National identity: state policy & public opinion

Reprinted from Belarusian Yearbook-2019

2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of the independence of the Belarusian People's Republic. In the same year the first volume of the History of Belarusian Statehood was published, a number of events dedicated to the problems of national identity were held. Both at the level of state policy and at the level of public opinion, however, there is uncertainty about the role of the BPR. The commitment to the Soviet heritage, coupled with attempts to revise some of its elements, remains, and the consensus on the identification function of the Belarusian language is consolidated.

Photo: DW

Trends:

• The trend of ‘soft Belarusization’ continues in state policy: strengthening the national identity by promoting the idea of the “long history” of the Belarusian statehood and cultivating the identification role of the Belarusian language;

• At the level of public opinion there is an increase in pro-Soviet sentiments;

• There is a trend towards Belarusian-centric understanding of the Soviet heritage – both at the level of state policy and at the level of public opinion;

• The perception of the BPR moves from the “I assess negatively” to “I don't know”, and this also applies both to public opinion and state policy.

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Public opinion in Belarus is relatively rarely studied for its attitude to certain elements of national identity. But in 2018, as many as two sociological services – the Belarusian analytical workshop (BAW) and MIA Research – in the framework of national surveys asked respondents a number of questions on identity, in particular about the historical narrative, national symbols and the Belarusian language. As a result, we obtained enough data to be able to update our knowledge about the formation of consensus among the Belarusians on their national identity.

The article first presents the background events of 2018, which could have an impact on public opinion and would allow getting an idea of the state policy in the field of identity. Then the results of sociological surveys on three aspects of national identity will be discussed: the BPR, the Soviet heritage and the Belarusian language. Finally, conclusions will be made about current trends and forecasts for the future.

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