Journal of Belarusian Studies 2015: History of the Belarus-Poland-Lithuania Borderland
The 2015 issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies released today is almost entirely about history. It focuses on the Belarusian-Polish-Lithuanian borderland and the period stretching from the uprising of 1863 to the inter-war period of the 20th century when the territory of today’s Belarus was split between the Soviet Union and Poland.
Two longer articles are followed by several essays which resulted from a conference held by the Anglo-Belarusian Society and other London-based organisations at University College London in March 2014.
The issue opens with an analysis of humour as a weapon of the political forces in Eastern Poland, what is now West Belarus, in the interwar period. The article, by Anastasija Astapava from the University of Tartu in Estonia, explains the historical context of the 1920s and how various political groups were struggling for the minds of Belarusians by ridiculing political realities of that time. Rare pictures from interwar periodicals richly illustrate the article.
Felix Ackermann, a DAAD Associate Professor at the European Humanities University in Vilnius, devotes his article to the Lukiškės prison in Vilnius. The prison was a hotbed of political struggle in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It was a place of detention for scores of Belarusians, Lithuanians, Poles and other activists fighting for their causes in multi-ethnic Vilnius at that time. It was the only prison in the Russian Empire to incorporate Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Jewish places of worship at the heart of its infrastructure.
Kastuś Kalinoŭski Conference Proceedings
The subsequent four shorter articles resulted from the Kastuś Kalinoŭski and the Nation-Building Process in Belarus conference, which brought together over a dozen of scholars from Belarus, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Poland. Kastuś Kalinoŭski is a national hero of Belarus who led the 1863–1864 uprising against tsarist Russia.
Aliaksandr Smaliančuk, a Belarusian historian from Hrodna who is currently affiliated with the Polish Academy of Sciences, analyses the research problems which historians face when they tackle the historical role of Kastuś Kalinoŭski in Belarusian nation building. He argues that Kalinoŭski should not be seen as a creator or even a bearer of the Belarusian national idea but instead as a link in the gradual evolution of the Lithuanian idea in the ‘Belarusian direction’.
Dorota Michaluk from the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Po- land analyses the Polish-language clandestine press published under the patronage of Kastuś Kalinoŭski around the time of the uprising against the tsarist authorities in 1863–1864. One of her findings is that the periodicals did not promote the idea of separatism of in Lithuania and Belarus but instead called for national unity and the restoration of the whole of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Uladzislaŭ Ivanoŭ from the European Humanities University in Lithuania looks at the role of Belarusian old Believers in the Kalinoŭski uprising. Old believers were a Christian Orthodox sect who refused to accept church reforms in Russia in the 17th century and who after being persecuted settled in the territory of Belarus. The author shows how the old believers tried to reconcile their ‘Russianness’ with their ‘Belarusianness’.
Andruś Unučak, Head of the Department of Belarusian Statehood at the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, focuses on the image of Kalinoŭski in the official discourse of Soviet Belarus. According to the official line of the Belarusian Communist Party, Kalinoŭski supported a federation with Russia while the Belarusian intelligentsia tried to use the image of Kalinoŭski to strengthen Belarusian national consciousness.
This issue also includes the transcript of the first Annual London Lecture on Belarusian Studies, which was hosted by the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies of University College London in March 2015. Per Anders Rudling from the University of Lund in Sweden tracks the development of the Belarusian national idea from the 18th century to modern day Belarus.
The issue also includes two book reviews – one by Stephen Hall examining the meaning of Europe for the Belarusian and Ukrainian authorities, and the other by Siarhej Bohdan looking at relations between various ethnic groups in Eastern Poland in the inter-war period, which is now Western Belarus. Brian Bennett, Chairman of the Anglo-Belarusian Society and a former British Ambassador to Belarus prepared an overview of activities of the Anglo-Belarusian Society in 2014.
Fr Alexander Nadson
On 15 April 2015 Fr Alexander Nadson, a spiritual leader of the Belarusian diaspora in the West, a member of the Advisory Board of the Journal of Belarusian Studies and a former chairman of the Anglo-Belarusian Society passed away in London. Fr Alexander left a legacy of not only religious texts and translations but also books and articles on various aspects of Belarusian studies.
Fr Alexander authored the first article in the first issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies on the writings of St. Cyril of Turaŭ in 1965 and since 1973 served on its editorial board. His last article in the Journal was published in 2013. Jim Dingley’s obituary and a bibliography of his works in English concludes this issue of the Journal of Belarusian Studies.
How Belarus Disappointed Russia in Ukraine and Syria
Minsk consistently avoids supporting Moscow in Ukraine and Syria. To put it mildly. After all, on 7 December, Ukrainian Internal Minister Avakov inaugurated the new Ukrainian armoured vehicle Varta designed in cooperation with "Belarusian engineers".
It became just one more of a series of examples of Belarus-Ukrainian defence cooperation. Later on, the Belarusian Defence Ministry denied claims that it supported Russia's position in the latter's dispute with Turkey.
Belarus risks estranging its Russian ally, but not because it wants to earn extra money in Ukraine or from conservative Arab regimes. Minsk strives to improve relations with Russia's opponents because the Kremlin has shown itself willing to make radical foreign policy moves.
Kremlin Trash: Belarusian arms for ISIS
Last week, Russian propaganda outlet Eurasia Daily published a commentary with the eloquent title "Belarusian 'Neutrality' is Hypocrisy on Spilled Blood." It summarised a series of articles in which experts close to the Kremlin accused Belarus of anti-Russian policies in Ukraine and Syria.
