AN IDENTITY OF THE ORTHODOX-BELARUSIAN MINORITY IN RELATION TO THE POLISH-CATHOLIC MAJORITY IN POLAND
Social space is crowded with divisions into Us and Them, into We and Others. Universality of these divisions indeed forces us to have a look at the phenomenon. We can foster a thesis without any major risk of error that the universality of these divisions has its source in human psyche and touches its very important sphere. „Identity” becomes a handy term here. Polish terms „to identify” or „identity card” render the sense of unrepeatability, of differentiating something or somebody from similar objects or individuals. „Identity” retains also its uniqueness in time. When I look at my photos since the baby cradle to my kindergarden shows, the first date, the university diploma, until the present day, I have a feeling of continuity, I know that this is still the same person. Personal identity possesses a continuity written into an unrepeatable shape of personal autobiography.
We could suppose that human identities have always existed and such medieval figures as Abelard or Heloize are an obvious evidence. It seems, however, that identity is a pretty recent discovery. According to Stuart Hall1, the category of identity has gone through three main stages, differentiated by a specific approach to the individual-society relationship since the Enlightenment.
Identity of the pre-Enlightenment Man was founded on traditional, mostly religious, structures. Position in the society, and, subsequently, identity, was a direct result of a position granted by birth. The birth, in turn, was a manifestation of God’s will. People were not seen as unique individualities but as parts of the „chain of beings”. An individual was but a link in the fixed hierarchical order, in which God occupied thee highest position, then down the chain – the kings, the more important and less important people, animals, plants, and inanimated objects. Within this hierarchy an individual was determined by the place he or she occupied by birth and not by his or her individual attributes. The social order was sanctified by God’s will and, because of this, was deemed unshakeable.
In the period of the Enlightenment thinking about identity was dominated by a new concept of man, distinguished by two main features: an individual subject became to be seen as unique and indivisible. An identity of a person could not, in this view, be destroyed or divided into smaller components. Second, an identity of a person was sovereign in the sense that a person did not constitute a bigger unity, e.g. the earlier „chain of beings”; a person started to be seen as possessing his/her own, distinct identity. Such view of an identity was introduced by a French philosopher of the 17th century, Descartes. His dualistic concept of man assumed an existence of two separate and mutually independent parts of a human being: a body and reason.
Each person’s reasoning, according to Descartes, is distinctive and different from another person’s reasoning, which is an evidence of human being’s uniqueness. This was categorically expressed in the famous „Cogito ergo sum” – „I think therefore I am”. Hall sums it up in the following way: „The Enlightenment concept of being is rooted in the humanist tradition, treating person as a fully central, unique individuality, endowed with the ability to conscious and active reasoning, whose essence is an internal core of the identity revealing itself right after birth and making itself present throughout the individual existence. The fundamental essence of the Self is constituted by a personal identity”2.
The 19th century abounded in the amazing development of the concepts of identity. The reason for such thriving can be found in social changes. With the progress of industrialization and urbanization, the so-far stable and tightly-knit societies began to be more and more stratified. An increasing structural and organizational complexity of the society began to have a major impact on individual’s life. A person could no more be seen as a unique and isolated entity among other such entities. The relations between an individual and society were conceptualized as mirroring „group processes and social norms”. For example, an individual was framed within the categories of class belonging, professional grouping, connected with a region or nationality etc. We could then think about a prototype worker, peasant, or an intelligentsia representative, a Pole or a Russian. Each of these types, e.g. worker, contained a common signifying content, differentiating it from non-workers, and individual examples of the type were not distinguished from one another in any important manner.
„Symbolic interactionism” is a good example of a „new” conceptualization of an individual identity. Man has a peculiar ability to look at oneself from the vantage point of other people („what will others think about me?”). In this way our self-image is to a large degree determined by how others see us and not how we see ourselves.
Charles Cooley, one of the main representatives of this field, described people as endowed in the „looking-glass self”, which means a self-image mirroring others’ reactions to us. Others’ reactions to ourselves are here experienced in the process of an interactive game whose scenarios are unpredictable, and in which individuals adapt their behaviour to their partner’s reactions and vice versa. During the „game” the players elaborate an agreed symbolical meaning of the meeting (it can be, for example, courting, conflict, time-killing and many others).
According to symbolical interactionists, human beings have an individuality, but it is not independent of the society; quite the reverse, it is its reflection. By obtaining specific group identifications, an individual internalizes adequate norms and values, which in turn constitute his/her identity. An internalization of the external norms and values guarantees the predictability of individual’s behaviour and makes it more typical and regular. Such model of thinking can be illustrated by the concept of social class. Within the frame of class individual identities will manifest tendencies to a given behaviour (e.g. in accordance with the workers’ ethos).
Similarly, a functionalist Talcott Parsons was trying to describe an identity with the categories of social roles, which situated an individual within the frame of social structures.
In late modernism the highly developed societies are characterized by an increasing number of fragmented identities. People are no longer able to sustain coherent and unique self-images, but have to possess „several sometimes conflicting or unresolved identities”. New social movements have a crucial role in the process of identity fragmentation.
In the past, social classes had a „pattern identity” dominating over other identifications and constituted a foundation for political conflicts. In the 60s and 70s in the West of Europe and in the USA people began to organize themselves around other issues than social class. Hall enumerates the following examples: „feminism, Black emancipation, national liberalism, anti-nuclear and ecological movements”. People were gradually giving up defining themselves as belonging to class and started to identify themselves within the categories of gender, ethnicity, religion, age, nationality, ecological views etc.
It seems that the process has also begun in Poland. It becomes more and more manifest, e.g. in the feminist movement, most prominent in sociological research3 concerning discrimination of women and unraveling how universally conscious of discrimination in Poland both women and, to a lesser degree, men, are. The research also shows that a remarkable number of people declare a need to change the status quo.
Feminism shifted the interest in such areas as housework or domestic violence from the private to the sphere of political debates. Feminism „unraveled, as a political and social question, the problem of how we are shaped as gendered subjects. Such an approach politicizes subjectivity, identity, and processes of identification of people (as men, women, mothers, fathers, sons or daughters)” – Hall states.
A tendency to include the private sphere to the broader social realm, and, in this way, to blur the border between the private and the public, can be observed now as a universal trend in research. Social reality is not a given but is created during interactions with other people4, in the face-to-face contacts.
Just like feminism, after 1989 many national minorities in Poland became remarkably activated. Searching for one’s identity as „citizen of the world”, or a „European”, or, at least, a „Pole” seems to be often to broad. Many problems have a distinctively local character that is why local identifications are and will be increasingly important. On the other hand, however, the world is indeed becoming one „global village” and an impression that we are all a product of global processes is not alien to anybody. A slogan „think globally act locally” is an attempt to bridge this identificational dilemma.
The division into the old and young – ageism – is also increasing. This will, in my opinion, develop in Poland as a rebellion of the young against the „Solidarity” generation, which wasted its historical and civilizational chance to build a democratic and just5 state. What is more, the growing inequalities will much more affect the younger generation than the old one.
With the increase of the number and importance of new social movements identity becomes a political category. Political identity means individuals’ self-definition within the category of party belonging, and the tendency to underline differences between them and find expression for such new identifications. Such an ambience encourages the majority of people to listen to the voices of others who, so far, would often remain silent. The voices of those stigmatized and oppressed, as the handicapped or national minorities, become especially prominent within the broader society. An aspiration to equality creates another demand – a conviction that „undeserved inequalities require reparation”6. „In justice conceived of as impartiality people agree to share their fate; designing institutions they undertake an effort to benefit from natural circumstances and social situations only when it contributes to the common good”7.
An unraveling of the power of discipline and surveillance constitutes an important contribution to the deeper understanding of identity’s fragmentation. Especially important here are the works of Michel Foucault. According to the author of Discipline and Punish, societies have been increasingly marked by the „power of discipline” and „surveillance”. It means that individual’s behaviour is more and more closely observed, monitored, and, when it is necessary, punished. Control techniques developed in prisons and psychiatric asylums become more and more common in many spheres of social life (in shops, banks, insurance companies etc.). People are monitored not as representatives of a group, but as individual persons, which deprives them of group support, and even isolates them from social interaction. Such a situation makes consolidation of one’s identity in reliance on interaction with other people difficult.
Other frequently mentioned factor contributing to identity fragmentation is globalization. We can show many ways in which globalization shapes an identity of contemporary man in highly developed societies. For example: traveling has become very easy and, with this, people’s mobility in the world; likewise, communication, television, and „the globalized style of the market, the place and images” all lead to a „global supermarket effect”. Coherent identities people know from the place they live are not an attractive option any more; precisely, they have become an option, one of many for that matter, and people can choose now from a wide range of identities on offer. They can dress, eat, speak, and adapt values and lifestyles of groups or people they chose.
