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.
This paper deals with the topic of conservative West-Russianist ideology and propaganda during World War I. The author analyzes the most prominent newspaper of the movement at the time – Severo-Zapadnaia Zhizn (The North-Western Life). The discourse of the newspaper is analyzed from the perspective of Belarusian nation-building, as well as from the perspective of Russian nationalism in the borderlands. The author explores the ways in which the creators of the periodical tried to use the rise of the Russian patriotic feelings to their advantage. Appealing to the heightened sense of national solidarity which took over parts of Russian society, the periodical tried to attack, delegitimize and discredit its ideological and political opponents. Besides the obvious external enemy – Germans, Severo-Zapadnaia Zhizn condemned socialists, pacifists, Jews, borderland Poles, Belarusian and Ukrainian national activists, Russian progressives and others, accusing them of disloyalty, lack of patriotism and sometimes even treason. Using nationalist loyalist rhetoric, the West-Russianist newspaper urged the imperial government to act more decisively in its campaign to end ‘alien domination’ in Russian Empire, and specifically to create conditions for domination of ‘native Russian element’ – meaning Belarusian peasantry, in the Belarusian provinces of the empire.
Belarusian institutional historical memory (as defined by Richard Ned Lebow) and the interpretation of Belarusian national history have experienced radical shifts in the past several decades. The first shift (1990–1994) was characterized by radical rejection of the interpretational and methodological patterns of the Soviet period, resulting in the creation of a new concept of Belarusian national history and historical narrative.
The second shift in the existing historical narrative and institutional memory followed rapidly. It came with the transformation from a parliamentary republic into a parliamentary-presidential (1994) and then presidential republic (1996). The second wave demonstrated a clear shift towards a methodological, theoretical approach and terminological framework typical of the historiography of the Soviet period. These changes were in response to the growing demands for ideological control of institutionalized historical research supported by the government in the same decade.
One of the characteristic features of recent Belarusian state-sponsored historiography (Lyč, Chigrinov, Marcuĺ, Novik and others) is the linking of post-Soviet national initiatives to Nazi occupation and collaboration in World War II. Another typical feature is simplifying historical explanations and often using undisguised pejorative terminology.
The last shift in institutional historical memory also resulted in further re-interpretations of many symbolic centres and milestones of Belarusian history (for example, the period of the first years of post-Soviet independence, the introduction of new national symbols (Pahonia coat of arms and white-red-white flag) and the interwar nationality policy of Belarusization of the 1920s.)