More than in any other European country, the modern history of Belarus is a product of World War II. The unification, homogenization and Sovietization of that country are all direct results of the war. World War II - or the Great Patriotic War, as the conflict is still called in Belarus - built legitimacy and constituted the raison d'etre for the political elite in the most conservative of the Soviet republics. The war brought to power a leadership of pro-Soviet partisans who came to dominate the political stage for four decades. Belarus unexpectedly became independent as the Soviet Union collapsed. In the political vacuum that followed the collapse of the USSR Lukashenka was able to generate support by catering to Soviet nostalgia and symbolism, particularly by recycling old Stalinist myths of war and victory, suffering and redemption. As paternalistic guardian of the state, his skillful use of the war myth has not only re-branded Soviet Belarusian patriotism and reclaimed the ground from the anti-communist nationalist movement - Lukashenka has presented the anti-communist opposition as fascists and traitors, stifled the opposition and accused the Polish minority of constituting a potential fifth column. The Great Patriotic War, or rather the myth of the war, is very much alive in Belarus, and the use of these myths have become central to Lukashenka's consolidation of power and to the remolding of a post-Soviet emerging democracy into an authoritarian autocracy of a kind unique in Europe.
P. Rudling, University of Alberta, Department of History and Classics, Edmonton, Canada
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