On the other hand, however, global consumerism facilitates homogenization, and people are becoming more and more alike. Products of many brands have become known and popular all over the world, which in turn can be seen as a sign of uniformization. Homogenization of the global consumer makes a possibility of getting rooted in particular social groups hardly a feasible task. Multiplicity and variety of identity options makes people belonging to the same communities or e.g. professional groups starkly different.
In modern societies nationality was an important source of identification. Most nation-states stressed the importance of the nation for creating citizen solidarity etc. In the era of globalization such nation-centred politics seems neither as easy nor as efficient as it used to be. People feel affiliated also to other nations which are revived especially in the situation of war and are to a remarkable degree determined by the power-relations in the world, thus have a global character. We can point out, after Hall, three main reactions of people to globalization in the national context:
1)In some regions people are trying to reaffirm national identity as a defense mechanism against globalization. Some indigenous features are stressed as differentiating the inhabitants from immigrants or members of another ethnic group (in Poland – Podhale).
2)The first reaction of a minority to racism and exclusion is defensive. It is characterized by an exposure of one’s ethnic and cultural identity as „not at all worse”. Such refreshed identification with mother culture is characteristic for, e.g., the Carribeans or Indians in Great Britain or Ukrainians in Poland.
3)The third way is a construction of new identities. A British example is a development of the Black cultural identity, consolidating the Black Carribbeans and the Asiatic. An identity becomes hybrid, made of more than one existing identity and creating a new quality. Is it possible, then, to create in Poland a Polish-Belarusian-Ukrainian minority representative?
First two options of responding to globalization result in a revitalization of ethnicity as a source of identity, and frequently they occur in opposition to existing nationalisms. In many parts of the world ethnic groups are expressing demands for their own nation-state (in the former USSR, former Yugoslavia or in Israel), which may often lead to violence and civil war like in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Palestine.
Decentring is a demarcation line between the modern and postmodern reality. Individuals can no longer seek a core or a centre of their uniqueness as founded on class belonging or national identification. Most prominently, globalization results in the „pluralizing attack on identity creating multiplicity of possibilities and new identification positions, making identity more situational, political, heterogeneous, less complete, less coherent and trans-historical”.
Shaping of identity in today’s world of widening democratization should, as we would think, lead to an automatic leveling of chances for oppressed individuals and groups. This is not, however, the case. As Giovanni Sartori writes in the Theory of Democracy8: „liberty in itself does not lead to equality of chances; we had to give up this illusion of liberalism. Contemporary democracy is looking, then, for a set of ‘just equalities’, which have not appeared, automatically with the onset of freedom”.
It means that, on the one hand, that creating coherent identities in contemporary world is incomparably more difficult; on the other hand, „undeserved inequalities require reparation”9, and this cannot be realized automatically without a struggle demanding, in turn, a harmonious consolidation and mobilization, thus sharing common identifications.
The above dilemma is partly resolved by religious identifications, which seemed, up until recently, to lose significance in this rationalized and materialized world. However, this is the fear of collapsing of identity, which seems to found the basis for cultural integration whose unifying force is often religion10. Huntington’s „clash of civilizations” unravels a problem of a crucial importance for contemporary world, namely that of atomization of individuals and their fear of alienation, solitude and lack of understanding. The problem is both that of content and form. The content aspect is connected with the division into civilizations and identifications with religion, discussed in Huntington’s work. Of interest for us is the formal, or, rather, structural aspect, connected with how we understand creation of identity.
If, in the traditional understanding of identity, the core of the matter was an answer to the question „Who (what) do I identify myself with?” – in Huntington’s work the core issue is an answer to a negative question „Who (what) do I NOT identify myself with?”.
Such an approach to the issue of identity has a far-reaching implications. First, it makes the we/them division an immanent one, impossible to overcome and psychologically necessary. If cultural differences exist, it follows that there must be those who differ from us and whom we cannot accept because such an acceptance of difference would mean questioning the foundational features of one’s own group. Huntington points at the following factors dividing people11:
1) feeling of superiority (sometimes inferiority) in relation to people who are perceived as different;
2) mistrust and fear of such people;
3) difficulties in communication, arising from language differences and divergent norms of behaviour;
4) lack of knowledge of assumptions, motivations, social relations and social practices of other people.
The above is expressed unambiguously by the quoted author in the following statement: „conflict is a common phenomenon. To hate is human. People need an enemy to define themselves and gain motivation, and this enemy is business competition, rivals in struggling for achievements, or political opponents”12.
A similar stance is usually assumed by politicians13, but the strongest affirmation of a thesis that creating Others is closely connected with the ethiology of shaping/emergence of identity is provided by the „separateness theory developed on the grounds of social psychology by W.J. McGuire and C.V. McGuire14.
According to their theory, people define themselves on the basis of what in a given context makes them different from others: „man perceives himself within a set of categories differentiating him from other people, especially within the social environment he normally lives in. A woman-psychologist in the surrounding of several women performing other professions thinks about herself as a psychologist, and in a group of several male psychologist the same woman will think about herself as a woman.”15. It means, then, that people define their identity on the basis of what they are not.
A discrepancy between Us and Them can be more or less distinct and significant. If the Others are remarkably different from Us, then it is relatively easy to define oneself in relation to the Others as absolutely alien. Such a process strengthens identity by underlining the distinction of separateness. This process is accompanied by excluding the Others from our sphere of interests and questioning their right to existence. This is a dehumanizing process allowing to treat Others within the terminology of abuse, e.g. „insects”, „lice”, etc. Propaganda, especially in the time of wars, tries to deepen differences between Us and Them and deprive the Others of human features. This paradigm works in such divisions as: We – the honest people, They – the criminals; We – the Americans, They – the Talibans, when the price is settled for enemy’s body, etc.16
If, however, differences between Us and Them are insignificant and unclear, or if it is much easier to find what is shared rather than what divides, people, in order to shape their identity, develop a tendency to enlarge the significance of differences and minimalize the role of similarities. This is the case of the identity creation We – the Orthodox and They – Catholics in Poland.
A dichotomous division into Us and Others has got both a content and an emotional aspects. We could even claim that the emotional factor plays the main role here. An identification with one’s own group entices a protective attitude towards it, and is parallel to the need to protect oneself. In this way a process of a partial perception of Us and Others starts, which, in extreme cases, develops as an idealization of one’s group with the simultaneous „blackening” of the Others. Such a situation helps remove all doubts about who I am making an individual identity clear, unambiguous, endowed with a high level of self-respect and well motivated to a fight in defense of the Self. Terrorists have, then, this particular identity comfort, which is beyond the reach of people of less integrated identities.
Psychologically, independently of culture, people experience the same basic emotions. What lays at the bottom of psychological brotherhood of humans is only five foundational emotions which, similarly to seven base colours can be combined in varying proportions, giving in effect an infinite range of emotions. Below is a set of these basic feelings and their combination of the first range:
These five foundational emotions, if we look at them from a hedonistic perspective, implicate a general conclusion that the amount of pleasant emotions experienced by a person is much smaller than the amount of negative emotions. In interhuman relations these emotions are projected on the screen made up of other people. Because we reserve a much bigger range of pleasant emotions for Us, we can assume that unpleasant emotions will not only be generally more frequent, but also more strongly concentrated on the Others. The Other will then constitute a screen indispensable for exposing and channeling unpleasant emotions and, indirectly, a factor integrating and consolidating the feeling of the membership of the Us group.
The above remarks allow to understand the mechanism of a well-known phenomenon whose main feature is that the integration of the Us group is much stronger in the face of an external enemy (Others) than in the case of setting positive tasks for the group, such as „solidarity with others”, „respect of human dignity”, „human brotherhood”, or „the common good”.
The aim of this broad introduction was to attract Reader’s attention to the fact that the category of „identity” makes a productive point of departure for the analysis of the Self-Other relation. The discussed category of „identity” was changing its meaning across centuries in order, as Hall claims, to become an especially useful category in today’s atomized, anomic world. This usefulness is evident in a range of affirmation of the thesis that the Self – Other division is at the core and constitutes a necessary condition for the consolidation of identity and enticing motivation for it. The division is not, then, a matter of volition, morality, culture, etc.; it is, thus, not secondary but primary in character and, because of this, it is inevitable. Inevitable, because the need to shape identity whose origin is societal and means that identification with the Self group against the Other is itself indispensable.
