Belarus Slowly and Carefully Walks Along the Ukrainian Path

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The celebrations that took place in Belarus on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR), which didn’t become a State, brought both scandals and questions to Belarusian society. After all, a lot of things happened for the first time, and this novelty doesn’t look like a sign of the emergence of a fresh creative project for the Belarusian State. Perhaps for the reason that a priori the idea that forms the basis of Belarusian nationalism, designed by its nature to cement in society the slogan “Belarusians Are Not Russian People”, can’t bear in itself a creative outset.

For the realisation of this idea, as the sad experience of Ukraine shows, several prerequisites are necessary.

Belarus as the successor of the BPR?

For this purpose there is a need for a historical event that can be tied to the myth about the country’s fight for independence, implying being torn away from Russia. In Ukraine the declaration of the UPR became such an event, and in Belarus – the BPR respectively. And it doesn’t matter that these formations were declared by a very narrow circle of people and were incapable of building a State – thus, on April 28th, 1918, the Central Rada of the UPR was simply dispersed by the German military patrol, while the BPR as a State wasn’t recognised even by its Ukrainian twin sister. The most important thing is that a reference point is found, the main sense of which is a gap with Russia, and further the chimeras of UPR and BPR are suddenly revived in modern Ukraine and Belarus as historical milestones defining the beginning of independence (from Russia and the Russian world in general) and acquiring attributes in the form of various refreshers and holidays. Both are supposed to spread in society the main postulate of “alternative history”: the current independence of Ukraine originates from the UPR, and the sources of today’s Belarus – the BPR. Ukraine already reached the level of fully refusing its Soviet past, talk about official recognition of continuity from the UPR is heard more and more often. Only one thing holds the Ukrainian authorities back: succession to the UPR automatically assumes a loss of territories, including Crimea – which the Ukrainian nationalists [at the time – ed] who decided to separate from Soviet Russia didn’t lay claim to, even in their thoughts. As for Belarus, which in 2018 celebrated the 100th anniversary of the BPR with an unprecedented scale, it is possible to claim that the country repeats the Ukrainian path. More precisely, it is at the beginning of this path.

The minority aiming at the separation of Belarus from the Russian world

There is a need for the existence of an active Russophobic minority, and it is desirable (but not obligatory) for it to be tied to a certain territory. If in Ukraine “identity” was forged in Galicia, then in Belarus since 2000 it is the Litvins denying the Slavic origin of Belarusians who announced themselves. Contemporary Ukrainian history proves that under certain conditions the nationalist-minded minority, having come to power, subordinate the majority via repression, pushing out of the country the population who feel like Russian people (or brotherly to the Russian people), and converting the youth and children “to their faith” through total Ukrainisation, alternative history, and education of hatred towards Russia and Russians. Belarus is in this sense on the first section of the same path that Ukraine passed along: the active Russophobic minority presented by both anti-Lukashenko “Litvins” and other nationalist groups prepare for the future of the Belarusian State in separation from Russia, hoping to intercept power as soon as the opportunity arises. Concerning this not numerous part of “Litvins”, which in words support the strengthening of cooperation with Russia (in respect of profits for Belarus), they showed their real face in the story with the criminal prosecution of Belarusian publicists criticising the authorities in the Russian media, fairly considering that Russian-Belarusian relations must be closer and more honest. It appeared that these “Litvins” strongly supported the arrests! There is no doubt: the strengthening of relations with Russia in this environment is seen one-sidedly and not at all in support of the Russian world.

