- Scholarly Conference in Warsaw-
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Belarusian Review

Belarusians Abroad

Belarus’ Return to Europe
- Scholarly Conference in Warsaw-

This conference was held in Warsaw on November 12-14, 2010. Its full title was: ”Returning to Europe; Belarus’ Past and Future.” It was organized by the Institute of Civic Space and Public Policy at the Lazarski University of Warsaw, Poland, and co-financed by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation , the Open Society Institute, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Experts from Belarus as well as from foreign countries ( USA, Germany, Canada, Poland) have gathered in order to discuss Belarus’ current problems that either directly or indirectly affect the process of its return to Europe. The organizers have divided the event into the theoretical and practical parts. The first one included four panels, dedicated to the topics of historical perception of the Belarusian nation in eyes of others, to the issue of historical amnesia, various views on Belarus’ history, as well as to the problems of education.

The titles and topics of individual panels indicated that the issue of return depends not only on internal factors ( national identity built on Soviet legitimacy; the education deficit, due mainly to the historical amnesia, as well as the absence of a single conceptual state-promoted view on history), but also on external factors — perception of Belarusians by others, treatment of the Belarusian historiography by others, and problems due to the domination of positions held by neighbors, especially by Poland and Russia.

Questions have also been raised concerning the changing ways of teaching history during the 20 years of Belarus’ independence ( Astrouskaya), associated images of people’s enemies, which create a passive attitude toward a given situation ( Smalyanchuk). Special attention was paid to using the Great Patriotic War ( Second World War) in forming ideals and values of today’s Belarusian youth ( Marples, Shybieka), and the intentional ommission of other factors associated with these periods — repression (Kastalyan), or the activists of the Belarusian nationalism ( Smalyanchuk). On the next day all participants were divided into individual groups/sections, designed to work out practical solutions of existing problems. The proposed section on the connection with European history and society has not evoked enough interest, and was cancelled.

I personally participated in the section that analyzed the perspectives of cooperation between Belarusian and European historians. Unfortunately, participants of this sections have not managed to find understanding in the matter of translating the works of our historians into basic foreign languages. Rather, it was being stressed that the Belarusian historiography and historians must prove that they are worthy of being considered by their foreign colleagues, and therefore translation of their works does not seem to be worthwhile... Additionally, the section emphasized the lacking knowledge of foreign languages by Belarusian historians, absence or limited contacts with foreign institutions — primarily with universities and research centers, a narrow specialization of contacts, mostly based on the research of the Second World War.

Despite its fairly skeptical and pessimistic attitude toward the current state of our historiography, in my opinion, the conference was generally successful, since, first of all, it gathered a great number of experts interested in returning Belarus to the European family of nations, and has indicated understanding of the existing problems and willingness to solve them.

Hanna Vasilevich is a PhD student at Metropolitan University in Prague, Czech Republic.

This article appeared in
Belarusian Review, Vol. 22, No. 4
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Copyright 2010 Belarusian Review
All rights reserved.

Hanna Vasilevich

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