An alternative potential of the Self-Other division gains currency by the overbalance of negative emotions over positive ones that people generate and directing the negative emotions towards the Other rather than the Self group. In result, the division into Self-Other constituting identity can be strengthened.
2. SELF AND OTHER. THE ORTHODOX-BELARUSIAN MINORITY.
The inevitability of the Self-Other division, which has, amongst other reasons and holds in psychological (self-acceptance) and social (holding social control) factors, a range of other factors, has been thoroughly discussed in my book17. National and religious (but also professional and other) minorities constitute clearly distinct groups in the consciousness of majority members, and these groups are additionally stratified according to the level of liking and popularity.
Relations between majority and minority usually have a specific and unique character. We can notice a range of factors affecting these relations:
1. The charts of past mutual relations. This memory can be as painful for the both sides as it is in case of Australian Aborigines or Amerindians in the U.S.A; or it can be as friendly as an attitude towards Polish minority in Australia. Frequently, the memory of reciprocal conflicts and grievances has not been clearly articulated and is a subject of tensions continually waning or waxing (e.g. the conflict between the Caucasian republics and Russia). Sometimes both sides may not have any shared tradition, but they are in the process of creating it, like Russian Jews in Israel.
2. Population quota. If the minority is scarce in number, it is automatically perceived as less threatening (like Lithuanians in Poland). Frequently, however, the minority is large in number (like Russians in Estonia), and thus it constitutes a major threat, especially that in some regions it can grow into a majority.
3. Minority concentration. If a minority lives in a diaspora, it becomes less of a threat than when it lives in a given region, especially if the region is perceived as belonging to the Self group. Fear of separatism becomes then a source of negative attitude towards the minority, as it is the case in Northern Ireland, Quebec or with the Turkish minority in Bulgaria.
4. The degree of cultural diversification. Of an especial importance are the following categories of diversity: racial (e.g. the Turks in Bulgaria, Afro-Americans in the USA, the White in South Africa etc.), language (Bretons in France, Hungarians in Slovakia etc.), religious (e.g. Muslims in France, the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland etc.).
5. The force of separatist tendencies. Some minority groups show tendencies to separatism and as such they constitute a difficult problem for the nation-state [the majority group] (e.g. Kurds in Turkey, the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, the Francophone people in Quebec and many others).
6. The democratic traditions of the state. In the states where democracy is well established the conflicts between the majority and minority ethnic groups are usually less frequent and not so open in character as is the case in weak democracies (compare, e.g. the conflict between Chechnya and Russia and relations between the majority and ethnic minorities in Sweden or Germany; Yugoslavia under Tito and currently).
7. Legal guarantees of minority rights. The ultimate form of minority rights guarantee is the constitution making multiculturality the superior/prioritized doctrine for the state, in fact its raison d’ętre (e.g. Australia or Canada), whose practising cannot be questioned or undermined. Within this perspective any breaking of the equality principle is illegal and becomes a criminal act undermining the principles of democracy. In other countries various forms of discrimination against minorities can be tolerated by the law. In Germany, for example, telling abusive jokes about Poles is tolerated, but the jokes about Jews are not acceptable. In the USA Ku-Klux-Klan, an openly racist organization, not only exists, but increases in number. In Poland the authors of the openly anti-Semitic graffiti remain safely beyond the reach of the law.
8. Wealth and state organization level. A high level of wealth and state organization remarkably lowers the number and intensity of real conflicts among the citizens. These conflicts in the situation of structural unemployment, homelessness, anarchy, bad perspectives and lack of trust for the government lay a foundation for the irrational looking for scapegoats (compare anti-Semitic phobias in Germany during the Nazi period or in Poland in 1968).
We could point at other variables mediating in relations between majority and minority. But the ones already mentioned show an extremely complex character of these relations. If we consider the fact that intensity of the variables also has its own range, then it is practically impossible to build up a comprehensive model of the state of affairs.
It gets even more complicated because the mutual likings and dislikings do not have to be commonly shared; even more, one person can and usually does experience ambivalent feelings towards representatives of the Other group. Feelings addressed towards other groups strongly depend on context and can be evoked intentionally or automatically. Moreover, these relations have their own dynamic and, especially in the countries under transformation, are undergoing rapid and important changes.
Considering the above, I would like to represent the state of relations between the Orthodox-Belarusian minority and the Catholic-Polish majority so as to expose their unique character after 1989.
The research on ethnic and national minorities stresses an interactive character of relations with the majority. The self-group is conceptualized, in this particular perspective, through the reference to another counter-group, here the dominant one. J. Obrębski elucidates the problem most succinctly and clearly:
Self-image is only a reflection of these contrasts, on the basis of which one ethnic group defines separateness and difference of other groups. Everything which this group perceives as its own, differing from another ethnic group, functions in this relation as an antithesis of those features which constitute separateness of the alien group. In this sense the self-image of the own ethnic group is dependent and derivative (…). The imaginary reality of an ethnic group is thus determined not so much by some genuine self-image as its perception of neighbouring ethnic groups as well as how it is perceived by them.18
The above can be applied to research on the Orthodox-Belarusian national minority, which is always considered in relation to the Catholic-Polish majority. The research so far has accentuated the Belarusian, national character of this group, and, subsequently, its demographic decrease and assimilation. Such an approach, no matter how conveyed, arises some anxiety for many other researchers. We can come across the following statements: „On the Polish-Belarusian border we do not deal with a homogeneous ethnic category, therefore using in research the term ‘Belarusian minority’ seems to be a significant oversimplification. In practice, the internally diversified minority community shows a diversified attitude towards Poles and the Polish culture”19.
This remark seems to be well-grounded. The term we use now – the Orthodox-Belarusian minority – is undoubtedly more adequate. It implies that in self-conceptualization of the group the stress is put on the religious and not national component. Not only does the above-mentioned research exposing the importance of the religious component speak for such a category, but also research of other authors foregrounding the fact that self-identification within the „Orthodox-Pole” category is the most popular20. „Inhabitants of the Orthodox denomination in the Bialystok region identifying themselves as Belarusians amount to 30 %”, state the quoted authors, while „The estimated number of the Orthodox inhabitants of the Bialystok region identifying themselves as Poles amounts to 60 %”21. The cited numbers provide evidence for the validity of the term we propose, namely the „Orthodox-Belarusian minority”, instead of the commonly used „Belarusian national minority”. This reservasion is not only formally significant but it also highlights the current process of change.
Such terminology has also practical consequences. In result of the changes the two centres creating identity of the discussed minority are developing. The first, accentuating the religious factor, consolidates within the Orthodox Church and „Przegląd Prawosławny” („The Orthodox Review”), the second, national, is united by the Belarusian Social and Cultural Association, the Belarusian Association, and the Niva and Czasopis journals.
Activity of both centres serves preservation of religious and national identity of minorities living in Poland, and, which is understandable, the Belarusian organizations are limited to Belarusians while the Orthodox can include as well the Ukrainians, Lemko and Orthodox Poles.
The Orthodox centre, according to the word of New Testament, is likely to accentuate the Orthodox faith as superior to national identity. Noticing the need of spiritual revival in Belarus, the writers and activists of the „Przegląd Prawosławny” („The Orthodox Review”), together with a group of Belarusian intellectuals from Minsk, edits a quarterly in the Belarusian language, titled „Prawaslauie”. The centre detaches itself from attempts of Polish Belarusians to intervene in, and change, the political situation in Belarus. Maintaining close relations with Belarus, the centre also maintains friendly relations with the Orthodox Church in Greece, Finland, France, the USA and in other countries. The group takes the stance of non-intervention of Poland into the internal affairs of the Belarusian state, founding this principle on the fact of the sovereignty of Belarus, especially that the alleged friendliness and disinterestedness of the Polish right-wing government [before the onset of the left-wing government in 2001] declaring will to help Belarus causes much scepticism and mistrust.
The national centre strives to underline the role and importance of national self-awareness among Belarusians (on the other side of the river Bug) and their cultural and political independence from Russia. The problem of the sovereignty of the Belarusian state is central here, hence the unequivocal and unifying resentment against the President of Belarus. The centre identifies with the independence and democratic ethos originated in America, which was foundational for changes in Poland in 1989.
Both centres after the groundbreaking 1989 have tried to appoint an independent representation in the Polish Parliament. In the 1991 elections the list of the Orthodox Elections Committee won an MP, obtaining almost three times more votes than the candidates of the Belarusian Elections Committee. The 1997 elections resulted in an even larger difference to the advantage of the Orthodox candidates, while the Belarusian Association went together with the Unia Pracy (Labour Union), setting up lists together. Parliamentary elections in 2001 brought about an undeniable success for Eugeniusz Czykwin, the editor of the „Przegląd Prawosławny”, a candidate from the SLD list (Social Democracy), who became an MP.