The “top” glances to the West

One more condition is the drifting of the higher echelons of the authorities towards the West, despite all the profits from the State’s trade and economic relations with Russia. In the more than four years that passed from the moment of the coup in Ukraine in February, 2014, Kiev diligently burned the bridges with Moscow with its own hands in order to please the “European vector”, having achieved as a result of this the coal blockade of Donbass and the capture of a fishing vessel in the Azov Sea. But the coup itself became possible only because the Ukrainian leadership since the first days of independence looked for happiness in the West, trying to embody in its search the sense of the proverb “a friendly calf sucks two mothers”. As a result being tied to the west, to the detriment of relations with Russia, indeed led Ukraine to its present condition in the form of a project aimed at abandoning the Russian world and hostility with the Russian State. And this is besides the fact that most of the population of Ukraine felt like one people with Russians and saw Russia as their elder sister. It’s like that also now for many residents of Ukraine, but any mentions of it are chased away from all domains of public life by the efforts of the Russophobic authorities – only talking in kitchens and on social networks (with caution) remain. The ruling clique that surrounded itself with an assembly of American and European advisers and discovered for itself an opportunity to plunder Ukraine, pleasuring themselves in the West with what was stolen, initially “guided” Ukrainians on the way to this Great and Mighty West. Recall that by the time of the coup in Ukraine even the SBU was controlled by the Americans [it still is – ed], and the opposition and the authorities stood firm for the signing of the notorious agreement on association with the EU; the leaders of Maidan wanted this immediately, and the regionals ruling at that time asked to wait a bit more (in order to receive maximum profit from Russia). It is the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities – from Kravchuk’s presidency up to Poroshenko’s current reign – that always acted as “preachers” of the idea of searching for happiness not with the Russian State, but in the Western world.

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Everything is the same in modern Belarus. Although Minsk doesn’t like being compared to Kiev, it’s not possible to avoid it. Belarus stepped onto the slippery Ukrainian path – and these analogies arise by themselves. It is impossible to not notice that the place of the main Belarusian Westerner in power was firmly secured by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makei, and he grows in this role by leaps and bounds, literally day by day. At the end of March Makei made a very pleasant gesture towards Great Britain: against the background of inflated hysterics connected with the Skripal’s affair and the demonstrative expulsion of Russian diplomats, Makei went on a visit to London. Yes, the visit was planned in advance, but the head of the Belarusian foreign policy department in one way or another found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Undoubtedly, London will assess the “solidarity” of the Belarusian authorities.

On the eve of his trip to Great Britain, Vladimir Makei gave an extensive interview to the Euronews TV channel, during which he made a number of major statements.

Firstly, the minister announced today’s official position of the authorities concerning the BPR – this is a part of Belarusian history that hasn’t been completely studied, and that’s why “we can’t take someone’s side and act as a prosecutor or a lawyer”. “In the Soviet Union this period of our history was evaluated negatively. I, for example, was taught at school that the leaders of the BPR were traitors who tried to establish close cooperation with the Kaiser. But today the State for the first time gave a hand to its opponents, to those who deem this date to be important. The authorities sanctioned a meeting and a concert in the most prestigious place in Minsk – near the Opera and Ballet Theater. If you want to use BPR symbols – then go ahead. Any speeches and statements are allowed,” said Makei.

Secondly, a clear signal sounded: modern Belarus sets as its purpose keeping itself separate from the Soviet Belarus: “It is impossible to go to bed in the Soviet Union and wake up in a completely European democratic state”.

Thirdly, Belarus’ “main objective” is also accurately stated – “to become a fully-fledged member of the family of European democracies”.

Fourthly, “dependence on Russia” is proclaimed and, respectively, the desire to “diversify relations”: “From an economic point of view today we strongly depend on Russia. And it is precisely for this reason that we have the task of diversifying relations, first of all economic ones. The European Union is our second most important economic partner, after Russia. Last year commodity turnover with the EU grew by 30%, and our export – 40%. This is a positive sign”.

The topic of “dependence on Russia” deserves separate research. At different times it was thrown as bait to many countries. The Ukrainian example is the freshest, this State “diversified itself” by its own hands up to its current deplorable condition, for some reason wishing to the detriment of itself to reduce the economic “influence of Russia”. Now Belarus also decided to walk into the same water.

“We want to keep good relations with Russia. On the other hand, we would like to have more advanced, close relations with the European Union. This is our purpose, and we actively work to achieve it. At this time we believe that it is impossible to provide stability here, in Belarus, without Russia or at the expense of Russia. Therefore we won’t recognise the question ‘who are you with today: Russia or the European Union?’, but we want to maintain good relations both with Russia and with the European Union. We understand that it is our destiny, the further development of our State depends on this,” stated Makei, however Belarus is going to “diversify” relations with the Russian Federation, but with the EU – push them forward. “We would like to get rid of dependence on one country. We have an aspiration to diversify relations, including due to the development of ties with the European Union and the rest of the world,” stated the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus. According to him, this is how Belarus sees the creation of a “security cushion”.

