discrimination towards those that select Belarusian as their important or solely language. Debates about tips on how to deal with a various Belarusian cultural heritage (e.g., Marc Chagall and Adam Mickiewicz) – tips on how to perceive it, what to incorporate and what values ought to present the premise for interpretating it – intersect at specific factors inside these various types of battle however can not exchange them. As sociologist Gerard Delanty writes, ‘cultural identities have gotten extra hybrid and political identities are much less separated from cultural id. Right this moment cultural variety rests much less on ethnic heterogeneity – the pluralism of cultural types of life – than on the emergence of recent sub-cultures based mostly on class, gender, faith and existence formed by consumption.’ Consensus on Belarusian collective id and its consolidation are work in progress; Belarusian tradition consists of not solely heritage but additionally human rights, financial pursuits and on a regular basis narratives.
The group of destiny, right now
The 2020 revolution, nevertheless, added a vital factor to the Belarusian expertise of id: our expertise of violence and the broad horizontal unity aimed toward withstanding threats remodeled Belarusians right into a group of destiny. The necessity to look after the imprisoned – there are at the very least 1,700 political prisoners at current, together with the aforementioned Maria Kalesnikava, Viktar Babaryka and Siarhei Tsikhanouski – and people topic to torture and persecution, or experiencing difficulties overseas continues to be each an especially vital theme within the lifetime of this group and a thorn within the facet of a regime that’s nonetheless repressing Belarusian society. 2020’s group of destiny stays on the very epicenter of the on a regular basis tales that Belarusians recount right now, a vital element within the formation of collective id.
However, as many Belarusian students have famous, 24 February 2022 posed a brand new problem to this group of destiny. The Belarusian regime supplied the ‘Russian world’ with enhanced standing not simply on-line but additionally bodily by permitting the presence of Russian navy gear and troopers on Belarusian territory. In response, a consolidated, homogenized model of nationalism started to realize floor, at the very least in speeches by sure political actors. Of their understanding, there is just one technique for pushing again towards ‘Russian world’ propaganda: the mass growth of Belarusian id by a marketing campaign supporting nationwide revival. Since it’s unclear what political actors plan to revive and since Belarus’ previous, like that of every other nation, incorporates violence and discriminatory practices, these formulations are a method of referencing populist nationalism (in Fukuyama’s model) and are unlikely to contain the important considering that would present the antidote to any sort of propaganda.
Because the 2020 protests have proven, Belarusian society has no scarcity of ‘antidotes’ to the ‘Russian world’ – critique of patriarchy, ‘conventional values’, lack of police accountability and numerous types of state violence – nevertheless it additionally displays ‘care’, the horizontal solidarity so feared by each ‘brother dictators’, who see humanitarians and defenders of human rights as their major opponents (together with Nobel laureate Ales Bialiatski, sentenced to 10 years in a most safety penal colony in March 2023, and Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of Viasna Human Rights Centre’s Volunteer Service, sentenced to 14 years and 9 months, alongside many others). Along with assist for these values and the practices that uphold them, a seek for their sources in our previous and an try and dress them in significant symbolism can open the way in which to withstanding not solely the ‘Russian world’ but additionally populist and authoritarian nationalism. These are becoming responses to the widespread democratic aspiration that crystallized in 2020. It has misplaced none of its significance right now.