— Why did you choose the period between 1968 and 1988 as the time frame of the research on the disagreement between the Belarusian intellectual and creative elite and the officialdom?

— In 2013, I received a scholarship to study at the graduate school of Greifswald University in Germany and was thinking about a topic for my dissertation.

At the Faculty of Philosophy of BSU, where I received a diploma in the mid-2000s, my supervisor was the philosopher and writer

Ihar Babkov

, and from him I became fascinated with the research of the unimaginable explosion of intellectual and creative energy that took place in the 1990s not only in Belarus, but also and throughout the entire area of ​​the former eastern block.

Babkov was one of the most active drivers of this process, and for me it was already history.

More precisely, I was interested in intellectual attempts to overcome the legacy of socialism and the question of how the latest achievements of intellectual thought, primarily Western, which suddenly became available to Belarusians, were processed and adapted to the understanding of Belarusian reality.

Naturally, there was a need to deal with the background, to understand the prerequisites of how this became possible in general.

The work done by the historian

Oleg Dzernovych

and the Archive of Modern History was also a significant impetus.

Anna Arendt

once said in one of her interviews: "I write to understand."

That was my motivation.

I wrote this book to try to look at the relationship between culture and power at this time in all its complexity and contradictions.

And also to reflect on the role and place of Belarusian culture and its bearers "between cooperation and resistance", to understand how in the conditions of overwhelming loyalty of the population to the Soviet project of socialism and comparative weakness of national identity in general, dissent was possible.

"Manifestations of disagreement did not appear in Belarusian culture only with the beginning of perestroika"

Why do I start with 1968?

This is the time when the Prague Spring flourished and was suppressed, but it is also a year of global upheavals.

This is the time when the attack on dissent begins in the USSR as well (after the change of power).

Soviet Belarus, despite its apparent isolation, could not remain aloof from these events.

1988, with which the research ends, was the year of transition from cultural resistance to the moment of political consolidation (the central moment here, of course, is the founding of the BNF Organizing Committee in October 1988).

Here it is important to emphasize that manifestations of disagreement did not appear in Belarusian culture only with the beginning of perestroika, when

Mikhail Gorbachev

initiated the processes of economic and political liberalization.

In Eastern and Central Europe, these twenty years were the time between the rise and fall of the Prague Spring in 1968 and 1989, the year of the Velvet Revolutions.

And what kind of time was it for Belarus?

It seems to me that he got a little lost in our historical narrative, which is a peculiar result of the intellectual heritage of the generation of the 1980s.

A generation that, quite understandably, tried to quickly get rid of the difficult and uninteresting recent past, perhaps knowing it too well.

And at the same time, such a "white spot" in the history of self-understanding of Belarusian culture was used by conservative forces.

Neglected by independent historiography, this story, however, dominates the version (or versions) of history developed and promoted by the

Lukashenka regime.


This time cannot be given over to the usurpation and manipulation of official historical and cultural policy.

"Write the history of Belarus from the Belarusian perspective"

— The Belarusian edition of "Culture and Resistance" is the second.

The first was in English.


- I have already said that this work appeared as a dissertation, which I decided to write in English, and I believe that I did the right thing.

But it is clear that choosing a topic related to the history of Belarus, I, as well as other Belarusian researchers who defend their work in Western universities, was guided by the desire to introduce the history of Belarus, which would be written from a Belarusian perspective, into the Western academic discourse. .

Or, in other words, to refer to the famous question of

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

, to finally speak for yourself and about yourself.

It is very symptomatic that in order to be heard, you need to speak the language of the "global West".

— And what was the reaction of Western scientists and the wider intellectual reading public to your thoughts and conclusions presented in the book?

Are they interested in the events that took place among the Belarusian intelligentsia 30-50 years ago?

- More than 10 reviews in five different languages ​​were published on the English-language book, which is really a lot.

Of course, there was great interest in the book during the Belarusian revolution of 2020 (the English edition appeared at the end of 2019), there were invitations to speeches and presentations.

And at the same time, I observe this in the discussions about Ukraine, which are intensively conducted now in the Western intellectual environment, where there is a rather skeptical attitude towards attempts to write a national history.

Attempts that do not stop in the countries of Eastern Europe and which, however, as it seems to Western intellectuals, should have remained in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century.

It is clear that there are good reasons for that.

However, even in the 21st century, nations and national issues are again and again relevant.

And if Eastern Europeans continue to try to write their national histories, then there really is a need for it.

Another question is how, processing a unique frightening experience, we are able to ask and answer universal questions - relevant in a (trans)regional, transnational, global context?

I think that I did not manage to completely get out of this trap with my book, but I continue to work on it.

Unknown letters of Vasyl Bykov

- For you as a researcher, were there any absolute surprises during the collection and analysis of materials, unexplored land, so to speak?

What can you tell our readers?

