Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 229

Apart from military-strategic considerations, the effort to merge Belarus with Russia is being propelled by two convergent ideological streams: Soviet nostalgia and pan-Slavist or pan-Russian nationalism of Tsarist-era vintage. The former has some effect–albeit poorly quantified–on public opinion in both countries and has been widely noted. The latter is at work mainly in some establishment circles and not yet receiving due attention abroad.

On December 8, Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a confessed admirer of the Soviet system, paid his respects to the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Aleksy II, to collect the patriarch’s blessing on the Russia-Belarus Union. In a stunning revision of history, Lukashenka redefined the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as “the destruction of the unity of predominantly Orthodox peoples.” In responding, Aleksy commented that Belarus had been victimized by “all the Western invaders of Russia.” Previewing the Russia-Belarus union treaty, Aleksy accused the West generally of opposing the unification. “When the West is integrating, they say it is a natural process. But they are raising all the forces of Hell to stop two Orthodox peoples from unifying.”

Lukashenka’s reinterpretation of the events of December 1991 seems to be fully shared by the pan-Orthodox “Worldwide Assembly [“Sobor”] of the Russian People” and by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, one of the most senior clerics of the Russian Orthodox Church, long in charge of the Church’s foreign relations. Meeting in Moscow on December 7, the Assembly cabled Presidents Lukashenka and Boris Yeltsin to hail their unification effort as “the start of gathering together the sacred lands of the one and single fatherland.” Whether the fatherland under reference was the Soviet Union or Russian Empire was left unclear. But Kirill’s speech suggested that such a distinction may no longer be very relevant or topical. The Metropolitan hailed the “divinely ordained coincidence” that Yeltsin and Lukashenka were signing their treaty precisely on December 8, the anniversary of the 1991 agreements which had “pulled apart” the USSR.

On December 9, a meeting in Minsk of the International Slavic Committee resolved to call an All-Slavic Congress next July in the Belarusan capital. The chief Belarusan representative on the Committee is parliamentary deputy Syarhey Kastsyan, a close associate of Lukashenka. The Committee describes itself as the successor to the similarly named organization, founded in 1848 and which held a series of pan-Slavic congresses during the second half of the nineteenth century. Last year, an all-Slavic Congress hosted by russophile circles in Prague elected Lukashenka as honorary chairman of the International Slavic Committee.

Also on December 9, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, predicted that Ukraine will eventually join the Russia-Belarus Union because “Great Russians, Little Russians and Belarusans are constituent parts of one and the same Russian people, which has been divided artificially.” Zyuganov’s use of the terms Great Russians and Little Russians [Velikorosy, Malorosy], instead of Russians and Ukrainians faithfully reflects the Tsarist-era’s official doctrine, which denied those three peoples’ distinctive national identities of Ukrainians and Belarusans (Itar-Tass, December 4, 7-9; see the Monitor, February 11, March 9, April 1).

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