Mikalai and Aliaksandr Lukashenka at "Slavianski Bazaar". A shot of STV Channel
Why Internet-meme and “funny and miserable mustached man” is as legitimate as the “dangerous dictator” Putin? Why do souvenirs from Belarus shock Russians? A look on our country & Ukraine from Moscow.
A Muscovite, who isn’t brainwashed, is a mere luck. When you meet that kind of person not at the Bolotnaya Square or in social networks, but in reality is double luck. We met each other at the 5th International Congress of Belarusan Studies in Kaunas.
Denis Mironov took part in the scientific panel “History of Belarus of late 19-early 20th century”. It turned out that he is a scientist from the former Institute of Marxism-Leninism under the Central Committee of the CPSU, the former citadel of communism, which is now known under the name of the Center of social and political history of the Russia State Public Historical Library.
The researcher applies to the press of 1920-1930s (which was taken to Moscow from Belarus after the war in abundance) and is a post-graduate student of the public administration faculty at the Moscow State University.
- Denis, what has inspired a Muscovite to go to Lithuania for the Congress of Belarusan Studies?
- Our archive contains interesting materials that reflect Moscow’s politics towards Belarus - both Eastern (BSSR), as well as Western. The documents were collected for analysis and research. After the World War II the Institute of Marxism-Leninism turned into the main collection of post-war materials that, let’s be honest, were mostly taken from Belarus. That’s why we have a lot of interesting – for Belarusian researchers, too – collections.
I study unique newspapers that cannot be found in Belarus. These are communist papers of the Western Belarus (i.e. Polish) and Eastern Belarus, as well as non-communist – for example, of Christian Democratic parties and everyday papers, such as “Woman-worker and woman-farmer”. Belarus’ archives don’t have that.
But if researchers from Belarus are our frequent guests, for some reason Belarusans are not. We have a developed source, so please come, take, and study!
- What is the flow of Ukrainians and complete negligence on the part of Belarusian researchers connected with?
- First of all, clearly, now we observe strong manifestation of Ukrainian self-consciousness, which is interesting not only from the Ukraine’s perspective, but also from Russia’s one, too: if we divert from politics, Ukrainian studies in Russia are very developed and interesting for people.
Whereas Belarus seems to be somewhat forgotten. It isn’t perceived as a political player in our country; besides, imperialistic pathos that spreads to the countries of the former USSR is strong in Russia today: these countries are rejected in a separate history and mentality. I am facing it all the time.
On the other hand, even in the Soviet Union back in 20-30s active Belarusization was taking place; many Minsk newspapers of 1921 were printed in Russian, while those of 1924-1925 – in Belarusian. It proves that even the USSR had a certain policy towards the nations, which, I believe, can at least serve as a starting point in Russia-Belarus relations.
- What do your friends say about the Russia-Ukraine conflict?
- It is a very hard question, since people that I communicate with are absolutely different. Unfortunately, we still cannot overcome the imperialistic pathos. It sounds really strange, but many people really believe that there exists unhappy, intimidated Russian-speaking population in Ukraine. On the one hand, it is, of course, heated by the news.
On the other hand, if we look in the textbooks on history, our western borders “break”, they are absolutely unexplored – both in the Russia of the 19th century as well as in the USSR period. If Russians were aiming at studying the history of their neighbors, their opinion would have been more conscious. Everything should go from below.
But nowadays people are not interested in it; they perceive neither Belarus nor Ukraine as independent states. And often it’s very unpleasant for me to hear their statements because I love Belarus very much and often visit Minsk and Hrodna. Belarus is a country that I enjoy staying in despite the political perepetia. People, who are related to Ukraine, probably, feel the same. And for the majority that doesn’t leave their own city and has low, horizontal mobility, Belarus and Ukraine are countries from the news.
- Do you manage to make the opponents change their minds in discussions about Ukraine?
- I’m not aiming at entering the discussions at the primitive level, but in professional sphere I do. At the Political History Department at the Moscow State University we discuss Ukraine-related topics. Anyway, I’m always trying to explain the humanitarian moment: any a lean compromise is better than a war.
- How do your colleagues at the department evaluate Kremlin’s policy towards Ukraine?
