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WHAT IS THE BELARUSIAN NATION?

This question raised hot debates in some periods of the modern Belarusian history. Members of those discussions made their political conclusions on various answers to this question including the radical ones. In general, answers to this question group around three different variants – foundations of national identity, which are citizenship, birth (ethnicity) and culture (language). Respondents were offered to make choice out of these three identifiers of Belarusian nation. The results are given in Table 1.

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question: “What is the Belarusian nation for you?”

Variant of answer

%

All citizens of Belarus irrespective of their ethnicity, their language of everyday communication, and their national traditions

38.2

All ethnic Belarusians irrespective of their place of residence and citizenship

26.8

All citizens of Belarus speaking Belarusian, observing Belarusian traditions and bringing up their children based on these traditions

25.6

DA/NA

9.4

One may see that none of the above concepts of a nation received an absolute majority in the Belarusian society. What has been given a relative majority is citizenship, which is by the way the basis of the EU policy. At the same time, the total number of respondents who support definition of the Belarusian nation as the unity of culture and blood exceeds 50%.

A great number of those who chose definition of nation by culture demonstrates possible expansion of influence (as well as the ceiling for this influence) on the part of this concept adherents. According to this same opinion poll, only 7.8% of respondents speak Belarusian in their everyday communication but the number of the polled for whom the Belarusians are those who speak Belarusian are about threefold more. It can be assumed that these people have motivation and willingness to speak Belarusian and they would speak it under more favorable conditions.

In reality, connection between the language of everyday communication and the preferred definition of the Belarusian nation is more complex and quite unexpected. You may see it in Table 2.

Table 2. Connection between answers to the question “What is the Belarusian nation for you?” and “What is the language of your everyday communication?”*, %

Language of everyday communication

Definition of the Belarusian nation

By citizenship (38.2)

By ethnicity (26.8)

By culture (25.6)

Belarusian (7.8)

40.1

11.7

40.4

Russian (52.8)

32.2

33.7

18.3

Both Belarusian and Russian (16.1)

27.8

25.3

39.4

Mixture (23.0)

46.1

17.5

27.9

* Table is read across

Quite naturally, Russian-speaking population is less inclined to recognize belonging to the Belarusian nation by culture. The majority of Russian-speaking citizens place themselves among Belarusians and approximately a half of them are ethnic Belarusians. So, they don’t think that use of the Russian language expels them from the Belarusian nation.

All other points appear quite unexpected. Ethnic definition of Belarusian nation is the most popular among Russian-speaking population. This is most likely grounded on the following two factors.

On the one hand, it is obvious that representatives of ethnic minorities, the Russians first of all, stay in the group of Russian speakers mainly. Many of them (yet not all) don’t place themselves among the Belarusian nation for different reasons. For them, the Belarusians are not them but those who, to say in the Soviet manner, has a note “a Belarusian” in the fifth column of passport. Perhaps, taking them into account the part of those among Russian-speaking citizens who support identification of the Belarusian nation by ethnicity may be higher than among other language groups.

However, other polling data don’t prove this hypothesis. The opinion poll asked the question “To what cultural tradition do you relate yourself?” If some representatives of ethnic minorities don’t relate themselves to the Belarusian nation, they most likely will not relate themselves to the Belarusian culture either. If our hypothesis is correct, the part of those supporting identification by ethnicity would be higher among the respondents who pointed out to the other but Belarusian cultural self-identification.

On the contrary, the polling data show that the cultural self-identification almost doesn’t influence the preferences given to ethnic identification of the nation: those supporting identification by ethnicity among respondents who relate themselves to the Belarusian tradition are 29%, to the Russian culture – 26.2%, to the Soviet culture – 23.2% and to all-European – 28.8%. This refutes our hypothesis.

This means the other natural hypothesis should be correct. This other explanation is as follows: ethnic Belarusians incorporated into the group of Russian-speaking citizens ensure bursting popularity of identification by ethnicity among the Russian-speaking. Identification by ethnicity is the only remaining possibility for them speaking Russian to identify themselves as Belarusians.

