Marharyta Fabrykant is a Senior Lecturer in data analysis and cross-cultural research at the Belarusian State University, Minsk, and a Research Fellow at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. Her research interests are nationalism, national identity, and national history narratives, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe. She authored and co-authored three books and a number of articles, including, among the most recent ones: Fabrykant, M. and Buhr, R., 2016. Small state imperialism: the place of empire in contemporary nationalist discourse. Nations and Nationalism, 22(1); Fabrykant M., Magun V. ‘Grounded and Normative Dimensions of National Pride in Comparative Perspective’, in: Dynamics of National Identity: Media and Societal Factors of What We Are / Ed. by P. Schmidt, J. Grimm, L. Huddy, J. Seethaler. L. : Routledge, 2016.
Russian-Speaking Belarusian Nationalism: Footing the Bill of a “Costly Signal”
Ethnolinguistic identity has come to stand for an apparently indivisible core of any past-oriented nationalist discourse. The present study, however, shows how this alleged monolith can be split along the lines separating the national language from the rest of what is usually constructed as cultural heritage. It examines a case of Belarus, where the Belarusian language in less than a decade changed its role in the nationalist discourse from a shibboleth defining ‘true Belarusians’ to an obstacle to nation-building. The study focuses on the conclusions drawn by the contemporary Belarusian nationalists from the defeat of the early post-Soviet nationalist movement. The movement’s failure to gain public support got attributed to their attempts to impose Belarusian as a language of everyday use on the predominantly Russian-speaking population. The tactics of translating Belarusian nationalist propaganda into Russian marginalized the earlier romantic national-democratic version of Belarusian nationalism in favour of an ultra-pragmatic and ultra-conservative alternative. This geopolitical turn, originally prompted by the choice of the Russian language and largely inspired by the imported ideas of Russian neo-Conservatives, especially neo-Eurasianists, paradoxically turned anti-Russian. Its national history narrative presented Belarusians as a Russian-speaking part of the European civilization and contrasted them to non-European Russians. The case of Belarus shows how the ideas of the Russian world backfired by creating its opponents not solely among the proponents of modernization, but even among fellow neo-Conservatives. It also sheds a new light on the recent conservative turn in some Eastern European states towards a traditionalist notion of Europeanness in contrast to the contemporary European institutions. At a more abstract level, the study reveals some of the possible causes and consequences of a split between language and other parts of ethnolinguistic national identity.