Reflections from a Field Trip to Belarus

kineticcreation-comThis summer when I was doing my fieldwork, I explored a bit a Baptist church located in the sleeping area of Minsk. That was the biggest church I have seen so far. It was built in the 1990s, when Protestant communities did not face such building restrictions as they are in place today.

It was Saturday. I entered the church building. It looked quite impressive inside.

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Hrodna: Vibrant and Religious

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The Lutheran church in Hrodna, vul. Akademicka

“Hrodna is predominantly a Catholic city, maybe 78% per cent of people are Catholics here, there are a few Orthodox, and a few Pentecostals too”, I hear from a Hrodna-born young man, Siarhey.

In the past Hrodna (Grodno) was very diverse religiously and that still remains. I managed to spot a few Catholic and Orthodox churches, a Lutheran kirche and a synagogue. “My great grandfather told me that in the past in Hrodna there were no Catholics, no Orthodox, and all attended the Protestant church”, Siarhey adds.

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Bi-Belarus

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Source: cafepress.com

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.

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Religion and Language

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The writing on the shop display at the Minsk airport, “The native tongue”

So here I am in Belarus, a country with two official languages – Belarusian and Russian. The latter one remains, however, lingua franca. It is the language of almost all spheres of public life, including media, politics, and education. Belarusian remains largely marginalised.

I have written more about it here.

Yet, this linguistic complexity is interesting from my research point of view.
Why certain groups of people decide to express themselves in Belarusian, not in Russian? Why in Russian only? Why solely in Belarusian? Should I pay attention to those choices  or are they rather random? Do they necessary carry a political meaning?

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God Is Back In Belarus

Unexpected religious revival in the post-Soviet space?

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Collective prayer of Evangelical Christians in Minsk, 2007. Source: nn.by

In the 1990s, the former Soviet republics found themselves in completely new social realities. Interestingly, despite the decades of atheization, some sort of religious revival took place throughout the whole post-Soviet space.

Millions of Homo Sovieticus type were seeking God. There are different explanations for this phenomenon.

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Getting to Belarus

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The good news is that I got ethics approval from King’s College for my PhD research. Visa, health insurance obtained and tickets purchased. “Now it is time to start my pilot study in Belarus!”, I thought enthusiastically.

The travel itinerary of my trip was simple: Bialystok – Chopin airport in Warsaw by bus and then Warsaw-Minsk by plane.

Unfortunately, a few hours later it turned out that I missed the flight due to visa issues – and that has utterly complicated my further trip to Minsk. Had to change it diametrically the same day.

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