MINELRES: Fwd: Anti-Semitism as an Integral Component of Soviet Belarusian Nationalism and Pan-Eastern Slavism

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Wed Aug 9 09:47:09 2006

Original sender: Ionas Aurelian Rus <rus@polisci.rutgers.edu>



RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 31, 20 August
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional
Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team


When Western scholars and journalists have written about post-Soviet
developments, they have tended to present them in two ways. Firstly,
they have used Soviet-era and Russian views of "nationalism" where this
notion is only associated with non-Russians and is of an exclusive,
ethnic variety. Secondly, Russian and Soviet nationalism in the
non-Russian republics is ignored. The only "nationalism" written about
in Ukraine and Belarus is therefore that of the "nationalist Rukh,"
"nationalist West Ukrainians," and the "nationalist Belarusian Popular

This type of analysis provides a narrow, incorrect, and lopsided view of
post-Soviet developments in republics such as Belarus (and Ukraine).
Nationalism appears in a variety of guises and can be sometimes "good"
and often "bad." In the case of Belarus and Ukraine, this standard
framework defines only a pro-Western orientation as "nationalist." In
itself, this is dubious as extreme-right nationalists and fascists in
Western and Central Europe are anti-EU and anti-American, and by default
therefore anti-NATO. Such hostility to the U.S., EU, and NATO is only
found among Alyaksandr Lukashenka's supporters and his
nationalist-communist allies in Russia.

Belarus is a good case study of why this definition of nationalism
should be broadened to include other types. Lukashenka was elected
president in July 1994 and re-elected in a dubious election in September
2001. His regime is described as "the last dictatorship in Europe" and
has developed an ideology that is a curious combination of Soviet
Belarusian territorial nationalism, Soviet internationalism, and
pan-Eastern Slavism. Lukashenka's ally inside Belarus is the
state-favored Russian Orthodox Church which has a long tradition of
anti-Semitism and pan-Eastern Slavism. Lukashenka's ideology rejects
Belarusian language and culture (as did pan-Slavists and Soviet
internationalists) and has no place for Belarusian indigenous Orthodox
and Catholic churches. Lukashenka's ideology is propagated by the state
through television, education, and organized political activities - just
as in the USSR.

All three of the currents within Lukashenka's ideology are "nationalist"
even though there is tension between them. For example, pan-Eastern
Slavism has its origins in the pre-Soviet era and would agree to
Russia's proposals for Belarus to join Russia as provinces. Lukashenka
has always rejected such an idea as "unacceptable to Belarus" and his
rhetoric in defense of his country's sovereignty sometimes sounds as
strong as that of his "nationalist" opponents. The main difference
between them is that Lukashenka is pro-Russian, anti-Western, and
anti-Polish, while national democrats are the exact opposite.

Where Lukashenka differs from his "nationalist" opponents is in his
anti-Semitism. National democrats in Belarus (and Ukraine) have no
record of anti-Semitism and indeed Ukrainian and Jewish prisoners of
conscience were close allies in the Soviet Gulag. In contrast,
Lukashenka's anti-Semitism draws on a deep legacy found in all three
variants of his ruling ideology. Pan-Eastern Slavism has a long record
of anti-Semitism, which at its extreme created the infamous "Black
Hundred" pogromists. In the former USSR, "anti-Zionism" was merely
camouflage for anti-Semitism. Soviet Belarus was a leading incubator of
"anti-Zionist" propaganda.

Not surprisingly, anti-Semitism flourishes under the Lukashenka regime.
Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka complained: "The
Lukashenka regime has revived the institution of state ideology, which
is a mixture of communism, xenophobia, and pan-Slavic chauvinism. The
practice of anti-Semitism has been restored in Belarus; the branches of
the Russian National Unity (RNO), which were expelled from Russia, feel
themselves at ease under the patronage of the regime." Cooperation
between the fascist RNO and pro-Lukashenka political groups reflects the
kind of company the Belarusian leader likes to keep.

In 2000 the World Association of Belarusian Jewry and the Belarusian
Human Rights Center Vyasna appealed to the Israeli government to refuse
to have any dealings with Lukashenka, whom they accused of being
anti-Semitic. They alleged that Lukashenka had refused to set up Jewish
schools, or help maintain Jewish cemeteries and monuments and create
memorials to victims of the Nazi Holocaust. In July demonstrators in
Minsk demanded the reconstruction of a synagogue - built in 1879, closed
in the 1930s, and then reopened in the 1990s - that was destroyed last
year. Yakov Gutman, head of the World Association of Belarusian Jewry,
compared its destruction to that of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan
also last year.

This anti-Semitism in Belarus is very different to neighboring Ukraine,
where synagogues and cemeteries have been widely rebuilt, including in
Kyiv and at the birthplace of the founder of the Hassidic movement in
Uman. A monument to the Babyn Yar massacre of mainly Jews in Kyiv was
opened by President Leonid Kravchuk in 1992. Not surprisingly,
Lukashenka has rejected charges made this month by the Union of Jewish
Public Organizations and Communities that "anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi
actions have acquired a massive scale in Belarus" after vandals
desecrated Jewish graves at two cemeteries in Minsk.

The long tradition of anti-Semitism in the Russian Orthodox Church sits
snugly alongside Lukashenka's ideology. The new law on religion adopted
in June gives the Russian Orthodox Church the status of the state church
in Belarus, a move which has been condemned by Belarusian Uniates and
Autocephalous Orthodox as well as Protestant churches as discriminatory.
In 2000 the leader of the Jewish community in Belarus sued the Minsk
publishing house Orthodox Initiative "for fomenting ethnic hatred" after
it had published "The War According to the Laws of Meanness" which
collected together anti-Semitic articles from the Tsarist (including the
infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion") and Soviet Belarusian media.

The introduction to this book calls upon Belarusians to reject both the
West and the "Jew-Masons who have occupied Russia." Again, this is a
favorite theme of Lukashenka who (like Russian nationalists and
communists) remains convinced that Russian reforms have lost Russia its
sovereignty. As early as 1997, Lukashenka offered Russia advice that it
"should make an effort to employ our model of reform as soon as
possible. We are showing Russia how an economy should be reformed, with
a view to Russia's mistakes." In June 2002, Lukashenka admitted that he
was in favor of Belarus going to Europe. But he refused to pay the same
"price" that Russia had paid in this endeavor.

A Minsk district court rejected the libel suit filed by Jewish
organizations against the publisher of the Orthodox Initiative book.
"There is nothing surprising in this court's decision given the fact
that the [Belarusian] president has publicly eulogized Hitler," Gutman
said. Soviet and pan-Eastern Slavic nationalism and its close ally,
anti-Semitism, officially flourish in Lukashenka's Belarus. (Taras

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