When prominent Russian experts criticise Minsk in half a dozen articles on Eurasia Daily it means that the Kremlin wants its Belarusian partner to understand the seriousness of the accusations. The leading expert on Belarus at the Institute for Studies of CIS Countries, Alexander Fadeev, pointed out that Belarus supplied Ukraine with fuel, dual-use goods and components for arms systems. He emphasised that Minsk did it not only for economic but also political reasons: in other words, to improve relations with the West.
Lukashenka not only earns money in Ukraine but also says to the West: “I am yours, don't stage a Maidan in Belarus” Read more
On 11 December, a Russian political analyst working at the prestigious Higher School of Economics called Andrei Suzdaltsev developed this idea further. According to him, Lukashenka not only earns money in Ukraine but also says to the West: “I am yours, don't stage a Maidan in Belarus”.
Russian political commentator Evgeny Satanovski earlier accused Belarus of working with Turkey and Qatar against Russia in the Middle East. Now he has taken his criticism of Minsk to the extreme. According to him, while previously Russia's opponents in the Middle East – Qatar and UAE – purchased arms for ISIS in Serbia and North Korea, now they do it mostly in Minsk. Satanovski underlined, “They [ISIS] are going to use these weapons. Whether it will be against us [Russians], Syrians, Iranians or civilians whom they murder is a secondary question.”
Cooperation with Ukraine: impossible to hide
Ridiculous accusations of Belarus selling weapons to ISIS will not fool anybody. In fact, it is Belarusian policy in Ukraine and not Syria which enrages Moscow. And evidence of Belarus-Ukrainian cooperation abounds. A year ago it seemed that Belarus might merely take advantage of the situation to earn some money supplying Ukraine with war materials. Now, almost two years into the Donbas war, Minsk continues to cooperate with Kyiv, proving that this collaboration is part of Belarus' longer-term strategy in the region.
Kyiv-based journalist Ihor Tyshkevich has recently published in Khvylia a new investigative overview of Belarus-Ukrainian cooperation. He believes that this year Belarusian firms could earn about $90-$100m from military-relevant deals (without fuel) in Ukraine.
Something of this business is evident, like the rise of Belarus' share in the Ukrainian aircraft fuel market from 0% before the war to 45%, or statistical data on bilateral trade which show transfers of numerous goods for probable military use.
Indeed, while in 2014 Belarus sold Ukraine $5m worth of aircraft, in the first half of 2015 this figure rose to $14.4m. In 2015, Kyiv bought from Belarus special trucks worth $1.7m, i.e., the respective export rose by 210% compared with 2014.
Many possible indicators of cooperation lack direct evidence, yet look convincing. For example, Tyshkevich points out that the Ukrainian army has started to receive large quantities of the new anti-tank missile system Stugna. Ukraine produces only the missile used in this system, while the rest is delivered by Minsk-based firm Peleng.
Why Minsk risks working with Kyiv
The statistics show that though Belarus has earned some money from these transactions, this alone is not enough to be worth the risks which these Ukrainian deals pose to Belarus-Russian relations. Minsk is not looking for money.
Minsk strives to maintain and improve relations with opponents of Moscow in the region and beyond (first of all the EU) Read more
The Russian experts quoted above got it right: politics determines the behaviour of Belarusian government. First of all, Minsk strives to maintain and improve relations with opponents of Moscow in the region and beyond (first of all the EU) because the developments in Crimea and the Donbas have profoundly shocked it. It is not sure that something of this kind could not happen in Belarus and is looking everywhere for partners who would help prevent or, if necessary resist, such an eventuality.
At the same time, Belarus has reached the limits of its cooperation with Russia as set by the Kremlin. In the field of military industrial cooperation, Minsk has suffered numerous disappointments. For instance, its plans to establish jointly with Russia an assembly production of aircraft in Belarus in the early 2010s ended with nothing.
Earlier, in the late 2000s, Belarus negotiated with the Kremlin even more far-reaching plans for producing top defence products in Belarus. Among them were short-range ballistic missile systems (Iskander), surface-to-air missile systems (Tor) and launchers for mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (Topol). To no avail, too.
Ukraine gives Belarus military technologies
For some of these opportunities Minsk then publicly turned to China, and more discreetly to Ukraine, especially after Crimea. Interestingly, the Belarusian general Piatro Rahazheuski who had negotiated with Moscow possible Belarusian participation in producing Iskanders and Tors later on opted to work with Ukrainians.
This former Deputy Defence Minister of Belarus and later Deputy Chairman of the State Military Industrial Committee is now the director of the Belarusian office of the Ukrainian Motor Sich Company. Motor Sich has given Belarus something Russia denied: the Ukrainian company established a helicopters repair facility in Orsha and plans to extend it.
Ukraine helps Belarus with expertise and technology, not only concerning aviation but also tanks and missiles Read more
Tyshkevich asserts that Ukraine helps Belarus with expertise and technology, not only concerning aviation but also tanks and missiles. Russian scholar Suzdaltsev on Eurasia Daily agrees: "Lukashenka is trying to get from Ukraine the arms which Russia – taking into account the not very trusting relations between Minsk and Moscow – cannot give him."
Tyshkevich and Suzdaltsev assume that Ukrainians might have participated in designing the Belarusian Palanez multiple launch rocket system. Officially a Belarus-Chinese product, Palanez shoots further than the Chinese WS-2 and WS-3 systems which presumably served as prototypes for Palanez. Since its first public demonstration in May, the media have speculated about Ukrainian (and Russian) involvement in designing this weapon.
All in all, Belarus' contacts with the Ukrainian and Arab regimes opposing Russia cannot be dismissed as the opportunistic pursuit of easy money. Minsk dislikes the policies of the current Russian government which threaten to redraw international borders. Moreover, it has realised that the Kremlin takes its alliance with Belarus for granted and does not deal with it as a partner.