Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Belarusians, Russians Aren’t Cousins Let Alone Brothers, New Book Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 8 – Even as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka promote between their two governments, a new book argues that “Russians and Belarusians are in no way brothers. Indeed, they are not even cousins” and adds that they have had very different histories and will experience very different fates.
The book, “The History of Imperial Relations” Belarusians and Russians,” was written by Anatoly Taras and published in 150 copies by the Posokh Book Club in Smolensk. But its content is reaching a far larger audience through an interview Taras has given to the Internet newspaper “Salidarnasts” (
In it, the Belarusian author argues that the Belarusians are very different than “their Eastern neighbors historically, culturally and even genetically and that it is completely incorrect to speak about the Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians as if they were “fraternal peoples.” There are not but rather “three absolutely different ethnic communities.”
“The Russians,” Taras says, “are a people who were formed on the basis of Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples. And the Russian language … is an artificial tongue … [which] arose on the basis of Finnish words (the word Moskva translates from Finnish as ‘black water’) and Turkic ones (for example, Karamzin, Sumarovokov and Kutuzov are Tatar family names.”
“Look at that Putin,” the Belarusian author says, “externally, that is anthropologically he is 100 percent a Finn!”
The Belarusians in contrast, he continues, are Balts who mixed with Slavs and migrated as a result of pressure by German tribes from the banks of the Elbe,” while “the Ukrainians are descendents of Iranian-language Sarmathian tribes who were subjected to the influences of the southern Slavs.”
But these anthropological and linguistic differences continue in the separate histories of the three countries, Taras argues. “The entire history of the Moscow state is the history of uninterrupted expansion, 800 years of constant aggression.” Regimes have changed periodically, “but the essence {of its policies] have not!”
Belarus and Ukraine have had very different histories, in large measure because they have been subjected to the imperial policies of Russia, he says.
Asked why he had published the book in Smolensk, a city within the boundaries of the Russian Federation, rather than in Minsk, the Belarusian author said that he had not been able to interest “a single commercial publishing house” in the Belarusian capital but hoped that its publication in a limited print run would spark someone’s interest.
More to the point, he said, Smolensk is not a Russian city as the interviewer’s question implied. “From times immemorial, Smolensk is a Belarusian land, where there live Belarusians whom the Moscow powers that be consider Russian even though far from all contemporary Smolensk residents would agree. This is our [Belarusian] land.”
And asked why he had chosen to publish his book in Russian rather than Belarusian, Taras replied that “those citizens of Belarus whom one can include among the nationally conscious in principle do not need what is in this book. They to a greater or lesser degree know everything that is in it.”
This book, Taras continued, “is for others,” both inside Belarus and in all “14 countries of the former Union” for whom “the problem of imperial relations continues to be relevant to this day.” And it would be a good thing, he concluded, if some in the Russian Federation would become “acquainted” with it as well.
But he said that trying to argue with Russians who think differently on these issues “is something totally hopeless” because “they are simply blinded by the consciousness of what they believe is their own greatness, however illusory” that is in the eyes of anyone else. And he added that this problem is greater now in the wake of Russia’s attack on Georgia.
“Thanks to the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Taras said, “a powerful wave of national patriotism, or more precisely chauvinism, has arisen in Russia.” He noted that an acquaintance of his had recently been told by a Russian militiaman: You Belarusians “always were our slaves, and that’s how you will remain!”
And another acquaintance told him that a Moscow publisher had said that Belarusians and all the other non-Russians should “kiss” the hand of Russians “for all that we have done for them” and that in the future “we will put them in their place, and things will be for them just as they are for Georgia now.”
But if Russia is able to throw its weight around now, Taras said, it won’t be much longer. And he predicted that as a result of “social cataclysms,” Russia would break into a group of small principalities in about ten years. Over the same period, Belarus will become more European as it overcomes the Belarusian variant of “Homo Sovieticus.”
As a result, the Belarusian author said, he is quite pessimistic about the future of Russia and the Russians but moderately optimistic about that of Belarus and the Belarusians.
Obviously not all Belarusians share the views of Taras, but his words are a useful, even timely reminder that many Belarusians do not share the attitudes of Lukashenka’s regime or dismiss their country and its culture, as many in both Moscow and the West do as byproducts of Russian history that are fated to be “reabsorbed.”

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