Because the identification of the representatives of the discussed minority in Poland with the state of Belarus is indeed none, and in terms of citizenship the members of the minority declare they are Polish, the social legitimation of the national centre seems to grow weaker while the Orthodox centre seems to grow in importance. This trend remains within the more general direction discussed by Huntington who maintains, as I already mentioned, that contemporary collective identity is constructed around religion and in opposition to other denominations.
The above remark should lead to an intensification of research on self-awareness of this group determined by identification with the Orthodox Church in comparison to the identification with the Belarusian state. It may of a vital importance, as the nation-biased research studying the same but so heterogeneous a group, can result in starkly different conclusions.
We could venture a hypothesis that the Orthodox denomination in Poland is an example of a more general process defined by Ronald Dore as an „indigenization in second generation”. The phenomenon is characterized by a tendency of second-generation minority members, educated city-dwellers successfully pursuing careers in free professions and progressive in terms of world-views are eagerly seeking religious but also cultural identifications stemming from the local tradition. Religion becomes here „not an opium for the poor but a vitamin for the weak” (R. Debray).
Authors of research on the discussed minority put stress on the phenomenon of assimilation and the adaptational/accommodational specifics of behaviour of the representatives of minority. Because of the complexity of the problem why people of Belarusian-Orthodox roots show the above tendencies, it is also difficult to clearly define the range and the essence of the phenomenon. The reasons, according to specialists in the area, should be sought in the collective consciousness and interactive styles of the minority representatives and in no way in style of living or pressures from the minority:
„Polish culture is an object of aspiration and craving of the large majority of the Belarusian minority in Poland, thus we can observe a specific social approval of assimilationist processes towards Polishness”22.
An answer to the question why, in result of democratic changes in Poland, the dynamics of this, and only this, autochtonous minority group has not increased23 is indeed very difficult and complex. In my opinion, there are two main reasons of the state of affairs, each complex in itself:
1. Weak national ethos of the discussed group.
2. In the best case an indifferent attitude of Polish-Catholic majority towards the Orthodox-Belarusian minority.
In comparison to the Ukrainians, the national ethos of Belarusians in Poland turns out weak indeed. National awareness among Ukrainians is strongly justified by history and rooted in national tradition. For Belarusians, on the contrary, the possibility to rely on the past ethos is much more problematic24.
Characteristic weakness of national ethos of the Orthodox-Belarusian minority is either given, and thus it is impervious to manipulation, or it can be strengthened mostly by efforts of minority representatives themselves. A possibility of support on the Polish side seems to be limited to occasional donations or to creating a friendly atmosphere for action initiated and undertaken by the minority itself.
The second factor, in turn, is an object of worry for us, not only because of the condition of the discussed minority, but also because of the Polish-Catholic majority. Returning to the diagnose of mutual relations between minority and majority, it is important to notice what either side considers its own and unique and what simultaneously makes them different in a specific way. In other words, what features allow to perceive some as Us and some as Others.
3. THE SELF AND OTHER GROUPS.
It seems that we can point out some mental features of the Orthodox Belarusians as opposed to the dominant features of the Polish Catholic majority:
1. Pride, haughtiness, conceitedness vs. humility and submissiveness.
The source of Polish pride is adherence to Sarmatian values prominent for conceitedness and conviction of one’s own noble freedom and personal immunity, as well as 19th c. conviction of Poles about their nation as the chosen one (Messianism), and Poland as the „Winkelrid of nations”, as a country which especially loved freedom and became the primary pattern of fighting for it for Europe25.
The myths of Poland’s primacy in Europe found their affirmation in a conviction that Catholicism is the only true faith and in the belief in Poland’s special role as the „bulwark of Christianity”. Pole’s consciousness is also nurtured by the legend of „Lech, Czech, and Rus”, in which Lech’s position in relation to the other brothers (nations) is superior. The myth of Poland as a tolerant country is also strongly rooted and reaches back to the times of Reformation in Poland26. The victory of independence ideals symbolized by the social movement of „Solidarity”, the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła for the Pope of the Catholic Church, as well as Poland’s joining the NATO and the close perspective of joining the European Community – all of these reinforce a conviction of Poland’s regaining of the once lost but by all means deserved place among the nations of the world.
The pride and feeling of exceptionality is strengthened by a conviction of female Poles’ remarkable beauty. This pride can, in Adam Podgórecki’s understanding27, constitute an element of more generally conceived standings and styles of life, to which belongs „basing social life on legends and myths” and on „self-referential groups”, treating themselves as a genuine value independent of the outer world, functioning by the „façade consciousness” which is produced as a result of mythologization of one’s life. Functioning of the „façade consciousness” is not, then, connected only with the presentation of mythologized, façade images of the own group to the other groups, but also with taking them completely seriously28.
The Belarusian-Orthodox group does not feel particularly proud of its own state for obvious reasons: it does not identify with the Belarusian state and the feeling of one’s statehood or longing for it is alien to it. Culture is perceived as an Eastern-Slavic conglomerate, the language treated as local. The significance of the religious element thus increases, as it is capable of including the group discussed in the stream of „high” culture, through the cultural and spiritual values of the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church also stresses the importance of humility as the highest value contradictory to haughtiness, which, in turn, is considered the utmost sin. A popular proverb „tiszej jediesz dalsze budiesz” (in literal translation: „the more silent you ride the farther you get”), whose Polish equivalent could be „a humble calf is suckled by two mothers”, seems to be much more important for Belarusians than Poles. Janko Kupala’s words: „Ja mużyk no honor maju, gnus no do pary” („I am a peasant and I have my honour, I bend down but I won’t break”) sound a bit like a boasting and a bit like a calling to change the dominant humble behaviour. Self-labeling like „we – hreczkosieje, or „we – potatoes” is first and foremost a recall of peasant roots but also an expression of exaggerated humbleness. Stereotypical references to „pieczka”, „hyt”, „lapcie”, „szytki”, „horse” – are evocative of an idyll, domesticity, and agreement with one’s lot.
(2) RITUAL VS. SACRED TYPE OF RELIGIOSITY.
The Nobles’ Republic period brought, along with the category of unrestrained freedom, a specific understanding of Catholicism to the Polish culture29 and, connected with it, the stereotype of „a Pole equals a Catholic”. Catholicism constitutes an important characteristic of Polishness, commonly stressed for that matter. What is pointed out as unique, however, is the ritual character of Polish Catholicism („eagerly practiced and of little faith)30. The ritual character of Polish Catholicism is manifested not only in devotion to grand Church holidays, but also in celebrating values and norms for their sacred character and symbolic meaning31. What is connected with the motherland, independence and martyrdom, unlike everyday systematic work, becomes sacralized. We can observe that secular symbols undergo a displacement, including those political ones, to the order of the religious (compare, for example, the people-symbols in themselves: John Paul II – Lech Wałęsa; Rev. Jankowski and Rydzyk).
„Being Orthodox” in the understanding of the respondents is connected with a stronger accentuation of the sacred element against the profane one, which means the mystic and transcendental element of the faith. The everyday ritual of work on the field as connected with the divine plan of nature’s transformation is of major importance here. Orthodox faith is a way of existing in the world, the life itself. Strong monastic traditions of the Orthodox Church stress the significance of fasts, contemplation, continuous prayer, humility and modesty, the past and tradition. What is underlined is the value and meaning of the Orthodox faith as the „endangered good” which survived miraculously despite persecutions on the part of Occidental [Roman] powers and which protects the world against the catastrophe prepared for it by the Occidental culture. Such an understanding directs the attention of the Orthodox people towards preservation of „purity and sanctity of the faith”. In this sense the presence of all the signals of the profane sphere: politics in the Church, postulates of female priests etc. are treated with much caution and disapproval. The religious experience and feelings have to a large degree a collective character. Spiritual unity, the unity of the faithful experienced in a common prayer at the time of long services, provides the basis of social life bringing together the whole of life in one mystery of transforming the nature and people – those who live and those who already passed away.
(3) LACK OF REALISM VS. REALISM OF PERCEPTION.
The above mentioned sacralization of the profane sphere and building up of the „façade consciousness” and „basing social life on legends”, imply lack of realism in the way Polish majority thinks. This lack is also a result of placing a remarkable significance on the symbolical values over the material ones, and, as a consequence, myths and legends become factors of a strategic importance. Pogórecki theorizes this tendency as one of the most important (the fifth) meta-stance characteristic for Poles, calling it the „palubiczna stance” – meaning the inability to find means adequate for purposes one wants to achieve32.
