Thesis supervisors: Professor Ülo Valk, researcher Elo-Hanna Seljamaa (PhD)
Opponents: Senior research Fellow Liisi Laineste (PhD, Estonian Literature Museum), professor William Westerman (New Jersey City University)
This dissertation concentrates on political folklore in Belarus, the country of atypically short story of nationalist aspirations, ruled by the same president of neo-Soviet moods for 21 years. The search for the self-representation, national identity, and democratization is still taking place there, not as intensively as in other post-Soviet countries in 1990s, but continuously and invariably. As a response to constant negotiation of these issues, various genres of political folklore emerge. Based on fieldwork held in Belarus and in the Belarusian diasporas, this dissertation focuses on five particular issues, which seemed most problematic and relevant to my interviewees.
First, I study Belarusian oral political and ethnic jokes, which, in spite of their similarity to the Soviet ones, unlike them, mostly target the authoritarian figure of the president, not ideology. Second, I analyze inextricably intertwining official and folk biographies of Lukashenko, looking at how certain biographical elements become significant for the promotion or condemnation of the president’s figure. Third, I research the narratives about Potemkin villages (window-dressing) widespread in Belarus. Despite the general disfavor of Potemkinism, every single opinion on it appears to be polyvocal, mostly accommodating both pros and cons of following this system. Fourth, I examine the rumors about surveillance – the global issue, acquiring local peculiarities in Belarus. Due to the lack of accountability on surveillance there, the unverifiable rumors serve to shape cautious and alert behavior. Finally, I look at the legends of the Belarusian lost national masterpieces with the modality of pushing towards the search of ethnic identity and liberalization.
Contemporary Belarusian political folklore presents the unique material testifying the in-progress identity building, bearing a variety of genres and attitudes placed on the different scales from conformism to protest, and frequently emerging due to the strictness of the current political system. It becomes as much a mechanism of social cohesion and identity affirmation as of conflict and violence, remaining betwixt and between different approaches. After all, it allows looking back at many questions remaining with regards to the former repressive states or the times of their transition.