Fifthly, Makei expressly distanced from Russia and didn’t even mention the Union State: “In many western countries Belarus is sometimes considered as a part of Russia and Russian politics. But I would like to emphasise that we are an independent State, a young sovereign State, and we will always act according to our national interests. Of course, we take into account the opinion of European and Russian partners, but we will always make decisions according to our national interests”.

Sixthly, it was said that Belarus “is sincerely interested in good and close cooperation with the European Union, because we understand that it will help us to survive in an unstable situation, to come nearer to European values, the European understanding of democracy”. Makei said that in the country work “for the purpose of changing public opinion, the attitude of civil society to the question of abolishing the death penalty goes at full speed”, close cooperation with the European bank for the reconstruction and development “concerning the privatisation of large state enterprises” is regulated, “the State showed its readiness to cooperate with its opponents and extended a hand”, and cooperation with NGO is regulated. In other words, now in Belarus there is a slow turn towards the Great and Mighty West.

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Seventhly, Makei presented the probability of a Maidan in Belarus very peculiarly: “I don’t think that Russia would like to organise in Belarus something similar to the ‘Ukrainian scenario’, I don’t think that they will want to behave like that. It isn’t in their interests. Even discussion about these hypothetical things seems to me to be absurd”. Actually the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus substituted facts and events: in Ukraine Maidan was organised by the West in the form of supporting the minority that imposed the scenario of the future on the majority via an armed coup and the unleashing of an armed conflict with a part of the population of the country. Whereas Makei, having behind him 2/3 Belarusians who are very friendly towards Russia, presents to Europeans something absolutely in inverse: hinting that theoretically a Belarusian Maidan would be possible only with the participation of Russia as an answer to the European vector of Belarus. The minister feels the trend very well: nowadays it is fashionable to accuse the Russian State of interference in different ways, so why not prepare a soft landing in advance under the European aspirations of Belarus?

As for Vladimir Makei, it is difficult not to recognise: today the head of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the most suitable political figure for the West as the new leader of Belarus. He is unambiguously focused on Europe and the US and is ready to “diversify” relations with Russia. And, the most important thing, he is being received in London. And the interview with Euronews can be considered as part of a program.

Radio Svoboda:

Russification of Belarus

90% of Belarusian children are educated in nursery and kindergarten in the Russian language.

86% of Belarusian pupils are taught in Russian.

99.9% of Belarusian university students are taught in Russian.

Belarusian information space: Westerners and russophobes win

The high activity of Internet Russophobic media is obligatory. The first violin in Belarus is played by the “Radio Svoboda”, which has 130,000 Facebook followers, nearly 115,000 on “VKontakte”, 89,000 on Twitter, 90,000 on “Odnoklassniki”, more than 21,000 on YouTube, more than 62,000 on Instagram, and figures grow month by month. They also grow from the Polish TV channel “Belsat” broadcasting in Belarus – nearly 60,000 subscribers on YouTube in April versus 51,000 in February. At the same time the audience of the popular Belarusian “ONT” nationwide TV channel, the leader of telecasting, allegedly grew from 93,000 to 100,000 followers. As for the real viewership of programs on YouTube, nothing has changed: Belsat’s Internet audience is 10 times more than that of ONT, and at times it’s even 100 times more popular than ONT.

Today the Belarusian opposition, including frankly Russophobes, frankly has no competitors among the internet media reflecting the position of most Belarusians. And this means that the minority is better informed, better organised, and better motivated, because the sector of the oppositional media is established more effectively: it’s more attractive and operative, especially for young people whose lives are closely connected to the World Wide Web. It is extremely difficult to fight against it at the legislative level, via the identification of users and the voluntary registration of Internet media (the new media law assumes this), because it isn’t obligatory to territorially reside in Belarus to broadcast to Belarusians your own truths and lies. And totally banning the Internet press leading Belarus along the Ukrainian path is impossible: this directly contradicts Vladimir Makei’s theses about the European aspirations of the Belarusian State. For certain the existing state of affairs is convenient for that part of the Belarusian ruling elite that sees the country built inside a Western project: most Belarusians who have traditionally gravitated towards Russia must remain without strong information Internet projects, whether it be media or certain bloggers, so that there is no consolidation of society around the ideas of the Russian world. It’s absolutely not by accident that those Belarusian publicists who applied for the role of such bloggers in 2016 found themselves behind bars and spent 14 months in a pre-trial detention center, and now they are actually deprived of the right to write about the topic of Belarusian-Russian relations.

