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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

Belarus: A Denationalized Nation
David R. Maples

Harwood Academic Publishers
130 pages; 90-5702-343-1 (paper); 90-5702-342-3 (cloth)

The promise of a Europe whole and free has not come to pass. New divisions between East and West have been established and authoritarian governments still darken the Continent. Maples' book examines a case in the heart of Europe: Belarus. This book is a useful primer to the history of Belarus and its current political constellation, which has been dominated by the creeping dictatorship of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Maples's central question is "whether Belarus can survive as an independent state." His main thesis is that Belarusian nationalism is underdeveloped because of its historical evolution; intermittent Soviet practices; the political, social, and economic chaos associated with the post-Soviet period; and the active policies of the post-Soviet period. This book is neither an anthropological nor sociological investigation into the meaning of Belarusian national identity; it largely concentrates on political and economic indicators and extrapolates from them. Nevertheless, his research is sound and Maples does a good job at demonstrating the validity of his argument. The book is divided into six chapters on a roughly thematic basis. Because there is some chronological overlap between the chapters, a quick read may lead to some confusion. The first is a brief, but excellent, overview of Belarusian history until 1985, stressing the lack of a coherent national base to sustain Belarusian independence during and immediately after World War I. Chapter two focuses on the Belarusian economy, environment, and demographics from 1985 to 1996. While the first two might seem out of place in a book ostensibly about nationalism, it is necessary to help explain why many Belarusian politicians have promoted a union with Russia. The next chapter examines Belarusian political development from 1985 to 1993 and stresses that the leaders of Belarus in the immediate post-Soviet period were never truly committed to independence. Chapters four and five focus on the rise of Lukashenka and the consolidation of his dictatorship. The final chapter examines Belarus' relations with Russia and the moves to form a Slavic Union between the two countries. As Maples shows, talk of a Russia-Belarus union is not necessarily indicative to a return to Russian imperialism and might actually help foster political reform in Belarus. The absence of a proper conclusion, however, detracts from the overall argument of the book and certainly needs to be added in any future edition (also some editing problems need to be corrected). In addition, Maples largely ignores the geopolitical factors driving Moscow and Minsk closer together; instead, the process is made to appear almost solely driven by domestic factors. Nevertheless, this book is highly recommended and both scholars and lay-persons will find it readable and informative.

Thomas Ambrosio, North Dakota State University

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