Authorities use Soviet ideology to justify Belarus’ independence

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April 22, 2016 19:01

When justifying the origins of Belarus’ statehood, the Belarusian authorities automatically refer to Soviet ideological constructs. However, they have slightly altered the interpretation of the Soviet paradigm by underscoring how the Soviets contributed to Belarus becoming an independent state. But as there are radically opposing views on this matter and virtually no ongoing public dialogue, Belarusian society is not ready to revise Belarus’ role in the Soviet era.

On November 7th, President Lukashenko congratulated the nation on a historical holiday - the October Revolution Day. Belarus is the only country in the post-Soviet world that still officially celebrates this Soviet holiday.

It is worth noting that throughout Belarus, bar a few exceptions, communist era monuments and memorials to communist activists can be found, and streets in major cities are generously named after Soviet ‘heroes’. Almost every Belarusian city has Lenin, Marx, Engels, Communist, and Soviet streets, as well as thousands of monuments to prominent Soviet figures. About 70% of monuments in Belarus commemorate Lenin and his deeds and only 9% are of historical and cultural value. In addition, there are Stalin monuments: the "Stalin Line" near Minsk and one 15 km away from the Belarus-EU border in Svislach, a small town, which was erected in 2000 at the discretion of local Communists. In 2009, communists in Minsk started fundraising for a monument to Joseph Stalin in the city. However, the Minsk authorities were not very keen on this initiative and it was abandoned. 

On November 1st, Minsk hosted the 35th Congress of the Union of Communist Parties - Communist Party of the Soviet Union with the participation of Communist Party delegates and guests from all over the post-Soviet world. Interestingly, President Lukashenko sent his greetings to the Congress participants, underscoring the importance of fighting “for justice and equal opportunities, a peaceful life, and nations’ right to self-determination”. 

President Lukashenko positively assessed the deeds of the Soviet State founders, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. In the past, the Belarusian authorities have attempted to depoliticise and strip November 7th of ideological bias. When interpreting the meaning of this holiday, the Belarusian authorities emphasise the positive impact of this historical fact for the Belarusian State. For example, in his speech on November 7th, Lukashenko highlighted the significance of this holiday for the national revival of the peoples in the Russian Empire: “there is no doubt that the events of October 1917 changed the fate of the huge country and created the conditions for the national revival of its inhabitants, as well as for nations to realise their right to self-determination”.

In addition, President Lukashenko offered a new interpretation of this holiday: "This day must be preserved as the day of an interim report to the people. I do not advise politicising this holiday, we should rather think about the practical aspects – building new bridges, houses, enterprises. This is the main point that we make with the celebration”.

However, Belarusian society has mixed feelings about the November 7th celebrations. Currently, there are two political parties in Belarus which follow communist ideology – the pro-governmental Communist Party of Belarus (CPB) and the opposition Leftist Party ‘Fair World’. The CPB (unlike the Fair World Party) is represented in Parliament (six seats) and in the local Councils (320 local Deputies) and its members occupy high positions in the local executive authorities.

In addition, there are several public initiatives and projects in Belarus whose goal is to de-communise and de-sovietise Belarusian society. The Belarusian authorities neither help nor hinder their activities.

In the near future, the Belarusian authorities will not consider starting the process of de-sovietisation in society or stripping the state ideology of its Soviet legacy. The Belarusian leadership will, however, continue to adapt the Soviet ideological legacy in order to justify the origins of the Belarusian statehood.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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