What they consistently evince smacks of victim’s arrogance, a phenomenon well-known in social psychology. This malaise is considerably aggravating a situation created largely by external actors – Russia and the West – further jeopardizing Belarus’s statehood.
Just recently, a curious debate took place between two veterans of the Belarus Service of Radio Liberty. Valer Karbalevich
lamented that Belarus-in-exile and Lukashenka’s Belarus at home are like two different civilizations. The cream of the crop of the Belarusian nation has left the country, so the diaspora has become the pivotal factor in preserving Belarusian identity and the “civilizational code of the nation.” As for Lukashenka’s Belarus, it is rapidly turning into a Russian province. This message was not to the liking of Karbalevich’s colleague Siarhei Navumchik
. He replied that though Belarusians are indeed divided, it is not the state border that separates them. First, many “writers, artists, actors, musicians, not to mention scientists” remain in Belarus. “Many of them are devoted to Belarusian national values and will never agree to be sucked into the ‘Russian world.’” Second and most important, according to Navumchik, “only a small fraction of Belarusians, whether at home or abroad, are nationally conscious… What distinguishes the Belarusian diaspora from the Ukrainian or Polish one... is that the absolute majority (according to my estimates – up to 90%) of Belarusians living abroad are indifferent to actual Belarusian national life, to cultural values nurtured either in the diaspora or in Belarus itself... I was informed of the names of famous people who, having been in London for quite some time, did not show any interest in the Belarusian center formed around the Skaryna Library [GI: the only library outside Belarus to collect exclusively in the field of Belarusian studies]... On the other hand, [GI: upon visiting Belarus] in 2019, I found myself to be the only visitor in a store in the center of Vitebsk, where hundreds of products with white-red-white symbols [GI: the colors of the national flag that was official from 1992 to 1995] were freely sold, I stood alone there for half an hour. So, to me this is undeniable: the diaspora is a spitting image of the country itself.”
Let it sink in: Navumchik deems 90% of Belarusians nationally unfit, as they do not have the right outlook.
After the December 2022 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo – one of the awardees being Ales Bialiatsky – Dmitri Gurnevich
of Radio Liberty acknowledged that “Belarusians are not interested in Bialiatsky’s award.” Too few Belarusians watched the speech of Bialiatsky’s wife (on YouTube), who received the award for her jailed husband. “Complain as much as you want about the world at large that does not evince curiosity about the fate of Belarus, but it will not get curious unless, and until, Belarusians themselves become interested in Belarusian heroes,” concluded Gurnevich.
Gurnevich and Navumchik might be even more distraught if they looked at recent polling of urban Belarusians conducted by the Belarus Change Tracker
, an entity whose members are reputable opposition-minded analysts, now all in exile. According to one online survey, 61.7% trust the Belarusian government, up from 53.9% and 53.7% in May and August 2022, respectively. The analysts concede that such an upward swing can be attributed to “the fear factor” while stilling concluding that “it is difficult to ignore the trend of growing support for the authorities
.” Moreover, according to another survey, the so-called “sviadomyya” (“the aware”), the traditional code name of Belarusian Westernizers, account for just 14% of adult Belarusians. Forty-nine percent of Belarusians believe they are part of a three-pronged East Slavic nation (of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians), whereas 47% believe Belarusians are a separate people. Almost 45% support integration with Russia, whereas 36% do not.Three important qualifications seem to be in order. First, the very availability of a Russo-centric outlook among Belarusians is attributable to geography and recent history, as well as the fact that Belarusian identity is still a work in progress. Second, Russo-centrism among Belarusians has deep roots and boasts of a lineage no less glorious than that central to the worldview of the Westernizers. Suffice it to mention such giants as Mikhail Koyalovich (1828-91), a philosopher and one of the founders of the school of thought known as West-Russism, and Evfimy Karski (1860-1931), Belarus’s greatest linguist of all time. Third,