Gaius Julius Caesar said: “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.” However, in the context of quality of life in a country, it is still preferable to be last amongst the best, then first among the worst. Therefore, while being an economically developed state, the strategy of surrounding yourself with developing or completely underdeveloped countries is dubious. This often happened due to the “bipolarity” of the world. The USSR and modern Russia could be an example — the first had no ally among the developed countries and Russia follows that path.
It is more important to be situated in a developed region, have wealthy and influential neighbors. Sometimes it is even more favorable than being wealthy and influential by yourself. An example of this situation may be a small Western European country — Switzerland which has such influential neighbors as: Germany, France, Italy and Austria. On the one hand such neighborhood has provided a lot of beneficial trade routes and interactions and on the other a relative cultural independence. According to the “The UN Development Program” reports, Switzerland ranks third in the Human Development Index based on an average from 1980 to 2013 years.
My sight looks for Europe every time I give a glance at the world map. Maybe it is because this is where my home is. Another reason could be that it is the most developed and rich in many senses region. A region, with a vibrant and a necessary for the whole mankind history — the first philosophical works and scientific researches were born in Europe. Thus, mostly thanks to Europeans, the modern world became what it is now.
Starting from 1492 to 1914 the Europeans conquered 84 % of the planet. Not only the physical strength and training was shown during this period, but also their intellectual abilities, as it was necessary to battle in unfamiliar conditions and move to distant, even by modern standards, places. Therefore, it is obvious that the modern world was built exactly by the Europeans who had an enormous impact on different cultures and nations of the world. One can talk about the cultural identity of each nation, but it is not possible not to recognize a strong influence of European culture in the early stages of the development of the human civilization.
The colonial expansion to the east and south made it possible not only to capture some specific resources or land, but, what is more important, allowed to spread European languages for many kilometers far from their home (North and South America, Africa, etc.). It provided the necessary benefits — culture follows the language, lifestyle, understanding of the world, and ideology of the nation. So now, in a sense, the majority of mankind is the bearer of the European values.
Plato said “Ideas rule the world”. That is why the question of morality, culture and a set of values of one or another civilization is so important. After all, every nation in the course of its history makes certain conclusions, comes to some common expression of its individuality. And if a nation is quantitatively high (or had the opportunity to influence a large amount of other nations, like Europeans had and did), then its influence on other nations increases.
In today’s world there is a great amount of ideas and this diversity cannot be negative, even though it has a certain number of disadvantages. But in any case, plurality of opinions and ideas gives a person choice. It gives the right to direct your life in some specific way, act and defend the tenets of the chosen ideology.
Where is the place of Belarus on this “life feast”? Carriers of what values should be we, Belarusians, and why? What is the history of Belarus and what should it come to? These questions must be answered in order to better understand and realize our Belarusian way.
As it is said, people that resided on the territory of Belarus were always in an advantageous position, as the specific segmentation of the European land had put the Republic to the very border, which separates cultures, ideas and intentions. This location, of course, gave certain benefits, however, along with the benefits, this area was hit by numerous wars. A majority of people know that Belarusian territory and its citizens were victims to the two world wars. The country is often overlooked compared to other European countries which were affected by the Second World War, even though during this war the population of Belarus decreased by one third. Many bloody military conflicts unfolded in more ancient times.
Throughout the history of Belarus, people who lived here sought to find themselves, find their national identity, unite with a certain idea. During the creation and the existence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) no national idea was present as in feudal times people obeyed the monarch and not the state, as it is now.
The beginning of the unknown and the “search” of the Belarusian nation of itself could be considered the joining of GDL in a union with Kingdom of Poland and, as a result of the Union of Lublin in 1569, the emergence of a new state — the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC), which was a multi-ethnic state. It was not a usual state of that time but a federation with many religions and nations, a unique state for that time with a particular type of democracy. The internal contradictions between the Polish and West Russian lands in terms of culture, religion and idea did, of course, affect the unity of the country, in a sense, tearing it apart. However, an important role in the collapse of the state played the neighbors of the country and their endless wars. It may seem surprising today, but the Commonwealth was born in a state of war with Russia.
Thus the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was involved in a circle of strong empires and kingdoms, whose ambitions to expand were quite large. The history of Belarusian territory at this time shows the relative geographical disadvantage, especially in terms of the formation of the new state. Rzeczpospolita was surrounded at different times by: Kingdom of Sweden, Tsardom of Russia, Austrian Empire or the Habsburg Monarchy and Prussia. The last of which soon divided the newly founded state, which did not survive for even three hundred years. It turns out that throughout its history the Belarusian people were trying to find themselves and to form, however in the context of the numerous wars it was not an easy task.
Mostly due to the Russian-speaking population in Belarus, the influence of the Russian culture is incredibly great on the Republic, although it is rather the result of the inattention of the Belarusian authorities to this issue rather than the result of a deliberate ideological work.
Belarus is often referred to be part of the “Russian world”. Sympathies of Belarusians to Europe are also noticeable, although not as strongly as in the direction of Russia. Also, you can often hear in the country the approval of the actions of the Russian authorities and even ideas of reunification with Russia. Perhaps this is due to being a part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union for a long time.
In any case the Belarusian people should remember that we have our own roots and our own culture which, for the better or worse, could not avoid the influence of other worlds. It is important to keep in mind that by joining the European Union Belarus will need to fulfill a number of dramatic reconstructions and innovations in order to adapt to the already well-functioning mechanism — the European economy, agriculture, education, etc. Reforms in these areas will show the effect in the longer run and, in a way, will deprive us of independence. On the other hand, by becoming a part of Russia Belarus will get all the problems that our neighbor faces now. It is obvious that being a small country and the largest country in the world are two completely different things.
This is why the dominant idea in the minds of the people should be its own — not Russian, European or any other, but only Belarusian. And now, besides “finding yourself”, besides the search for the idea, it is required to find the most favorable place for the development and the formation of this idea. It is important to head in the direction which will enable to develop our country, whatever name it is called now. Find those who will consider the opinion of Belarusians and will not limit the freedom of our nation with their ambitions (unfortunately, often imperial).
It is not clear now how this idea will look like and what form it will be presented in, although there are plenty of talks concerning this. However, the necessity to create a national idea is the matter of the future of the country and, as a result, matter of each person who associates himself or herself with this country. You cannot treat the idea as an ephemeral concept — in fact any invention, act or achievement begins with it.
Today’s Belarus is not an another poverty-stricken African country. The current isolation from the civilized world, which was imposed on us by the government, shows that even in a such situation we can survive and remain civilized. Search for food is not the main task of the country for a very long time and, as a result, it is necessary to think and act corresponding the countries state of development. However, without an adequate national idea that will objectively look not only to the east, but to the west, south and north, we will keep “surviving” rather than simply “living”.
Living, developing and knowing that “independence” is not just a word that politicians cover themselves up with, but an everyday position of many countries and their citizens. There are examples of such countries and there is potential for growth in the country. As a result, sustainable development and technological progress will not keep you waiting in a free and an independent country which is open to the world’s best practices and not just one side of the world. In a country in which a person can progress and be confident in his or hers future.