- They are absolutely professionally and clearly saying that all these are political games with cold calculation. There is always a cohort of people who look at the situation sensibly and calmly. Of course, propaganda is directed at public at large and, mostly, uneducated. The research of the Levada-Center demonstrates that mostly poorly educated and underprovided people in rural area watch TV.
In professional area – at least, in humanitarian and historical – people often have sensible and tough stance (unless they are convinced communists). But it doesn’t mean that they fully support Ukraine.
- Is there a ban for Moscow historians and political scientists to give non-propaganda publications and commentaries for mass media re Ukraine?
- Vice versa, we are always ready to talk about Ukraine! We have a lot of conferences and programs on Ukraine. Of course, it all happens with the imperialistic pathos, but with the opposition opinions, too – they need someone to throw stones at!
Commentaries on TV are a separate subject for discussion: TV shows “experts” that do not completely reflect scientific potential that Russia has. Unfortunately, people who speak by Kremlin’s order do not publish any good books, so I don’t know their names. I don’t watch TV; but if I see a person who is talking about Ukraine on TV, I immediately turn it off.
Most researchers, if they are real specialists, are rarely present at the modern Russian TV. All broadcasting is given to PR-experts. Unfortunately, since Soviet times Russia lost its cult of science, so an opinion of a scientist on TV is not important for people. We have Dmitry Kiselev, and everyone believes him.
- Please, give an evaluation of the political figure of Belarus President.
- He is a great mower! Together with Gérard Depardieu (laughs). In our country Lukashenka isn’t perceived as a political figure, since, again, Belarus is not perceived as a separate state.
Few years ago I hears the news of the Union State on the air of "Radio Mayak". It came to me as a shock! What is it – “Union State”? When I started visiting Belarus, I got to know that there is such an entertainment.
Lukashenka is rather a meme. There is, for example, a public group in the social network “VKontakte” called “Tea with raspberry jam”. Our youth mostly knows Lukashenka from it.
It is even, probably, impossible to formulate, who Lukashenka is in Russia. The fact that you have a different political life is a revelation for the majority of Russians. For example, when I bring souvenirs from Belarus (with the white-red-white flag), people are shocked: what is it and why did you bring this? They don’t know anything about the Belarus’ history separate from Russia.
These are absolutely terrible historical gaps, taking into account that Belarus has been a part of the Russian empire for more than 100 years and in the USSR after that. Grand Duchy of Lithuania is a discovery, even though they know a bit about a wicked Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that wanted to take all authority. That’s it.
Coming back to Lukashenka, well, he doesn’t make a “proper” dictator, in comparison to Putin or Kaddafi. Just a mustached man, so funny and miserable that I cannot call him a leader.
- Well, then draw a verbal political portrait of Putin-dictator.
- It’s very hard to describe Putin. My personal attitude towards him is deeply negative. But as a historian, I see Putin as a strong and tough figure. He is dangerous. And that danger (real, not imagery!) strongly keeps Russia, as well as the majority of post-Soviet countries in his hands. I cannot but admit it even from my opposition side. He is a leader with a very negative, black evaluation.
For now his regime is staying alive; but let’s see what happens next. It makes no sense to make prognoses, because the word “multiway” in Putin’s plan doesn’t exist in futile. And that doesn’t make it easier.
- Since we have started to talk about the presidents of our states, let me ask about Petro Poroshenko – a comparatively new figure at the international arena.
- Since I was studying in late 90s-early 2000s, I have been taught that Ukraine is a separate country. Poroshenko for me is just a president of a separate country. Most likely I am in the Russian minority, but I can say neither bad no good things about him. He is just like, for example, Lithuanian president for me – just a regular president; a political legitimate figure.
Though (even if it sounds horrible) Lukashenka and Putin are also legitimate, and not only in social polls. They are legitimate in the heads of the people. That’s why it is unclear for me why they draw themselves votes at the elections – they would win anyway.
- Do you have information about other presidential candidates apart from Lukashenka?
- Yes, I saw them. But the only alternative to him is, I believe, the revival of the Belarusan self-consciousness and Belarusan language that I am starting to learn now, too.
If Belarus is “Belarusizated” it will have a chance. If it rejects its own language and Russian will be the only one then, I’m afraid, you’ll get Lukashenka’s kids after Lukashenka – how many does he have?..