Inconsistent foundations: why Huntington was wrong about Belarus?

Inconsistent foundations: why Huntington was wrong about Belarus?

In his famous book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order Samuel P. Huntington [1] attributed Belarus to the Orthodox Civilization. According to him, the imaginary dividing line between the Western and the Orthodox civilizations runs through the territory of Belarus. In fact, it lies close to the eastern border of interwar Poland, which included the western areas of today’s Belarus. Our expert Dr. Kiryl Kascian discusses why constitutional identity of Belarus contradicts to its attribution to the Orthodox Civilization by Huntington.

The idea of this text primarily is inspired by the contemporary politics in a wider region of Eastern Europe. The ideological foundations of these developments are linked to significantly diverse interpretations of history and their institutionalization. Hence, they echo Huntington’s framework of civilizations’ clash.

“Russian world” as a form of Civilizations’ Clash

Huntington suggested that “Russia is creating a block with an Orthodox heartland under its leadership and a surrounding buffer of relatively weak Islamic states which it will in varying degrees dominate and from which it will attempt to exclude the influence of other powers” (p. 164). He also underlines two other core elements of this framework. First, it’s the centrality of post-Soviet Orthodox countries for “the development of a coherent Russian bloc in Eurasian and world affairs”. Second, it is pivotal for Russia not only to maintain this system, but to have it accepted and approved by the world.

In one of my previous texts with ICELDS, I emphasized that the Russian legislation lacks any clear definition of the concept of the “Russian World”. It represents a hybridization of cultural views with some political agendas, and its sources are primarily public addresses and other texts of Russian politicians, clergy and intellectuals. It also seems that appeals to this unwritten doctrine is equally important for at least some Russia’s neighboring countries. For example, Ukrainian authorities view the “Russian World” as a security threat and a justification for Russia’s interference in the domestic affairs of Ukraine [2].

Considering the notion “Orthodox” in the terms proposed by Huntington, it seems relevant to focus on the statements by the two leading Russian public figures, namely Vladimir Putin and Vladimir Gundiaev (known as Patriarch Kirill). Putin’s “Crimean Speech” of March 2014 suggested that the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Khersones “predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus”[3]. Concurrently, Gundiaev actively promotes the Russian world as a system of common values which the entire Eastern Slavic civilization created through the populace’s baptism by Prince Vladimir in the Dnieper river in Kyiv [4]. Therefore, their messages suggest the central role of the Orthodox Christianity for the Russian historical canon and for the ideological foundations of the relations with the neighboring Eastern Slavic countries. In any case, it is Russia and its culture that assume the role of a “civilizational magnet” within this framework. Meanwhile, Huntington’s view on Russia and its geopolitical ambitions in its immediate neighborhood is significantly consistent with the Weltanschauung of the leadership of the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Constitutional self-perception of history in Belarus

As for Belarus, Huntington (p. 164) interpreted some developments of the early 1990s in Belarus in a way that allows him to conclude that as of 1995 Belarus was “part of Russia in all but name” with “little sense of national identity” and with significant fractions of the population who “seem to identify as much with Russia as with their own country.” These observations were first published as a book back in 1996, following just five years of the reinstated independence of Belarus. Nevertheless, since then Belarus sustained as an independent state, although it remained an active member of the Russian-led economic and security alliances in the post-Soviet space.

The official interpretation of the Belarusian statehood’s history can be found in the a concise phrase in the Preamble of the country’s Constitution. According to this document, contemporary Belarus relies on “the centuries-old history of development of Belarusian statehood.” Interestingly, this formula of the statehood was elaborated during the period described by Huntington, as the country adopted its Constitution on 15 March 1994. The Preamble with this formula remained unchanged even when in 1996 a new substantially-revised version of the Constitution was adopted.

Although the Constitution does not contain references to specific historical state formations on the territory of modern Belarus, its draft mentioned that the Belarusian statehood rooted in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) and the Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR) [5]. Declared in 1918, the BNR can be regarded as the Belarusian statehood in modernity and the first one which used the name “Belarus”. At the same time, the role of the GDL, which existed until 1795 and since 1569 was in the state union with the Kingdom of Poland, is important as it was the first formation which united the Belarusian lands within a single state.

