The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 unleashed a new wave of decolonization, and throughout the 1990s, the newly independent states spent a lot of time and effort articulating their visions of sovereignty. Unlike neighboring Lithuania, which could turn its brief experience of interwar independence into a paradigmatic model of the postcolonial and postsocialist state, Belarus had to produce its narratives of political independence from scratch. This essay looks closely at the so-called National Rebirth, a vibrant intellectual attempt to elaborate an anticolonial view of the Belarusian past and its postcolonial present, which took place in the 1990s. Framed in negative terms and expressed through gestures of rejection, the Rebirth emerged as a form of apophatic nationalism that envisioned nationhood through an extensive cartography of nonbelonging and self-erasure. Following the key figures of the Rebirth, this essay shows how instances of absence were persistently elaborated, classified, and transformed into genealogies and historiographies; how nothingness was mined as a source of inspiration; and how nonalignment became a strategic choice.
How to Grow out of Nothing: The Afterlife of National Rebirth in Postcolonial Belarus
serguei alex. oushakine splits his time between the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University. His book The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia (2009) was the recipient of the best book award from the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. His new projects include a book on pedagogy of images in early Soviet–illustrated books for children and a fieldwork-based monograph on the postcolonies of communism.