Is Belarus less European than France?

During one of the many protest rallies against rigged elections in Minsk, Belarus. Photo:tut.by 

Op-ed

Article by: Pierre Scordia
Source: Form-idea
Edited by: Yuri Zoria

History repeats itself; after Ukraine comes Belarus! A popular movement for freedom, democracy and the end of the corrupt post-soviet system arises, and once again we have the superhero, Vlada (Putin) who has taken it upon himself to back the dictator, serving the interests of Great Russia[1]. Meanwhile, a number of French politicians and experts are shamelessly indulging themselves in surprising prejudices.

1. According to some analysts, Russian support for the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko remains cautious. Financial assistance in the form of loans is minimal. The sum of US$ 1.5 billion (representing a tenth of what was given to the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych) will be mainly used to pay back Belarusian debt to Russia. The relationship between Putin and Lukashenko is complex and the two men don’t think highly of each other. Lukashenko failed to keep his word regarding the Union signed by the two countries on December 9th, 1999 and moved closer to the European Union during the so-called “Ukrainian crisis”, a is no more than a Russian invasion. Besides, Belarus has never recognized the annexation of Crimea nor auto proclaimed republics backed by Moscow (Transnistria in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia). Furthermore, the Belarusian government actively supported a peace agreement in neighboring Ukraine.

The gold medal is undoubtedly held by the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, who declared that Belarus was not Europe, and negotiations with Putin would take into account the nature of Belarus. Unsurprisingly, this statement does not sit well with Poland and the Baltic States. Small wonder that the French can be perceived as unbearable among their European partners; arrogance can be taken just a step too far.

Even in well-respected French TV programs, it is not uncommon to hear a Parisian political scientist or expert saying that Belarussian identity is basically artificial, or that there is only a tiny difference between Belarussians and Russians. This demonstrates a poor knowledge of the history of Eastern European peoples and scant understanding of recent developments in their societies; we heard the same nonsense during the dramatic events in Ukraine from 2014 to 2017. Despite being Russian-speaking, Ukrainians from Southern Ukraine are intensely proud of being Ukrainian; for example, Odesa and Dnipro have remained loyal to the government in Kyiv and have wholeheartedly embraced European values.

Therefore, it is quite legitimate to pose the following questions: “What makes France more European than Belarus? Or Belarus less European than France? History? Culture? Population? Geography? Alphabet? Let’s consider each in turn.

History

It is undeniable that France has played a central role in European history. Along with Spain and England, it was one of the first three modern European kingdoms to take shape, while Belarus lacked stable borders and was basically stripped of independent status and forcibly incorporated into large princedoms, kingdoms and empires: The Great Duchy of Lithuania, Poland, Austria, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. The inhabitants of this area have been identified through history as Rus (a mixture of Scandinavians and Slavs), then Litvins, Ruthenians, White Ruthenians, White Russians to eventually coming to be known as Belarusians.

An introduction to the White-Red-White flag of Belarus, and the Belarusian politics of memory

States and Culture

It was not until March 25th 1918 that the first Belarusian Republic was created. As with its neighbor Ukraine, the Belarusian independent state lasted only several months and the following year was incorporated by the Bolsheviks into the Soviet Union as a Soviet Republic. Belarusians had to wait for the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 to regain their sovereignty. Like the Russians, Belarusians in the East experienced absolute monarchy under the tsars, Leninism, Stalinism, the post-war apparatchiks’ regime but, unlike the Russians, their ancestors did not suffer for centuries from the Mongolian yoke, which left an indelible mark on the Russian political system. As for Western Belarusians, they partly escaped from Bolshevik totalitarianism and Stalinist purges because their land was under Polish administration during the inter-war period.

It is important to point out that Belarusians have been influenced (and still are today) by both Lithuanian and Polish cultures. For many centuries, Belarusians had been of Catholic or Greek Catholic faith; the first book published in Belarusian was a bible, in 1517. However, unlike Ukrainians, they failed to maintain their religion due to harsh restrictions under the tsarist regime.

Thus, Belarus has not been created from scratch by obscure bureaucrats – as happened recently with certain French regions such as Pays-de-la-Loire. Belarus (бела | ‘bela’ means ‘white’ in Belarusian) has centuries-old cultural roots with a history more along the lines of Finland or Belgium, although Belarusians remain more homogeneous than Belgians or Finns.

Populations

2. “The one and indivisible” French Republic forbids statistics on religion or ethnic origins, so that no form of distinction or discrimination between its citizens is possible (theoretically). Nevertheless, one thing people have noticed is that on Fridays French mosques are full of worshippers, while French Catholic churches remain almost empty on Sundays

If we defined Europe by its Indo-European settlements and by its Judeo-Christian culture, Belarus might actually be more European than a multicultural France whose most practiced religion may well be – according to some writers in Le Figaro –Sunni Islam[2], Catholicism being in free fall. Could it be that the European Union has effectively excluded Turkey because of its Muslim culture, although officially it has been secular for the last 75 years?

Geography

3. Brest (France) is located 1588km from Berlin while Brest in Belarus is only 776km away. As for the capitals, Berlin is located halfway between Paris and Minsk.
Geographically, Britain’s departure from the European Union places France somewhat on the periphery of Europe. Belarus would be closer to Mitteleuropa than France; Brest in France being twice as far from Berlin as Brest in Belarus[3].

The alphabet

Let’s now turn our attention to the remaining issue of the alphabet. Mr. Thierry Breton must certainly have thought the use of the Cyrillic alphabet reason enough to exclude Belarus from Europe and to doom Belarusians to Russian control forevermore. Serbs and Montenegrins are now tending to abandon Cyrillic letters for Latin script in order to move closer to the west. Bulgaria being an exception. Are we yet again witnessing a Roman victory over Byzantium?

Can we allow the imposition of a vassalage?

4. The Kremlin is already concerned with social unrest and discontent in Khabarovsk, in Eastern Russia. Any democratic movement within the two countries considered as “Slavic brothers” (Ukraine and Belarus) is seen as a threat to Putin’s regime. Ukrainian and Belarusian visitors or migrants could spread new ideas and western values in Russia. Democracy means in Moscow transparency, accountability, fight against corruption, civil liberties, women’s rights, and minority rights including LGBTI.
Unlike with Ukrainians, the Belarusian opposition, represented by three courageous young women, is not asking for association with the European Union. (If there hadn’t been massive fraud – there is even talk of a reversal of the election results – we would have seen a woman president, which has never yet happened in the entire history of France.) Belarusian citizens have demonstrated massively and peacefully every week for the democratic right to have their vote counted and validated. Surely each nation has the right to self-determination.

Excluding Belarus from Europe and abandoning this sovereign nation to a state of vassalage under an authoritarian and aggressive power [4] is despicable, especially from a leader representing a pan-European institution whose motto is “United in diversity.”

Each nation has the right to self-determination.

A French version of this article was published at formidea.com.

pierre

Pierre Scordia is a dual national French and Canadian Historian (MPhil, University of Nottingham). He has a strong interest in the media coverage of the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in France and Britain and published some work related to Maidan in different newspapers and magazines (Libération, Huffington Post, Euromaidan Press, Odesa National University Herald, etc). He had been a lecturer at University College London from 2007 to 2019 and now lives in the French Caribbean. He is the founder of the multilingual online magazine form-idea.com.


Further reading

Source: Form-idea
Edited by: Yuri Zoria

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