For a researcher like myself Belarus is definitely a unique country. It has two official languages, Belarusian and Russian. However, the latter one enjoys the privileged position. It also has also two flags, the red-and-green official one, and the other, red-white-red recognised by the political opposition.
Yes, divisions may appear in every society. They mean rather a normal thing – people differ, therefore, their world views differ, too.
However, it seems that political views often determine what, when and with whom to celebrate even the beginnings of the Belarusian statehood. That can be either on 25 March, 7 July or 27 July. We could go on and on.
It all gives you an impression that you are living in a certain reality but actually you realize there are a few realities. They are competing with each other, yet constantly interpenetrating too.
For example, Liavon Volski, a Belarusian musician, aptly described it in his song: “Minsk and Miensk”. He sings: “We live at the same time in two cities / The split of personality tears us away / So will we really ever glue, get sewn together / Minsk and Miensk – the two halves of the capital spirit…”. Indeed, sometimes it feels exactly that way.
The discovery of these sub-realities in the society is fascinating. Even “vyšyvanka” (traditional Belarusian embroidery on shirts) has today a slightly different meaning. A few years ago “conscious Belarusians” were wearing it primarily. Today you can find it on the shelves of the majority of state-run shops. Also today people wearing the Pahonia on the shirt do not necessarily “mean it”.
The same is with religion in Belarus. I often hear (from Belarusians) that they are atheists, although the majority are baptised Orthodox. Interestingly, I depicted a lot of small icons in taxi and peoples’ places. At the same Evangelical churches are such vibrant communities.
Researching these is challenging too. Although I thought I knew certain things about the society and can understand it, actually had to redefine my identity. Now I am studying the society, not just visiting the country as a tourist. I need to delve into these various realities – to understand people’s narratives and their social interactions.
Fascinating, isn’t it?