Questions of identity

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Questions of identity

Belarus appeared on the map of Europe as an independent country in 1991 when the republics of the Soviet Union became independent following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The dissolution was not a single-step process. The Belavezha Accords signed on December 8, 1991 in Belavezhskaya Pushcha by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus marked the process end. De jure, the Republic of Belarus adopted the Declaration on State Sovereignty on July 27, 1990 but the dissolution process lasted more than a year for the ex-Soviet republics. This process was bloodless for Belarus.

The newly independent country preserved some features of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Although the country adopted new national symbols, its legitimacy drew heavily upon the Soviet past.

Being a part of the Soviet Union, Belarus was at the same time a member of the United Nations, and therefore enjoyed certain international recognition. Later, the reception of the Soviet political heritage would be decisive in the development of the political system, making it easy to revive the traditions of the authoritarian rule.

The newly democratic Belarus was forming its statehood in 1991 – 1995 also on the basis of its pre-Soviet history. Ideologically (and for many political parties) the new country was not the heiress of the Soviet Belarus, but the heiress of the Belarusian People’s Republic, the first Belarusian national country which had briefly existed during World War I.

Differences in views among today’s political forces were predetermined by these differences in views about origins of Belarusian statehood. The incumbent President and his devotees develop Belarus following the continuity of the Soviet past and the history of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, for which the Victory-over-Nazism mythologema is the cornerstone.

Democratic opposition supporters place a priority on the traditions of the Belarusian People’s Republic. March 25, the day when the Belarusian People’s Republic was declared, is considered to be Freedom Day (Dzen Voli) – an unofficial holiday for the Belarusian democratic community and a day for traditional mass demonstrations.

It is the antagonism of these two traditions that determines a breach between the authoritarian rule and the opposition. At the same time, both the authoritarian rule devotees and democracy supporters do homage to the older sources of the Belarusian nation creation, meaning the mediaeval Grand Duchy of Lithuania which is considered to be a Belarusian country, the cradle of Belarusian national identity in Belarusian history textbooks.

Yury Chaussov, political scientist

Author: Handbook on Belarus for International journalists