The above considerations of sociologists are absent from the way minority conceptualizes the majority. The majority is perceived here as a group difficult to understand, unforseeable and easily manipulated by the mythologized centres of power. This is how the minority discussed perceived the election of Lech Wałęsa for the President of the Polish Republic, introduction of religion to schools, stressing of the superiority of the Latin civilization over the Bizantine-Russian, a virtual closing of the trade border with Belarus, proclamation and carrying out of verification* , reprivatization projects, celebration of John Pope II visits, getting rid of PGR enterprises (state-owned farms), etc.
The Orthodox Belarusians rooted in the countryside tradition have got a deeply planted ethos of hard, mundane, physical work and peasant thriftiness. Their pragmatic way of thinking makes them see the Poles as devoid of a capability, humility and determination indispensable for carrying out tedious everyday work thus more fit for office, trade and management professions.
(4) NOBILITY VS. PEASANTRY FEATURES.
The features enumerated above are associated with a widely spread stereotype of the landowner and nobleman, well serving the nation of nobles and its territory, contemptuous towards peasants33. Similarly, „lordliness” as a national feature related to respect for honour and attention to grand issues, was an important feature of a pre-Partition Pole34. Also Sarmatian features of Poles added to the picture of the Pole as a nobleman: „Eat in the Polish way and only Polish meals, get drunk in the Polish way, which means with honour, not to work too much, because in the Polish way, get untidy and messy in the Polish way . . .”35.
According to the opinion pole by the OBOP carried out on Polish respondents, such features associated with Polish national character as „valiancy”, „urge for knowledge”, „altruism”, were respectively on the first, second and fourth place among the positive features of the Poles, while such negative features as „lack of self-discipline”, „extravagance”, „lack of perseverance”, „self-praising” were found respectively on the first to the fourth position as the most frequently pointed out by the respondents to the poll. These results show the Sarmatian roots and self-portrait based on the image of „lordliness” which is the heritage and part of the self-stereotyping by the contemporary Pole.
Boasting about one’s antecedents (even if the heritage is a pure invention), of one’s material status, cherishing national emblems, savoring the specialties of the Polish cuisine, horse-riding, hunting, generous hospitality, showing disrespect for people of lower social standing and, at the same time, deep respect for of higher class, despotism and courteousness towards women known for their modesty, looking down on people in general – these are elements of a behaviour characterizing a person of a better birth.
This is also how such a type is perceived by the researched minority. At the same time, the unequal status of the „lord” and the „peasant” is reworked here in a three-fold way: (1) aspiring to the life of a „Polish nobleman”, which is often connected with hiding the stigma of belonging to the Orthodox-Belarusian minority; (2) using the mechanism of negative identity, which means taking over from the dominant side a conviction of one’s own lower status, which results sometimes in servile devotion for the dominant culture and this, in turn, breeds contempt for peasantry and physical work; (3) self-separation and creation of cultural enclaves making comparisons with the majority difficult, and thus deepening the differences. This strategy of survival means in practice self-marginalization.
(5) CITY-LIFE VS. COUNTRY LIFE.
The Polish tradition is partly based on perceiving the city and life in a city as more respectful, valuable and desirable. The city is associated with a broader access to culture and education, easier work, broader margin of free time, with white-collar jobs, larger anonymity of the inhabitants, and, thanks to this, a greater freedom, including freedom connected with the choice of one’s life partner, profession, place of work, entertainment and so on. Today the metropolitan lifestyle is an object of desire and aspiration for a remarkable number of young people and the phenomenon is universal in character.
The Orthodox-Belarusian minority has got peasant roots. The relationship with the land, hard work in the fields, dependence of one’s already inferior position on one’s own industriousness but also on nature’s whims, loyalty to and close relationship with one’s family, acceptance for family hierarchy, sharp distinction of male and female roles – all of these constitute an important set of characteristics of the researched minority. In contact with the urban ethos they become devalued and require reworking.
The city is here associated with Polishness, social move upwards, status of intelligentsia, and civilizational superiority. The rejection, or at least hiding of one’s own countryside provenance become a nudging need. Together with assimilation in the city and rejection of the baggage of countryside origins the national tradition, culture, language and religion are get rid of in effect. The price paid for in the process of assimilation, especially for the first generation, is the feeling of alienation and solitude resulting from feeling of uprootedness and being stripped off one’s cultural identity.
(6) RIGHT-WING VS. LEFT-WING POLITICAL ADHERENCE.
The representatives of the Orthodox-Belarusian national minority feeling fear and anxiety stemming from the stigma of persecution of the Orthodox Church and national minorities of the inter-war period, as well as the post-war persecutions by the right-wing powers hostile to the USSR, were naturally left-wing oriented. The governments of Polish People’s Republic treated the discussed minority on equal terms with other Polish citizens and were a warranty of equality. Broad possibilities of education and settlement in the city for young people from Belarusian villages, material progress, social security packages (e.g. pensions and disability allowances) became a basis for perceiving that period as valuable. Also advantageous were comparisons between the status of living during the Polish People’s Republic with the level of life in the countryside in the inter-war period, but also with the well-known status of village inhabitants in the post-Soviet countries.
The values represented by the Polish right-wing orientations, related to the national ethos and Catholicism, could not be attractive for this group. On the contrary, they evoked the feeling of being second-class citizens, being tied down to the nobleman’s land, persecutions of the Orthodox Church and the negative attitude towards the USSR and socialism. No wonder then that left-wing adherence meant for the minority discussed a guarantee of equality and an important support. In the last presidential elections the representative of the Social Democrats, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, won in the villages inhabited by the Orthodox-Belarusian minority a score securing for him the Presidency in the first stage and the highest scores of support in comparison to other local communities in Poland. A similarly high score for the SDRP (Social Democrats) was noted during the parliamentary elections in 2002 in the villages inhabited remarkably by the Orthodox-Belarusian minority. In this light the Orthodox-Belarusian minority is sharply distinguished from the right-wing and Church-oriented inhabitants of the north-eastern part of the voivodship.
The division into Catholic right-wing and the left seems to be gradually blurred in Poland today. An evidence of that is the landslide victory of Aleksander Kwaśniewski for President and his high popularity as well as common (of the Episcopate and the leftist government) preparations for the Pope’s visit in August 2002. The division of Poles into the Catholic-right and left seems to get blurred also in the context of Poland’s joining of the European Community and in the face of social challenges such as unemployment, social stratification, impoverishment of vast group of the society etc. The left-wing orientation of the present government seems to be such only by its name, which also results in further blurring of the traditional divisions. The leftist tendencies do not constitute, as we might think, a passing fashion on the political scene, but seem to have become a lasting element of Polish consciousness.
(7) ANTI-RUSSIANNESS VS. PRO-RUSSIANNESS.
For majority of Poles’ knowledge about the culture of their eastern neighbours is limited to a handful of prejudice and stereotypes. The Partitions, the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, the Ribbentrop-Molotov truce, the Stalinist period and communism – all of these had to imprint a negative mark on Polish perception of Russia and the Russians, producing more stereotypes and prejudice. In opinion polls examining Poles’ attitudes towards other nations, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are on the list of nations disliked in Poland. The dislike is the slightest towards the Belarusians, more prominent towards Russians and the largest towards Ukrainians. The liking of the three nations is generalized, thus similar for each and relatively stable. The stereotype of a Russian and a Ukrainian is much more distinctive than that of a Belarusian36.
Polish identity resembles a birthday cake, which is made both of a layer connected with the Bizantine-Slavic tradition as well as of the west-oriented layer. The first is the result of belonging to the family of Slavic languages and countries, whose shared basis is the Old-Church Slavonic as a conveyer of culture. On the other hand, though, belonging to the tradition of the Western Christianity situates Poland within the horizon of the western culture. The problem is, however, that Poles have a tendency to underline their western provenance and minimalize their contacts with the east.
