Ostrogorski Centre Launches 2014 Issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies
On 27 June the Ostrogorski Centre launched the latest issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies during a gathering of the Belarus Research Council in Vilnius. Additionally, Ryhor Astapenia presented the Centre's Belarus Profile project to Belarusian researchers - an online directory of influential people in Belarus.
The Belarus Research Council (BRC) is an umbrella organisation that facilitates the development of independent analytical think tanks in Belarus. Established in 2012, BRC is a loose network of Belarusian think tanks, polling agencies and donors supporting social science research in Belarus.
The Ostrogrski Centre, formerly known as the Centre for Transition Studies, presented its first project under its new name. Named after a Belarus-born political science scholar and historian Moisei Ostrogorski (1854-1921), the Centre seeks to bring together Western-educated scholars and journalists living in Belarus and elsewhere in Europe.
In addition to Belarus Digest and the Journal of Belarusian Studies, the Centre's projects also include Belarus Profile, an online directory of influential people in Belarus and the CIS Arbitration Forum, a platform devoted to dispute resolution in former members of the Soviet Union.
The Belarusian independent TV channel Belsat called it one of the most promising analytical centres in its coverage of the meeting of the Belarus Research Council.
New Issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies
The Journal of Belarusian Studies is the oldest peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to Belarusian studies. Since 1965 it has been published in London in English and Belarusian.
The 2014 issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies features articles covering a range of topics - from the history of Belarusian statehood to relations between Belarus and Iran, and the activities of government-organised NGOs in Belarus.
Per Rudling of Lund University and Dorota Michaluk of Nicolas Copernicus University open the issue with a study of the development of the idea of a Belarusian state during the German occupation of Belarusian lands in 1915-1919.
They observe that the German administration regarded Belarusian nationalism as a useful political commodity which they supported as a counterweight to other regional nationalisms. They note how historical Lithuanian and Western Rus’ ideas of statehood dominated the minds of Belarusian intellectuals at the time.
Furthermore, they demonstrate that the establishment of the Soviet Belarusian Republic appears to have been directly tied to and dependent on the 25 March 1918 proclamation of the founding of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR), without which it seems plausible to argue that the Bolshevik leadership would have simply adjoined Belarusian lands to Soviet Russia.
Siarhei Bohdan of the Freie Universität Berlin analyses relations between Belarus and Iran, ties which have undergone a series of quantitative and qualitative changes since their establishment in 1993. The rise of the United States as the world's sole super-power and its efforts to try isolate the Iranian regime has had an important impact on Belarus-Iran relations.
Belarus has managed to reach a number of deals with Iran despite the West's opposition thanks, in large part, to its alliance with Russia, who has defended and supported Belarusian foreign policy in many directions, including its move into the Middle East.
He concludes that the pattern of relations with Iran demonstrate the flexibility of the current Belarusian leadership, who are more interested in seeking out beneficial outcomes for itself rather than a regime trying to challenge the existing international order in any serious manner.
Anastasiya Matchanka focuses on the role of ‘pro-government non-governmental organisations’ in Belarus. Unlike genuine independent non-governmental organisations, government-backed NGOs work with direct support from the state.
The article looks at the extent to which the activities of pro-democratic organisations are copied by government-backed entities as well as to what degree the substitution of authentic civil society with government-organised non-governmental organisations takes place in Belarus.
She concludes that under the conditions of a repressive and consolidated authoritarian regime, reinforced by a weak civil society, substitution leads to distorted perceptions of civil society and NGOs.
This issue also features a book review by Vitaut Kipel of Living with a Scent of Danger: Adventures at the Fall of Communism. Arnold McMillin reviews 100 Words About Contemporary Belarusian Literature, while Lizaveta Kasmach looks at Soviet Belarusiasation on the Path to Nationhood and Ryhor Astapenia reviews The History of the Great Duchy of Lithuania: Belarus’ Medieval Origins.
Jim Dingley, the former Chairman of the Anglo-Belarusian Society, gave his account of Belarusian events organised recently in London, including a conference which brought together scholars from Belarus, the United Kingdom, Poland and Lithuania.
Publication of this issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies coincides with the arrival of Brian Bennett, the former UK Ambassador to Belarus, as the new Chairman of the Anglo-Belarusian Society.
Pictures from the launch organised at the Belarus Research Council meeting are available at ostrogorski.org.