As it was noted in IISEPS surveys (see Clever Tongue Will Take Anywhere? in the bulletin IISEPS News, No. 4 (34) of 2004), Russian speakers distinguish rather with pro-European aspirations. At the same time, as it goes from Table 2, they are least of all inclined to national identification by citizenship generally accepted in Europe.

These are Belarusian speakers and especially those speaking the crude mixture who are the most inclined to such definition of a Belarusian nation. They are most of all ready to place all their fellow citizens among Belarusians.

It should be noted that the weight of villagers and town-dwellers is higher among representatives of these two language groups than among two other language groups – Russian-speakers and bilingual citizens. Belarusian speakers and crude mixture speakers live in a more ethnic and culturally more homogeneous environment, this is why it is easier for them to recognize vast definition of the nation incorporating all Belarusian citizens. Perhaps, Soviet internationalism played its role here: representatives of these two language groups have lower education level and so they got rid of its influence to the least. This is a paradox, but the Soviet ideological heritage appears here favorable for recognition of the modern European standards.

Study of the direct connection between the preferred definitions of the Belarusian nation and socio-demographic characteristics proves this interpretation. (See Table 3).

Table 3. Connection between answers to the question “What is the Belarusian nation for you?” and the level of education and place of residence*, %

Variant of answer

Identification of the Belarusian nation

By citizenship (38.2)

By ethnicity (26.8)

By culture (25.6)

Education:
Elementary

37.0

17.6

27.0

Secondary incomplete

38.8

23.2

25.2

Secondary

38.7

27.2

25.6

Secondary vocational

37.3

28.2

27.0

Higher

39.2

34.4

22.9

Place of residence:
City

37.4

31.7

21.1

Village

40.9

15.6

36.9

* Table is read across

Educated people and city-dwellers embody to the greatest extent the Belarusian modern society. That’s them who establish the direction of development for the Belarusian society including the development of national self-consciousness. Therefore, it is disturbing that ethnic identification is the most popular among them.

It should also be noted that although ethnic identification is nonsense in the modern Europe (at least at the level of official EU ideology and the governments of EU member states), its adherents in Belarus want to see this country within Europe and speak out against integration with Russia. (See Table 4).

Table 4. Connection between answers to the question “What is the Belarusian nation for you?” and “How would you vote at a referendum on accession of Belarus to the EU?” and “How would you vote at a referendum on Russia-Belarus merging?”, %

Variant of answer

Identification of the Belarusian nation

By citizenship (38.2)

By ethnicity (26.8)

By culture (25.6)

Accession to the EU:
For (35.2)

31.4

41.6

36.2

Against (37.4)

41.3

32.9

39.1

Integration with Russia:
For (46.8)

52.7

38.5

46.8

Against (33.3)

28.2

42.1

36.0

Although supporters of identification by ethnicity are more than all other disposed to the European choice, these are very different forces including the current authorities that can use them. Last year campaign against the unruly board of the Union of Poles in Belarus as well as the grounds for the campaign publicized in the article Once Again about Ideology by A. Rubinov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, (http://www.sb.by/article.php?articleID=53008) have become the most vivid examples of how the power can use this potential. In this article, academician A. Rubinov actually refuses to ethnic minorities in Belarus in their right to self-actualization demanding that they totally yield to the national Belarusian standard.

A. Lukashenko’s well-known statement “The Belarusians are the Russians with the high-quality mark” is another attempt to turn ethnic feelings into one more support of power. Yet, it should be admitted that the power adhered to a very peculiar Soviet version of a civic nation until very recently. The data in Table 20 show that it is hard to build anti-European policy on ethnic nationalism alone. At the same time, the conflict around the Union of Poles and the article by A. Rubinov may show direction of a perceptive evolution and ethnic nationalism may become an auxiliary component of anti-nationalist nationalism built by the Belarusian power.