Ryhor Astapenia: The West should help Belarusans to build their own distinct world




The West should help Belarusans to build their own distinct world, Ryhor Astapenia says

The dominance of Russian culture hampers Belarusan nation-building, a process that further inhibits the nation’s democratisation.

On 31 January the director of the National Book Chamber of Belarus claimed that the Belarusan publishers printed eight times more books in Russian than in Belarusan in 2013. This data illustrates well the position that Russian culture occupies in Belarus.

Russian products dominate the cultural and media space. Belarusans prefer to surf Russian websites like mail.ru and to watch Russian TV series like The Real Guys more than their Belarusan or Western equivalents.

Russian cultures dominance hampers Belarusan nation-building, a process that further inhibits the nation’s democratisation. To promote the development of Belarusan society the West could support Belarusan culture, media, and science more than it does at present.

Success of Russian culture in Belarus

In 2013 Belarusan publishers printed 31 million books, with the share of books in Belarusan constituting about 10%. Over the same period, books printed in Russian-language accounted for the absolute majority of books in the country with 82.5% of the total market.

This results from Belarusans’ weak national identity and the russification policy pursued by Lukashenka`s regime. National identity remains the core of the democratic movement, so the authorities deliberately marginalise the Belarusan language. As Lukashenka said in 1994 “it is impossible to express anything great in the Belarusan language. Belarusan language is an improvised language.”

Russian culture in Belarus remains more popular than Belarusan. Weak financial condition of the Belarusan show-business worsens the situation. Belarus just does not have enough money for the production of mass culture, so Russian movies and TV series remain popular among Belarusans.

Most popular TV series in the Hrodna region according to the search on yandex.by in October 2013.

Position TV Series Country
1 The Real Guys (Realnyje pacany) Russia
2 The Vampire Diaries USA
3 Kitchen (Kuchnia) Russia
4 University (Univer) Russia
5 Karpov Russia

The Belarusan music industry feels its inferiority alongside its Russian neighbours. Many artists dream to find a producer in Moscow and become popular in Russia.

Max Korzh, a Belarusan artist, formerly rapped in Belarusan, but later started to perform in Russian and quickly became popular. His concerts bring together many people in Belarus, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union. The famous Belarusan band Lyapis Trubeckoy is soon releasing its new album entitled “Matrioshka”, a cultural item usually associated with Russia.

Russian influence on Belarusan media space

Russian-language editions dominate Belarusan public spaces. According to Gemius, the research agency, only two Belarusan sites are in the top ten most popular Internet sites in Belarus.

The most popular Internet pages in Belarus

Position Web site Description Country Reach of
the Belarusan audience
1 Mail.ru E-postal service, information portal Russia 64.44 %
2 Google.com Search engine USA 59.77 %
3 Yandex.by Search engine Russia 53.50 %
4 Vk.com Social network Russia 51.90 %
5 Tut.by Postal service, information portal Belarus 43.43 %
6 Youtube.com Video hosting USA 40.52 %
7 ru.wikipedia.org Internet encyclopaedia USA 33.69 %
8 Odnoklassniki.ru Social network Russia 31.75 %
9 Onliner.by Information portal Belarus 28.22 %
10 Facebook.com Social network USA 20.54 %

Source: Gemius Russia & Belarus (online research agency)

The popularity of Russian web sites shows that Belarus still lives in close association with Russia. Russian-language media sits alone at the top of news and information sources. On the one hand it shows that the Belarusan language remains unpopular among Belarusans, but on the other hand it shows that the Belarusan-language media need more investment.

Belarusan Russian-language should not be viewed as agents of the Kremlin. For example, Tut.by maintains independent views and positions on a number of items. They chose to use Russian because of the market demand, not because they have a particular desire to do so.

Creating a similar rating for newspapers does not make sense, as the Belarusan authorities force public enterprises to subscribe to newspapers. As a result, many Belarusan printed newspapers remain unread.

Belarusans watch Russian television more than Belarusan, as Russian television offers better and more attractive programmes. Russian television, though, remains highly dependent on the Kremlin and has long been a tool of Russian foreign policy. On the eve of the presidential election in 2010 Russian NTV aired a series of documentaries entitled (in English) The Godfather, which showed the cruelty of Lukashenka`s regime.

Belarusans do not trust the domestic public media, but they still believe its Russian counterpart. As a result, Belarusans often share a Russian propagandistic point of view on the events such as Euromaidan in Ukraine or the Russian invasion of Georgia.

Living in a Russian world

Belarusans’ addiction to Russian cultural and media is in large part responsible for the nation’s political dependence on Russia and the geopolitical situation in Belarus. According to Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga of the Centre for Eastern Studies in Poland Belarus is the only country in the Commonwealth of the Independent States, which has no office of “Russian world” – a cultural centre that promotes Russian culture. It seems that the Kremlin sees Belarus as culturally dependent, so Russian officials see no point in opening such an office.

Russian and Soviet historiography are actively fighting with their Belarusan counterparts.  Given their sheer size and volume, it should not be much a surprise that they are winning.  The names of Belarusan streets often have Russian names and statues of Lenin still stand in almost every Belarusan city. About 65 monuments to Lenin remain in Belarus.

It remains cheaper for Belarusans to buy Russian cultural products than to produce their own

It remains cheaper for Belarusans to buy Russian cultural products than to produce their own. To put it in other terms, Russian culture looks more attractive to the majority of Belarusans, and its media can offer news with a more professional appearance in a shorter period of time.

Many Belarusans, Russians and Westerners look at Belarus through Russia`s glasses, a fact that only deepens the crisis of the young nation. The democratisation of Belarus does not always mean a political struggle.

Today, the West can assign more resources to the development of Belarusan language media, as well as Belarusan scholarship and culture. Projects contributing to the development of the Belarusan language should be a priority.

Democratisation in Belarus means more than a political choice. In many ways it is also a civilizational choice. To contribute to the promotion of democracy in Belarus the West can support more cultural events like Language or Coffee (Mova ci kava) or educational projects aimed not only at pro-democratic Belarusans.

The West should help Belarusans to build their own distinct world.

Originally published at BelarusDigest

Categories: Зьнешнія адносіны, Нацыя Беларусы

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