Быў аб’яўлены шорт-лiст прэмii даследчыкаў Беларусі ў трох намінацыях: сацыяльныя навукі (палітычныя навукі, сацыялогія), гуманітарныя навукі (філасофія, філалогія, лінгвістыка, мастацтвазнаўства), гісторыя. З намiнантамi можна пазнаёмiцца па спасылцы: “Палітычнная Сфера.” Рэдакцыя часопiса “The Bridge-MOCT” запыталася пра важнасць i дыскурсiўную знакавасць гэтай падзеi для развiцця беларусiстыкi i соцыя-гуманiтарнай веды на Беларусi ў Дэвiда Марплза, выбiтнага прафесара Универсiтэта Альберты i знанага даследчыка ў галіне беларусазнаўства.
THE CONGRESS AWARD AND
THE STATE OF BELARUSIAN STUDIES
The field of Belarusian studies is a growing one, but it has not yet attained the status of its neighbors Russia and Ukraine of becoming a familiar or a widely studied topic. The International Congress in Belarusian Studies award focuses on the social sciences, humanities, and history and highlights the work of promising new and established scholars in a wide variety of subjects that together will enhance knowledge and understanding of a country that has existed as an independent state for almost 22 years, or approximately one entire generation. Generally, however, those outside Belarus are largely unfamiliar with the humanities and social sciences in Belarus. Many perceive Belarus from two perspectives: a country that suffered heavy fallout from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986; and subsequently as the “last dictatorship in Europe” under its longtime and indeed only president, Aliaksandr Lukashenka who has ruled for 18 of the 22 years of independence.
On 1 July, Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union. The eastern borderland of that union comprises both Belarus and Ukraine, who logically should be the next candidates. But it seems fair to say that these former Soviet republics face a more difficult route to the EU than those that were formerly designated (not entirely accurately) in the West as “Eastern Europe” behind the Iron Curtain. Within the country, the pursuit of a subject like history, the one with which I am most familiar, is fundamental in understanding why Belarus has reached its current situation, which might be summarized as a highly authoritarian state, run on a patrimonial basis. Historians are hampered by the state’s own intrusions into the past to formulate a correct and an incorrect (or revisionist) version of events. The history of Belarus is simplified, propagandized, and, not least, distorted. It is difficult even to study history as an academic discipline from any kind of rational perspective. Sometimes it is even dangerous to do so.
But it is not only within Belarus that such problems occur. Outside the country too, there is general ignorance of many facets of its past, its culture, literature, music, and language. Western studies for years were dominated by the shadow of the Cold War. Focus at western universities was primarily on Russia (in the US media, the Soviet Union was actually referred to as Russia), and if the republics were studied at all, it was largely in a Russian context, mainly because this was how the professors themselves had been trained. I recall the difficulties in my own experience—a PhD on Ukraine after World War II—of finding a Ukrainian language class in the UK. Belarusian studies were and remain even more marginalized, though the situation is better than it was 20 years ago. Yet one still overhears misleading and often absurd statements about Belarus, even at academic conferences. And some scholars continue to perceive Belarus as part of a Great Russia, with few distinctions between its people and Russians, in the traditional Soviet pattern of a “little brother” relationship. In short, while Belarus is better known internationally than perhaps ever before, it has a long way to go before it becomes familiar to Europeans and North Americans.
The Congress Award takes one step toward rectifying this situation. Understanding a country—its language, culture, and history—is fundamental in two ways. It helps to remove Belarus from the exclusively Soviet or neo-Soviet dimension in which it is largely perceived; and it draws closer its inhabitants and those who live in the “neighborhood,” not only in Russia, but also in the European Union and elsewhere. In these respects its value can hardly be overestimated.
David R. Marples, Distinguished University Professor, Department of History & Classics, University of Alberta, Director of Stasiuk Program for the Study Contemporary Ukraine, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, President of North American Association for Belarusian Studies (NAABS).