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Belarusians vs Lytvyns: Ukrainian scenario for Minsk

The continuous crisis in Ukraine makes it clear that two political nations live in that post-Soviet republic: Russians and Ukrainians. Moreover, Russians can have Ukrainian surnames and the vice versa. This has nothing to do with ethnicity. What matters here is political affiliation. For instance, Natalia Poklonskaya (a Lugansk-born former prosecutor of Crimea) and Nadezhda Savchenko (a Ukrainian pilot, politician) have similar origin, but for one of them Nikolay II is a hero, while for the other Stepan Bandera.

The situation in Belarus is similar but the division of society into two nations – Belarusians and Lithuanians – is not so evident. Belarusians consider themselves as part of the Russian world/all-Russian civilization/Russian people etc. They speak Russian and believe they originate from the Ancient Russia. In the meantime, Lithuanians deny their Russianness imagining themselves as part of the “Western world” trying to speak Belarusian and believe they originate from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Rzeczpospolita.

Ethnonym “Belarusians” originates from all-Russian triad – Great Russians-Little Russians-Belarusians – of the Russian Empire. The radical “Rus” annoyed local nationalists from the very beginning, so they tried to rename Belarusians into Krivichs and later into Lytvyns (all the nationals of the Great Duchy of Lithuania were called so irrespective of their ethnic origin). The last attempt to carry out an overall “Lithuanization”was taken by supporters of independence immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, even then an overwhelming majority of the citizens in the Republic of Belarus preferred to keep their originally Russian name – Belarusians.

Making sure that it is impossible to force Lithuanian identity upon all residents of the White Russia, the “concerned” nationals agreed upon the following formula: Lytvyns are the ancestors of BelArusians (the conjunctive <a> that is impossible in Russian literary language would give the all-Russian ethnonym a piece of independence, as they thought). Therefore, Lytvyns can be called also “BelArusians” contrasting them with BelOrusians (the conjunctive <o> used in literary Russian language).

Numerical ratio of the Russian BelOrusans and Lytvyn-BelArusians can be determined approximately by the following data. According to the public opinion poll conducted by the Vilnius-based Independent Institute of Social, Political and Economic Studies, two-third of Belarusians say that Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians are three branches of the same people, while 27.1% say these are three different peoples. According to Interior Minister of Belarus Igor Shunevich, two-third of the citizens of Belarus who fought in the territory of Novorossiya fought on the side of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and one-third – on the side of Ukrainian raiders. Actually, Belarusians having all-Russian views make up the majority of the population in Belarus. However, the number of Lytvyns is big enough, though many Russian experts do not think so.

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Political views of Belarusians and Lytvyns differ on two major issues: geopolitical orientation of Belarus and the status of the Russian language. Belarusians advocate for a union with Russia and free use of the Russian language, while Lytvyns are for joining EU and forceful “Belarusization” of the language.

Political antagonism between Belarusians and Lytvyns is softening thanks to President Alexander Lukashenko’s policy “all things to all peoples.” On the one hand, Belarus participates in all Russian-initiated integration projects, one the other hand, it keeps drifting towards the West. One of the hand, the Russian language has a status of the state language in Belarus, on the other hand, the country is experiencing gradual “Belarusization.”

Yet, Belarusians and Lytvyins clash regularly. In February 2015, mass media reported an incident in Baranovichi: during a wedding party, some of the guests spoke the “native language” prompting negative response of the others. The sides got to blows. In July, in the ExpoBel market in Minsk, activists of the pro-Western organization “Young Front” clashed with Belarusians after the phrase “We are Russians and this is our land.”

In our opinion, after change of political leadership in Belarus, the conflict “Belarusians vs. Lytvyns” will escalate. This will happen irrespective of whether an oppositionist or Lukashenko’s successor will come to power. Hypothetically, either the current opposition or the incumbent president’s successor will be committed to the policy of Lytvyns against the will of the Belarusian majority.

The anti-Russian policy of the opposition is evident, while many (especially in Russia) cherish inadmissible illusions with “Lukashenko’s team.” In fact, Lukashenko is the only nominally pro-Russian politician in the top echelons of power in Belarus. His entire team (Lukashenko formed it on his own) has pro-Western orientation. Such scheme is very comfortable when asking cheap energy resources and non-repayable loans from Moscow. “I am alone for Russia here, care for me. Otherwise, the pro-Western forces will come to power,” Lukashenko hints.

The problem is that no one except pro-Western forces will come to power in Belarus. At present, Lukashenko’s most probable successor is Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei. Yet in 2013, Makei said Belarus might join the EU in the near future. Furthermore, during his latest visit to Poland, he expressed a desire to get rid of the “high dependence on Russia.” How will the Belarusian majority respond to such policy of the Lytvyn president? Extremely negatively, indeed.

At the current moment, the supporters of the all-Russian unity in Belarus have neither political nor even public institutions to protect their interests. If situation aggravates, Belarusians will appear helpless before Lytvyns backed by a branched network of western NGOs. Today, like during the reign of Lithuanian Duchy and the Kingdom of –Poland in White Russia, the only hope of Belarusians is the support of the fraternal Great Russia. The Russian Federation should pay attention to the Belarusian majority that manifests itself a stabilizing factor in the west of the Russian world. Otherwise, Belarus may split into two nations and face the Ukrainian scenario where the Ukrainian political nation destroys the Russian one in every sense of the word.

Kirill Averyanov-Minsky

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