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Blow to Orthodoxy from within

The appearance of priests who openly support a “Belarus-BPR” union. During the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the BPR in Minsk, it is the head of the Synod information department of the Belarusian exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate archpriest Sergey Lepin – a doctor of theology – who appeared to be the strangest guest. “The enthusiasts who seek a revival of Belarusian history and culture, who saw the Belarusian State both as a continuer of the traditions of the Old Russian statehood and as the successor to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stood at the origins of the BPR,” he stated from the scene, having defined that “the leaders of the BPR fought against occupiers via their initiatives”.

“I was in Grodno, I went with children into the orthodox church, and there the priest during a sermon also remembered about the BPR, saying that it was an attempt to create Belarusian statehood. I even thought ‘why do you enter into politics, father?’,” wrote the Belarusian and parishioner of the Russian Orthodox Church. I.e., the idea of the succession of Belarus to the BPR is already lodged in the brains of priests. It is possible not to love Bolsheviks for their attitude towards religion, but replacing the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic as a source of Belarus’ statehood with the BPR sounds absolutely strange coming from the lips of an orthodox priest – after all, it is known that some “enthusiasts” of the chimera created in 1918 gravitated to the uniates, and others to Protestants.

By the way, Sergey Lepin spoke in front of Belarusian nationalists, having decorated himself with symbols of Pogonya [A Belarusian volunteer battalion that fought on the side of Ukraine in Donbass – ed], and at the end of his speech he said the slogan of national patriots “Long live Belarus!”. Later he explained it as: allegedly, “the slogan appeared long before the Great Patriotic War”. “Did collaborators use it? Probably. But they used many things: the Russian tricolours, the St. George’s Ribbon, and many other things. And for certain they also wore pants – so should we now not wear pants?” said the doctor of theology with swagger. Indeed, if to consider the Ukrainian greeting “Glory to Ukraine!” or the words of the German anthem “Deutschland über alles!”, everything is quite good: only patriotism emanates from these words, and the fact that it is Banderists and Hitlerites who pronounce them, well they “used many things”.

By the way, it became known that a few years ago Lepin wrote on his LiveJournal: “A very interesting State would emerge as a result of the unification of Belarus and Lithuania (if to choose the correct format of unification and not spoil the idea at the realisation stage). Such unification would be indeed the unification of equals, and not an anschluss. And by the way, the Belarusian elite would have more chances in this situation and with such prospects”. So that’s that. “More courage and freedom would be good for us! And not the imposed project of integration! And then, you see, the Smolensk principality will pull itself to us, and Bryansk. Or perhaps even East Prussia … Well, of course, if someone there starts collecting signatures,” imagined the Belarusian theologian, who nowadays is responsible for providing information about the activities of the Belarusian exarchate of the Moscow Patriarchate!

It should be remembered that in Ukraine a mine was planted under Orthodoxy in the form of the Kiev Patriarchate church and political organisation, and today schismatics together with uniates and bandits from among nationalists don’t stop attacking the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, trying to sever by all means the link between the Ukrainian people and the maternal Russian Orthodox Church.

Fortunately, there isn’t a “Belarusian Patriarchate”. But the flirting of officials of the Belarusian exarchate with those who hate the Russian world and Belarus in it is extremely dangerous: this will directly lead to the same results like in Ukraine.

“We aren’t afraid of the implementation of the ‘Ukrainian scenario’ in Belarus. We somehow differ from Ukrainians and we will never allow the situation that took place in Ukraine,” said the head of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei in an interview with Euronews. Possibly, he believes that Belarus will manage to balance itself between Russia and the West – softly, carefully, and slowly changing its course.

But the proposed conditions are such that nothing in the world happens softly, carefully, and slowly.

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