The Orthodox-Belarusian minority communicates with Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians in a relatively easy manner, often having direct contacts with people living in these countries. The style of feasting and the language is very similar. Considering disproportions in the level of life, the chief motive of many such contacts, apart from visiting the immediate family, was to do business, like smuggling on a minor scale. This type of contacts not only facilitated getting the nations across the border together, but also shaped a different than that held by the Poles, picture of Russia as a vast, differentiated land full of undiscovered possibilities. The representation of Russia in the consciousness of minority was mythologized as a picture of the world in which the burden of everyday life (taking into consideration the revolution, wars, Stalinist period, poverty, cynicism of authorities) is so overwhelming that it eventually reveals a whole range of deeply humanist values such as friendship, sacrifice, love, religiosity etc. A conviction that it is in the most extreme and unfavourable conditions that true humanity emerges, and that the fate plays with the human being (sudba igrajet czelowiekom) who in these extreme situations can reveal either his magnificence or his mediocrity. These are the deepest human values which can also be found on the pages of classics of literature (the Romantic literature particularly), all those Russian fables, proverbs, jokes and sayings, which are for readers from the Orthodox-Belarusian minority a source of strong emotional engagements grounding the feeling of cultural identification on the side of the Eastern-Slavic rather than Western-Slavic culture37.
The representation of Russia and Russians is thus intimate, close, individuated, concerning the everyday and simple life, leisure and hearty but sympathetic laugh at human imperfections. It is not malicious, political, intellectual, pretentious, allusive, philosophical or directed against anyone38.
(8) UNIVERSAL UNDERSTANDING OF FREEDOM VS. LOCAL UNDERSTANDING OF FREEDOM.
The love of freedom is in the Polish ethos the most basic value. It results from the apology of Sarmatism, including the „golden freedom” of nobility39. J. Mucha, referring to a variety of authors, states: „Poland was to be for Europe a pattern of the love for freedom and struggle for that freedom. Freedom, as one of the main declared values of Polish national culture, is stressed by many historians. They show, at the same time, how easily and ‘painlessly’ a remarkable number of nobility would give up self-freedom and freedom of their state”40.
High evaluation of freedom is thus specifically Polish in character connected with the façade consciousness and with mythologization of reality, as I mentioned before. It has, likewise, connected with seeing the world in the „grand” categories41. Affectionality and the role of honour accompanying the ideal of freedom are similarly characteristic and specifically Polish.
We also need to note that in the Polish understanding of freedom it is the freedom of nation and motherland which is prominent, not that of an individual. The more so, because this concept of freedom is cosmopolitical in nature and expresses solidarity with all groups in the world fighting for a similar cause. The cherished idea of this fight for „Freedom ours and yours” accentuates the universal and social character of understanding the ideal of freedom42.
The Orthodox-Belarusian national minority, incomparably more pragmatic and rational, peasant and rural, for whom Polish national myths and Romantic literature constitute but a margin of knowledge, and who is concentrated on minute matters of the everyday, simply on survival, perceives the value of freedom as a freedom from the threat of life and ill health, and a freedom to carry on one’s quiet, hard but honestly rewarded work, as well as freedom of being on equal terms with the Polish majority. Such a minimalist outlook is concentrated on the family and chances of biological survival of children, as well as a chance of preservation of a minimum of one’s difference understood first and foremost as the protection of the Orthodox faith. The principle „let it be no worse” („kob nie było horsz”), „only peace” (aby pokoj), „only health” (aby zdorowie) – make up together a specific credo limiting tendency to complain and manifest demands. A characteristic humble agreement to what the fate brings and the agreement with the world regardless of how it is perceived, reveals the group’s conservatism, passivity, and binding to the world of the past rather than the future as well as the exterior location of the controlling power. Protest, aggression, demands, especially in the name of higher, abstract values: freedom, independence, international solidarity etc. – do not really gain much a social response here.
These features, unfavourable for the spirit of freedom in the western understanding, make the individuals – representatives of the researched minority – particularly prone to assimilation and to taking on the role of a victim. Similarly as features represented by the Polish-Catholic majority make this group somewhat determined for the role of the perpetrator.
4. NEGATIVE IDENTITY.
The representatives of the Orthodox-Belarusian minority do not make a minority evoking much appreciation of the majority group. The research shows that in the post-war period the liking of the minority group in question never dominated over disliking. The Belarusian minority was and is on the negative score of the category of being liked among the Poles, just the same as Russians and Ukrainians, the two nationalities making up a scarcely differentiated group passing under one label – the „Russians”. Research on the content of the stereotype of Belarusian reveals that it is close to the category of the „Russian”. Lack of positive attitude towards this minority group is one problem but I think that the enigmatic content and lack of distinctiveness create yet another problem. In this sense the less liked Ukrainians and Russians seem to be for the majority a more determined group with a clearly defined image.
In the situation of a weak ethos of one’s group, the above-described features, a strong Polish-Catholic pressure on the values which I mentioned above – the escape from negative marking by the majority - forces the minority member to hide his or her provenance (and thus hide the stigma). Being a „worse other” (see a popular saying: „Poland will either enter the EEC or become a second Belarus”) impinges on the individual self-evaluation and leads to shaping of the so-called negative identity, which means an identity referring to the content of the stereotypical perception of Belarusianness, and which evokes negative emotions such as fear, feeling of being endangered, or a humiliating feeling of being the other or worse.
So, calling somebody a Belarusian can create in this person an identification related to this name which carries with it a stereotypical content and unfriendly emotions (see the above discussion of negative emotions). The imposed identification can evoke in some a feeling of regret or bitterness; yet in some others an objection to the fact that one is defined by the surroundings and negatively for that matter. It reminds of Gombrowicz’s „fitting oneself a face”.
The emotions connected with negative identification, with Belarusiannes – the feeling of stigmatization and the accompanying feeling of fear or being threatened – are not stable elements present in the consciousness of the researched group on the everyday basis. They rather exist as a memory of past experience and as a possibility, which always has to be taken under consideration:
With the Poles and their priests one never knows, or, rather, one knows that they will never treat the ones as we, the „kacaps”, as equal to themselves. We will always be for them a sub-human species of a kind and this is the best possibility anyway . . .
Negative identification is created in result of classifying a person as a Belarusian (with the whole stereotypical loading of its content) by others. Such an identification is constituted through the feeling of stigmatization and fear. These feelings are connected with that of „marginality”, which in practice means participation in situations in which these persons belonging to the sphere of Polishness is negated, which, in turn, leads to the fear of exclusion. Such situations can have a real or anticipated character. This is the case in the situations, e.g., of passing an entry exam to the university or a high school when the fear of revealing one’s „ill-fated” origin arises, when one has to know Polish carols at school, which one obviously does not know, or, when one has to confess one’s „shameful” origin to the future in-laws.
Lack of sharing the social identity of a Pole, despite of the fact that one usually and not quite successfully aspires to it, is the very essence of the feeling of „marginality”43. The experience is based on the feeling of lack of one’s own place and sense of belonging, rather than a sense of belonging to a defined category or group (Poles, teachers, academics). It can be accompanied by a sense of alienation: it is not my University which employs me, it is not my Poland, not my national traditions, not my opinions, even those of the SDRP, not to mention other political parties – thus – „what should be mine is not mine in the least”.
5. DEFENSE AGAINST STIGMATIZATION: HIDING THE STIGMA.
We can point out twofold reaction of the Belarusian national minority to the stigma: hiding one’s own belonging to a religious-national belonging or creating self-support groups. In my already lengthy article I would like to concentrate only on the first one.
As Elliot Aronson states, we are slaves of our eyes because we have been sentenced to the pictorial civilization. In the time preceding the invasion of television, illustrated magazines, comics and computers, before the onset of visual wireless telephones, a statistical person had a possibility of a direct contact with a limited number of people. Let’s assume it was approximately a hundred a year. Among those persons encountered there were a small number of those who one could describe as beautiful. Today, thanks to the television screen, commercials, billboards, covers of glossy magazines, product wrappings, we can more beauties during one evening than during the whole life in the past. Such an amassing of data about appearance sentences people of the „average” attractiveness to a negative comparison of oneself. The unfavourable comparisons increase the significance of external outlook for an individual’s success on many socially appreciated levels and, on the other hand, they result in making one’s appearance an important variable in the representation of oneself, essential for the level of self-evaluation.
Representatives of the Orthodox-Belarusian minority are in this context in a pretty favourable situation, as their difference from the Polish-Catholic majority is of a relatively little prominence. Stigmatization touches much more people of a different facial features from those characteristic for Poles.
We can observe that the tendency to hide the stigma is the most widely practiced way to manage one’s negative labeling. We could enumerate a range of examples of hiding the stigma: ex-convicts change their address and hide their criminal past; people of weak hearing pretend that they can hear; homosexuals sometimes get married and tell jokes about their likes; short men wear shoes on coturns; there are umbrellas which in fact are used as walking sticks; appliances for hair straightening for Afro-Americans; you can have a plastic surgery which will lighten the black skin; there is the whole industry designing clothes which hide obesity; dying grey hair to look younger, manufacturing of artificial eyes, dentures, legs or hands, or wigs for that matter – these are only several items on the long list of the ways a stigma can be hidden.
