On Thursday, September 19th, Franak Viačorka spoke about the struggle that Belarusians face between Westernization and Russification.
Mr.Viačorka is the Vice President of the Digital Communication Network, a consultant for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, and the Creative Director for RFE/RL Belarus Service. He advocates for democracy and personal freedom in post-Soviet countries and is an expert in Russian disinformation. After the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity in 2014, he launched a nationwide campaign to promote the national identity of Belarus.
Mr. Viačorka began his lecture by discussing current events and changes happening in Belarus. One of the most significant events is that the U.S. ambassador will return to Belarus after being expelled ten years ago. “I have a big hope that all these events mean that something [is] happening and when something happens, even when the events are chaotic, there is a chance for good forces and for right things to happen,” he explained.
Mr. Viačorka discussed the contentious relationship Belarus has had with the West and Russia since President Alexander Lukashenko was elected in 1994. He explained that Belarus goes to Russia for cheap gas and then turns toward the IMF and the World Bank for loans to build better roads, modernize Belarus, and strengthen its bureaucracy. He joked about this ever-shifting relationship by stating, “in the winter, Lukashenko is a friend of Russia, and, in summer, he is a friend of the West.”
In the winter, Lukashenko is a friend of Russia, and, in summer, he is a friend of the West.
Mr. Viačorka explained that when Belarus associates itself with Russia and its values, Belarus leans towards Russification and “re-Sovietization.” Belarus wants to remember its “Soviet glory” In schools, teachers resort back to extolling the Soviet communist dictator, Stalin. Road signs are only available in the Russian language. These regressions greatly hinder the Belarusian public from embracing their own culture and moving towards Westernization.
However, Belarusians are also finding themselves shifting towards Westernization and “Belarusianization.” In the shift towards Russification, Belarusians were forced to give up their culture and language. Something as simple as having signs in Belarusian instead of Russian can help protect the culture. Additionally, an Austrian company has started to make translations of Western movies into Belarusian. This has given the Belarusian population exposure to Western culture and has enabled them to be less dependent on Russian content.
Mr. Viačorka ended his lecture by discussing future steps for Belarus to take so that they can continue toward Westernization. He stressed the importance of bringing Belarusian culture back to the forefront. He also emphasized the importance of decreasing Russian influence in the media by making western media more available to the public. By giving them their culture back, Belarusians will be able to separate themselves from Russia and their Soviet past and begin moving forward.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Viačorka spoke about being optimistic about the change coming to Belarus. With social media and an increased ability to travel in and out of the country, Belarusians have had more exposure to the West than they have ever had before.