“The Mobilisation of Middle Ages” as a Search for Identity: How Belarus Wants to Leave Behind the Historical Heritage of the Russian Empire and the USSR

Alexander Filyushkin

Abstract


This article studies the issue of Belarusian national identity and its historical benchmarks: this became especially meaningful after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, which led to the establishment of new states. Belarus became the youngest country of the post-Soviet space. In an attempt to overcome the imperial spiritual and cultural legacy, Belarus’s national thought focused on a search for “the country’s own Middle Ages”. The Middle Ages represent the starting point of historical memory, the foundation for all the basic features of national sovereignty. It is in that epoch when the myths concerning the origo gentis, i.e. the rise of the first state and the beginnings of the first ruling dynasty, are to be found. And it is in those times when the first national heroes and saints lived, and when the country laid the foundations of its relations with neighbouring countries and peoples. The period shapes specific features of the country’s culture and determines the main trends of its historical development. For Belarus, the origo gentis lies in the representation of Polotsk Rus’ as Ancient Belarus, the discourse of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as the first Belarusian state, various concepts of medieval White Rus’ (Alba Ruscia) as a specific cultural, civilisational, and contact area, the concept of Belarus as “a shield of Europe” protecting it against the onslaught from the East, etc. The turn to mediaeval images and ideals meant to build the present-day nation and overcome the imperial situation has proved efficient. Nowadays the image of mediaeval Belarus as a predecessor of the present-day Republic of Belarus is not only an image or an intellectual historiographical construct, but a constant of national identity.


Keywords


identity; Middle Ages; Belarus; Polotsk Principality; Grand Duchy of Lithuania; Russian Empire.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2017.2.239

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