Hiding of a stigma by the Orthodox-Belarusian minority takes on the form of covering those features, which make the members of this minority different from the Polish-Catholic majority. The last names reveal the most, and thus the names finishing with –uk, or first names not mentioned in Polish calendars are the first to be get rid of. While it is pretty difficult to change one’s last name because of bureaucratic obstacles, such as charges and the necessity to justify the change (which is often quite difficult to put in the official language), an informal change of given names is widely practiced. And thus Viera becomes Wanda, Zinaida – Zosia, Alosza – Aleksy and Bazyli – Bogdan.
The tendency of hiding the stigma becomes more visible in the anticipation of danger. Parents, afraid that their children will be treated as „worse others”, so anticipating fear, give their children names which not only are Polish, but often names which, in their conviction, are a certificate of belonging not only to Polishness but to the West in general. The process can be traced in the post-war period, when the number of Eastern-Slavic names fell down rapidly and the number of Western-Slavic names increased44.
Apart from given and last names, the Polish Belarusian can be revealed by his/her place of birth. There are villages and towns where the minority makes a majority; the places on the map which have their own unique history, tradition, and custom. These places might be a potential site of identification, however, hiding of the stigma cannot be reconciled with supporting such identification. Is this why representatives of the minority start their conversation with the almost ritual „Skul wy?” – where are you from? – in order to locate the interlocutor as originating from a given cultural tradition? The place of origin allows for a relatively easy determination of the interlocutor’s provenance, that is why the place of birth is a sensitive subject if somebody is asking about it, especially if this is a significant other from the majority.
Belatedness in celebrating Christmas and Easter and the New Year’s Eve by the Orthodox people recognizing the Julian calendar creates another possibility of unraveling. In order to conceal this „impropriety”, one seeks various excuses why one needs a leave from work in this period. And the true reason is not always revealed, invented excuses are sought for. There is, however, some progress to be noted in the matter, as the holidays can be made up for at work on other days, according to the new regulation. Such legal warranties create an atmosphere of equality between the Catholic and Orthodox holidays.
A Belarusian can be additionally distinguished from a Pole by a melodious accent and usage of words from the Eastern-Slavonic repertoire, not ever used by any Pole. A radical rejection of the language of minority in Bialystok, the city in which there are no schools with the Belarusian language, probably stems from a desperate attempt to cover up the traces of difference. Also a majority of Poles in Bialystok has a specific melodious accent that is why it is not too difficult to assimilate to the majority and any differentiations made on the basis of the language and pronunciation become practically impossible in the third generation.
The minority idiom is revealed the most distinctly in situations such as feasting at the table – singing of songs, making toasts, narrating the past of the Belarusian villages, in which the figure of „batiushka” (a priest) is frequently featured, celebration of Orthodox holidays, details connected with preparation of meals, and a range of accessories creating a unique ambience of the countryside life starkly different from that of the Polish villagers. But, what is important at this feasting is not only what one talks about, what variety of Belarusian one uses (or Ukrainian), but also what is not being said and done. They do not sing such popular Polish songs like „Szła dzieweczka do laseczka”, or „Góralu, czy ci nie żal”; the hostess does not praise the dishes she made but, on the contrary, she „complains” about them not being perfect enough, thus leaving some space for the guest to express his approval.
Feasting can reveal the hidden roots by a specific sense of humour, self-irony, but, most of all, by the tendency to sing the „ancient” songs. No wonder, then, that feasting takes place in small enclaves of one’s own group. Social life and leisure styles of Polish Catholics and the Orthodox Belarusians usually go their separate ways.
Representatives of the minority were also negatively recognized by their leftist political sympathies, especially during the emergence and triumph of the Solidarity movement and at the time of visits of the Polish Pope. Today, when the many Poles turned to the left in their political outlooks, and the August 2002 visit of the Pope has been actively celebrated also by the leftist government, these divisions have lost much of their distinctiveness.
A spectacular example of hiding away one’s stigma was the case of Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz winning an enormous popularity among the Belarusian minority. Apart from a range of undoubted advantages allowing to treat him as a genuine politician of the highest rank, the liking that he won stems also from one particular issue: he is considered to be the „one of us”, [„swoj chlopec”], who could outsmart the Polish majority cleverly hiding his Belarusian provenance. At almost every meeting in Belarusian villages and towns the politician is questioned about his origins. The fact that this issue is left unclarified seems to be of some significance, as it increases the positive attitude towards himself as to the one who managed to hide it so efficiently and join the Polish establishment. As a Belarusian, according to many of my respondents, he would not have been able to reach the top ranks of public life.
Hiding of a stigma is necessitated by the anticipated fears of social ostracizing and exclusion. Is this fear realist or illusory? I will answer with another question: why all the national minorities in Poland at the onset of the census are afraid that their representatives will hide their non-Polish nationality?45. The questionnaires are anonymous and serve only statistical purposes. What, then, and who are the minorities afraid of, hiding their nationally different origin?
The activists of the Belarusian-Orthodox minority issued an appeal to their representatives not to hide their Belarusian origins and the language from the census officers about to knock on their doors in May 2002. A Pole-expatriate will never conceal his national and religious identification; quite the reverse, he will willingly, even enthusiastically, acknowledge his belonging to Polishness and Catholicism.
Concealing one’s origins makes obviously only a surface of a much deeper and complex problematics of identity. The category of „stigma hiding” seems to me, however, to be the key concept for resolving the problem.
It does not mean, however, that an efficient hiding of a stigma makes an ideal solution. Quite the contrary, the process has got a range of negative consequences for the individual involved. These are:
(1) An acceptance of the fact that, if the common conviction is that Belarusians are worse than Poles, then this must be true (internalization of the stigma). Such a conviction can be a more or less obvious central feature of one’s self. It means pleading guilty for an „unmeant” belonging and, as a consequence, lowering one’s self-acceptance and self-evaluation. A prolonged period of living with the stigma of Belarusianness in the Polish surrounding inevitably leads to the feeling of guilt and of being a victim of an unfavourable social configuration.
(2) Creating of a negative identity and a sense of „marginality” discussed above.
(3) Concealing the stigma is dangerous because it can always be suddenly revealed, which in turn can be perceived by the surrounding as compromising so much more if the stigma was concealed with much determination, engagement and thoroughness. The fear of revealing the stigma is deepened by the fact that it can be revealed in an uncontrolled way by sheer coincidence.
(4) Hiding the stigma sentences the person involved to constant vigilance, concentration on potential warning signals, and this must naturally bring about the state of tension, rigidity of one’s reactions to the world, insecurity and overall control.
(5) Revealing of the stigma is always better received if the partners of interaction with the potentially stigmatized person get to know the truth from the person involved rather than the truth is revealed by a third party. In the latter case hiding of the stigma is often perceived as an evidence of lack of trust for the partner of interaction, which additionally entangles the fine network of human relations. Revealing of the stigma by a third party can also be read as an invalidation of the so-far principle of sincerity and trust.
(6) Concealing of a stigma connected with social origins, religion or nationality can in fact mean building of a barrier against the realization of an important element of social identity. It leads to assimilation and the feeling of uprootedness. It makes development of the sense of belonging and dignity in reliance on one’s own tradition and group impossible. It therefore results in decrease of the significance of belonging to one’s own group.
(7) Hiding of the stigma makes any rational and efficient working against its results difficult if not entirely impossible.
(8) Hiding of the stigma also has broader social implications, as it prevents an honest and thorough information about the minority discussed from reaching Polish majority. That is why (among all other things) knowledge about it among Polish groups is indeed rather scarce. It invites, then, referring to myths and stereotypes, irrational images of a usually negative underpinning.
(9) Hiding the stigma brings about a danger for the person involved to be ridiculed or blackmailed by somebody knowing the „secret”.
(10) People hiding the stigma have a tendency to be hypocritical. In order to hide their Belarusian roots they mistreat their own people or look down on them, in order not to be charged with privileging their own folks. Sometimes they are too keen on stressing their devotion for the Pope John Paul II, or Polish tradition and rituals.
People start to be increasingly aware of the negative results of hiding the stigma, at least in some social groups. That is why we can witness how frequently people reveal their past addictions, the experience of sexual molesting in childhood, suffering from schizophrenia, epilepsy, homosexuality, etc., even by people from newspaper headlines. Hiding one’s own Belarusian origin seems to be, in this context, of a relatively little danger. However, the legend of one’s group as perennially harmed encourages an exaggerated precaution, in accordance with the proverb „trust but not too much” („dovieraj no i provieraj”).