- One of the unexpected and very pleasant finds was the opening of unknown letters of

Vasyl Bykov

to the Bulgarian translator and literary critic George



It opens up a very interesting perspective on how the exchange of ideas took place between the free-thinking intelligentsia not only of the socialist camp, but also beyond it, as Vilchev traveled a lot to the West.

And put into context, this correspondence allows for a better understanding of the discussions that took place around the idea and meaning of dissidence already in the 1970s.

One of the important conclusions and, accordingly, the findings of my book, as it seems to me, is the understanding of a peculiar dialogicity between official and unofficial cultures, negotiations on the boundaries of what is allowed and what is not allowed, through which new cultural forms and contents emerged.

Later, I came across the idea of ​​the "trading zone" of the American philosopher and historian




In many ways, it is also suitable for explaining the modes of functioning of culture.

In both official and non-censored culture, there are attempts to return or re-create history at various levels, for example by building continuity with pre-revolutionary and early Soviet culture, which was interrupted.

Let's mention, for example, the work of

Ales Adamovich

with the legacy of

Maksim Horetsky

or the attempts of

Vladimir Kolesnik to semi-secretly introduce

Ignat Kancheuski


to the Belarusian reader


Let's recall the famous letter to "Pravda"

by Levon Borazna


Zyanon Pazniak

, in which the authors first express anxiety about the socialist future of Belarus, then paint their idea of ​​a Belarusian city with narrow cobbled streets, wrought iron lanterns and cozy cafes, which in no way relates to project of socialist utopia.

But there were surprises of a different kind, namely, the wariness regarding the Jewish heritage of Belarus, which I saw in some texts of the intelligentsia, who dreamed of a democratic Belarus.

"Alternative ideas exist and multiply in Belarus"

— You end your book with a short summary that covers the selected research period (1968–1988).

And in it you express your confidence that "the state in today's Belarus is no longer able to maintain the stability of the boundaries between what is allowed and what is forbidden and suppress any manifestations of dissent."

What was the basis of such confidence five years ago?

- Of course, I thought about this question, turning again to this conclusion, whether it was too optimistic.

In my opinion, both yes and no.

It is clear that it was done at a different time - the time before the radical historical break of 2020-2022 and was conditioned by a peculiar optimism of that time.

And yet, even now, in the conditions of a radical non-freedom of speech, we see that in Belarus alternative ideas exist and multiply and find their way to the reader, even if this path is much more difficult and winding than I imagined in 2019.

- We are talking to you about your book "Culture and Resistance" at a time when the national culture in Belarus has actually been destroyed, and its creators were faced with a difficult choice - prison, emigration or serving an illegitimate government.

All these events of recent years are directly related to the topic of your book.

Are you writing a sequel?

- I still do not have an answer to the question (and probably none of us does) to what extent the experience of opposing the Soviet system and cooperating with it is formative for understanding what is happening in our Motherland now.

But I am sure that this experience requires further study.

We didn't talk about it in detail, but I think that Ales Bialiatski, the editor of the Belarusian edition, had the same motivation when he supported the reprint of the book - to collect available knowledge about the experience and history of cultural and political resistance.

And in turn, the role of Bialiatski in preserving the memory of cultural and political resistance in the late Soviet era will still have to be understood by historians.

Of course, I can't help but ask myself a question, for example, about the shift in the Soviet system that took place due to the release of Gulag prisoners.

Will a similar shift take place in Belarus?

We really have more questions than answers here.

But the fact that we dare to ask these questions is very important.

As for modern Belarus, I think that, despite the unprecedented pressure and repression, we can talk not only about resistance in culture, but also about the rise of various cultures of resistance in Belarus and beyond.

Especially since, thanks to digital media, the boundaries for cultural production are now fluid.

And there is hope that they will remain so, because the dictatorial regime is as dependent on digital technologies as cultural activists.

"We urgently need electronic archives"

And here two more points seem important to me.

First, it is necessary to take advantage of this fluidity and expand the alternative space of culture as much as possible.

It does not necessarily have to be protean, and maybe even the opposite, in order to minimize the risk for those who are in Belarus, but it should be diverse and inclusive, and, among other things, oriented towards a broad Russian-speaking consumer.

Any alternative thought, any cultural product, capable of appealing to Belarusians and somehow broadening their cultural horizons or making them question the reality in which he or she is now, by definition has protest potential.

And, secondly, to the question of the history of cultural resistance.

Of course, I carefully follow what is happening, but as a historian, I still need a longer time distance to be able to offer a more or less objective understanding of these events.

A very important task facing historians, cultural figures, and cultural activists today is the documentation and archiving of all those events, initiatives and discussions that are happening at this moment, especially in the digital space.

We urgently need electronic archives, as well as a discussion about new methods of their research.

The nature of digital sources is highly ambivalent.

It seems that they are easily accessible, but they are subject to constant changes and, often, disappearance.

The extent to which these sources will be preserved will depend on who and how will write the history of cultural resistance in Belarus at the beginning of the 21st century.

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