As for the GDL, both Soviet and modern Russian historical narratives are dominated by the view that suggests that the Eastern Slavic territories were allegedly conquered by Lithuanians and later subordinated to the Polish authorities. However, the Belarusian view on the GDL as a form of the Belarusian historical statehood (though indirectly) can observed earlier in the constitutional acts of the BNR. Therefore, this approach cannot be regarded as an invention of the Belarusian nationalism in the late Soviet Union [6].

Still, the current Belarusian historical narrative states that the earlier statehood tradition encompasses the Duchies of Polack and Turaŭ, which later were incorporated into the GDL. This process generally complies with the formulation of the Belarusian constitutional Preamble and its view upon the historical development of the Belarusian statehood as a sequence of the following formations: the Duchy of Polack (and Turaŭ) – the GDL (and its Commonwealth with the Kingdom of Poland) – BNR – Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic – Republic of Belarus.

Belarus: inconsistency of civilizational foundations

There are two aspects which should be emphasized with regard of historical interpretation of this sequence. First, it does not cover the period from 1795 to 1917 when the lands of today’s Belarus were a part of the Russian Empire. In other words, the period when Belarus was in the Russian Empire is perceived as foreign domination. This interpretation of the period of Russian Empire in the Belarusian lands can be found even in some constitutional acts of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (the 1919 Manifesto and the 1937 Constitution) [7]. Moreover, during this period the Orthodox Christianity regained its dominant role in Belarus following the dissolution in 1839 of the Brest Church Union of 1596 between the Orthodoxy and Catholicism in Rzeczpospolita and the subsequent absorption of the Uniate Church by the state-sposored Russian Orthodox Church [8].

Second, references to the Duchy of Polack (and Turaŭ) require a closer look at the words of Gundiaev and Putin about the personality of Prince Vladimir taken in the Belarusian context. In fact, the documented political history in the Belarusian lands begins with the episode when he raped Rahnieda, a minor daughter of the Polack Prince Rahvalod, in the eyes of her family. Then Rahnieda’s father and brothers were killed, and the city of Polack was captured [9]. Thus, while Russian (and also Ukrainian) narratives portray Prince Vladimir as a prominent statesman, Belarusian interpretations of his personality would per se include this episode in Polack with all its negative connotations.

Hence, the case of Belarus demonstrates that despite close contemporary political alliances with Russia, this country has significantly different historical foundations. They are often contradictory with Russo-centric historical canons, as promoted by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. Still, these canons are not explicitly institutionalized in the legal acts of Belarus, although the current concise formulations combined with the references to historical constitutional acts provide the ground for a wider interpretation of the official historical canon of Belarus as inconsistent with the civilizational foundations of the “Russian World” and subsequently with the “Orthodox Civilization”, as described by Samuel P. Huntington.


[1] Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.
[2] Position on Article 7 of the Law on Education submitted by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, CDL-REF(2017)051,
[3] Address by President of the Russian Federation, 18/03/2014,
[4] Slovo Sviateyshego Patriarkha Kirilla na V Vsemirnom kongresse sootechestvennikov, prozhivayushchikh za rubezhom, 05/11/2015,
[5] Navumčyk, Siarhiej. VKL i BNR pryhadvalisia ŭ prajekcie pieršaj Kanstytucyi suverennaj Bielarusi. RFE/RL Belarusian Service, 15/03/2018,
[6] Kascian, Kiryl (2011). ‘Nation and Statehood in the Constitutional Acts of the Belarusian People’s Republic’, pp. 109-15, in: Doucette, Siobhan, et al. (eds.). Returning to Europe: Belarus Past and Future. Warsaw: Łazarski University.
[7] Kascian, Kiryl (2011). ‘BSSR: ad heahrafična-administracyjnaj farmacyi da bielaruskaj nacyjanaĺnaj adzinki’, pp. 174-182 , in: Białoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne No. 36.
[8] See for instance: Plokhy, Serhii (2017). Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation, from 1470 to the Present. New York: Basic Books.
[9] See: Wilson, Andrew (2011). Belarus: the Last European Dictatorship. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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