Hiding of the stigma, despite all the shortcomings mentioned above, is incomparably less destructive for the Self, as the agent can perform a defensive appropriation of the stigma by the following rationalization of the problem:
a) I am a completely normal or even better person within the categories of interpersonal evaluations carried out outside the stigma. I am, for example, a better farmer, I take my army conscription obligation seriously, I work decently and this constitutes the basis for my social-citizen stance, and not the criterion of national or religious belonging.
b) Negative labeling is a by-product of social evaluation, which can be questioned as such. E.g. it does not have to be taken as true that Poles are such a cultural nation with a remarkable recognition in the world. Eastern-Slavonic nations, including Belarus, have a richer and more significant contribution to the world culture and science, and the world sees them as a much more important political partner. Apart from that the rational urge to collapse the communist system and the blind adherence to western values resulted in Poland in the impoverishment of large social groups. Poles became leftist, while Belarusians had always been such.
c) Belonging to a minority makes an experience not known to the majority. What is at stake here is the experience of the participation in the minority culture and tradition within the following frame: people who never took part in the all-night vigilance, or who never joined the friendly singing bout (pjanka) where Bielarusian songs are being sung, who never exchanged Easter greetings („povoskresowali”), never tried holubce, podpiwek, home-made sausage or vodka (krzakówka”), never experienced various difficulties of the rural life – simply do not know much. But it also concerns all the aches connected with stigmatization: sense of marginalization, exclusion, being laughed at and ridiculed, slid over or simply ignored. All of these examples of social ostracizing end up in a trauma, which can be differently coped with in particular situations – it can be sometimes a source of personal power and, sometimes, a reason of one’s failure.
d) Each person has got something to hide from others, that is why we can recognize the state of partial openness as normal. Not everybody can be trusted with our love for the Orthodox Church music, love for the land and rural work, for singing of „our” songs, etc.
e) Revealing of the stigma brings about an instant and visible relief, although the decision itself requires time and preparation. Often this act results in an increase of one’s popularity as a proof of courage and directness, honesty, strong character, need of really open relations with others and of trust. This is the case of an outstanding painter Leon Tarasewicz, who treats his Belarusian cultural belonging as a source of artistic inspiration.
Revealing the truth can sometimes have paradoxical results, showing that fear of revealing the stigma is often overestimated. Once a vicar of a Protestant parish in the Netherlands decided to announce to his congregation his conversion to the Orthodox Church. Upon making his decision public, his parishioners gave him an icon and the repeating question was: „Why would you linger with this for such a long time?”.
Still, the issue „whether, to whom, and when” make one’s stigma visible remains a great personal challenge.
Trans. Dorota Kołodziejczyk
ELŻBIETA CZYKWIN – Professor University in Bialystok, Poland.
ELŻBIETA CZYKWIN – prof. dr hab. Wykłada na Wydziale Pedagogiki i Psychologii Uniwersytetu w Białymstoku. W swoich badaniach naukowych interesuje się szczególnie wzajemnymi relacjami międzyetnicznymi i międzykonfesyjnymi w polsko-białoruskim regionie Podlasia na północnym wschodzie Polski, i szerzej: Polska – Białoruś. Wydała głośną książkę „Białoruska mniejszość narodowa jako grupa stygmatyzowana” (Białystok 2000).
1 Comp. Hall, S.: The Question of Cultural Identity. Hall, (eds), 1992.
2 Ibidem, p. 54.
3 Fuszara, M.: Kobiety w Polsce na przełomie wieków. Nowy kontrakt płci?, Warszawa 2002.
5 Comp. Rawls, J. Teoria sprawiedliwości, Warszawa 1994.
6 Ibidem, p. 144.
7 Ibidem, p. 147.
8 Comp. Santori, G. Teoria demokracji, Warszawa 1994, p. 421.
9 Ibidem, footn. 6.
10 Comp. Huntington, S. Zderzenie cywilizacji, Warszawa 2000.
11 Ibidem, p. 181.
12 Ibidem, p. 183.
13 Ibidem, p. 184.
14 Comp. McGuire, W.J. „Content and Process in the Experience of Self” (in) Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, no. 21/88.
15 Ibidem, p. 102.
16 Greenwood, J.D., ed. The Mark Social. Discovery or Invention, 1997, p. 114 (especially ch.5 by J.H. Turner, „The Nature and Dynamics of the ‘Social’ among Humans”).
17 Czykwin, E. Białoruska mniejszość narodowa jako grupa stygmatyzowana. Białystok 2000, pp. 15 – 51.
18 Comp. Orębski, J. „Problem grup etnicznych w etnologii i jego socjologiczne ujęcie (in) Przegląd Socjologiczny, vol. IV, 1936, p. 187.
19 Comp. Sadowski, A., Tefelski, M., Mironowicz, E., „Polacy i kultura polska z perspektywy mniejszości białoruskiej w Polsce” (in) Mucha, J. ed., Kultura dominująca jako kultura obca, Warszawa 1999, p. 59.
20 Ibidem, p. 60.
21 Ibidem, p. 60.
22 Ibidem, p. 89.
23 I will return to the issue once again. Also comp. Mucha, J., „Kultura domiująca jako kultura obca. Mniejszości narodowe a grupa dominująca w Polsce wpółczesnej” (in) Sułka, A., Styka, J., Ludzie i instytucje. Stawanie się ładu społecznego, Lublin, 1995.
24 Comp. Pawluczuk, W., „Ruskie drogi”, (in) Polityka, no 48/96.
25 Comp. Edlicko, J., „Narodowość a cywilizacja” (in) Kłoczkowski, J., Uniwersalizm i swoistość kultury polskiej, Lublin 1990, p. 23.
26 Comp. Samsonowicz, H., „Mity w świadomości historycznej Polaków” (in) Kłoskowska, A., Oblicza polskości, Warszawa, 1990, pp. 154 – 158.
27 Podgórecki, A., Społeczeństwo polskie, Rzeszów 1995.
28 Ibidem, pp. 110 – 126.
29 Comp. Łepkowski, T., „Historyczne kryteria polskości” (in) Oblicza polskości, op.cit.
30 Comp. Ibidem, p. 99.
31 Comp. Podgórecki, op. cit.
32 Ibidem, pp. 87 – 105.
33 Comp. Łepkowski, T., Uparte trwanie polskości. Nostalgie, spory, nadzieje, wartości. London & Warszawa, Aneks i Most, 1989, p. 15.
34 Comp. Walicki, A., „Uniwersalizm i narodowość w polskiej myśli filozoficznej i koncepcjach mesjanistycznych epoki romantyzmu (po roku 1831)” (in) Uniwersalizm i swoistość., op. cit. p. 44; Morawska, E., Wielka emigracja o problemie swoistości kultury polskiej, op. cit. p. 72; Skolimowski, H., „Uniwersalne wartości etosu polskiego” (in) Oblicza polskości, op. cit. pp. 138 – 148.
35 Comp. Łepkowski „Historyczne...”, op. cit. p. 99.
36 Comp. Czykwin, E., „Białorusini w stereotypach” (in) Społeczeństwo otwarte, no 1/95.
37 Masterpieces of Polish literature which have eastern roots and are permeated with the „Ruthenian spirit”, such as Mickiewicz’s Ballady i romanse (Ballads), or Iwaszkiewicz’s Brzezina (Birchwood), seem to be closer and more dear to a reader from a minority than, e.g. Fredro’s Zemsta (Revenge), or Sienkiewicz’s Trylogy.
38 Comp. Czykwin, E., Stosunek Polaków do …, op. cit.
39 Klimowicz, M., Cudzoziemszczyzna ..., op. cit., p. 169.
40 Comp. Mucha, J., Kultura dominująca jako …, op. cit., p. 231.
41 „worrying about grand things” is a vital element of Pole’s self-image (comp. Skolimowski, op. cit, pp. 138 – 148).
42 Melchior, M. „Reakcje na stygmat (impresje wokół badań and polskimi Żydami)” (in) Kofta, M., Jasińska-Kania, A., eds. Stereotypy i uprzedzenia (Uwarunkowania psychologiczne i kulturowe), Warszawa 2001.
43 Ibidem, pp. 268 – 289.
44 Zabrodzka, L., Imiona dzieci jako kontynuacja prawosławnej tradycji rodzinnej (unpublished Master Thesis written under supervision of dr E. Czykwin at Wydział Pedagogiki i Psychologii, Uniwersytet Białostocki, 2001).
45 Comp. Strońska, A., „Hiding identity” (in) Polityka, no 15/02.
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