A crisis of Soviet Ukrainian identity
An interview with Victor Martinovich, a Belarusian political scientist and writer
Visegrad Insight: Are Belarusians interested in the experiences of Ukrainians at Maidan?
Victor Martinovich: Very much so. There is currently a lot of attention in Belarus on what happened in Kyiv; and probably out of misinformation or fear, it has only led to a rise in Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s rating. He has become very popular because of the events in Kyiv, as everyone in Belarus is afraid of the revolution and stagnation of power that we see on the Russian channels’ representation of what happened in Ukraine. So being here at the Ukraine: Thinking Together conference, listening to these people talking about Maidan, I’m receiving a different, deeper perspective. And the most important thing I’ve heard is that Ukraine is in the middle of a crisis of identity. It used to be the Soviet identity that glued Ukraine together; but after the crisis of Viktor Yanukovych, there’s been a crisis of Soviet Ukrainian identity, which explains why the east of Ukraine has started to detach itself from the rest of Ukraine. Ukrainians now have to build a new identity for themselves.
Do you think this is a lesson for Belarusians to follow?
We are very far away from Ukraine. However, this is a reason for us to think about our identity, because it’s quite obvious that our identity is extremely Sovietized. We have no identity except for the Soviet one. We have the structure of this identity such as myths that our history began with the October Revolution, and then succeeded with the Great Patriotic War. Everything in our identity is Sovietized. If we choose to get rid of this kind of identity, we will be destroyed and we will simply disappear. We, I mean the people of Belarus, need to think about revising our identity, restructuring it, and inventing a new identity for Belarusians.
Nevertheless, Belarusians do have the identity of Plosha in 2010, when the people of Belarus were on the streets and squares of Minsk. How would you compare the events in Belarus at that time with the experiences of Maidan?
It’s the same story but with a very different ending. There were only 5,000 Ukrainians on Maidan at the beginning. There were 40,000 people at the Belarusian Maidan on 19 December 2010 – a huge amount of people. However, when the first militia appeared, we just ran away, and the Ukrainian protestors on Maidan didn’t. And the thing to think over is this: why didn’t Ukrainians run away, but Belarusians did? This is the big difference between us. They were ready to get beaten and arrested, and even get killed for freedom. We were not. I don’t know why. Perhaps we are a nation of cowards? Although I don’t want to think like that. We have a very different history than the Ukrainians. All our national leaders and writers, the flowers of our nation, were killed on one night in 1937, and Ukrainians didn’t have this trauma. In addition, the nature of the regime is very different. We’ve had this regime for twenty years, while the Ukrainians had only had their regime for a few years. But the main question is why did we, Belarusians, run away, and why did Ukrainians stand? I can’t answer this question – I find it extremely disturbing.
Victor Martinovich is a political scientist with a PhD in art history, and professor at the European Humanities University in Vilnius. He is the author of four novels, two of them as yet unpublished. Paranoia, published in Russia at the end of 2009, was removed from sale in Belarus two days after it went on sale, and Taboo was selected for the Best European Fiction 2011 anthology (Dalkey Archive). Martinovich’s first novel was long-listed for The Jerzy Giedroyc Prize and in 2012 received the Bahdanovich Literary Award.