Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

"Hybrid" Linguistic Identity of Post-Soviet Belarus

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

"Hybrid" Linguistic Identity of Post-Soviet Belarus

Article excerpt

1. Nationalizing strategy: towards a sovereign state

The issue of Belarusian language politics can be analysed across two different dimensions: as an element of nation-building strategy in post-Soviet Belarus; and as part of linguistic human rights discourse, which refers to legal, moral as well as emotional aspects of current Belarusian language legislation and practice. These two aspects of the language issue have become closely inter-related and mutually dependent. The choice of language in daily use in Belarus is often perceived as a political declaration, with Russian viewed as the official language of culture and politics, and Belarusian as the language of the political and cultural opposition. This close association came about as a result of the events that took place on the eve of the country gaining independence. Since the early 1990s, the politics of national language in Belarus has been highly politicized and polarized. Belarusian was viewed as a powerful resource of national and political mobilization by national activists in the 1990s, and a language policy was designed to enforce "Belarusization"-an essential element of the nationalizing strategy of the newly independent state.

In Belarus, as in many post-Soviet countries, the national revival was an indivisible part of the complex process of becoming a sovereign state, and of trying to overcome the legacy of totalitarianism and socialist ideology after the fall of the Soviet Union. The introduction of a national ideology as a leading principle of political, social and cultural life in post-Soviet states was considered a "natural" reaction to the failure of the Soviet state and ideology. It provided a framework for new identities, which were desperately needed after the loss of old ideological references (Hall, 1995: 86-88). Nationalism equipped the new nation states with a way of distancing themselves from the old ideological system of values, and national identity was in many cases the only positive reference point which people had at their disposal, when most traditional points of social identification had been dismantled (Salecl, 1996: 418). National issues increased in importance partly because they were, as Katherine Verdery points out, the only organizational forms that were already present and had an institutional history (Verdery, 1996: 85). Nationalism enabled the peoples of Eastern Europe to manage the social disorientation that had arisen at the moment of the old system's collapse. As Miroslav Hroch writes, 'The basic pre-condition of all national movements-yesterday and today-is a deep crisis of the old order, with the breakdown of its legitimacy, and of the values and sentiments that sustained it' (1996: 75). Nationalism had a certain therapeutic function and its outburst was connected to the demand for a new basis for shaping collective self-consciousness at the threshold of creating a new democratic system. One of the driving ideas of the national revival in post-communist countries, according to Hroch, was "building" capitalism, 'the completion of the social structure of the nation by creating a capitalist class corresponding to that of Western states' (Hroch, 1996: 70). In his work on the origins of linguistic nationalism in the Czech national movement, Hroch also stressed that the linguistic demands of Czech nationalists in the nineteenth century acquired a new meaning, centred on the role of language as an instrument of civil equality. Political mobilization required some national "markers", which would be easily understood by the lower strata of society. According to Hroch, language was one such instrument of political mobilization (2005: 23).

All of these social, political and economic aspects of Eastern European nationalism were merged in the Belarusian national movement. At the beginning of the society's systemic transformation, national ideology constituted part of the symbolic capital that became the basis of a strategy of change. …

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