The international seminar Belarusian Diaspora: Past and Present organized by the Foreign policy and security (FPS) research center took place in Minsk on September 20, 2010. Dr. Renee Buhr (on the photo) from the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, USA took part in the seminar.
Forsecurity.org: What are your impressions on Belarus?
Renee Buhr: I'm for the first time in Belarus and I'm very impressed about hospitality of the Belarusian people. I've been soft on Minsk (the capital of Belarus - editor's note)! I introduced with Nezavisimosti (Independence - editor's note) avenue, Parliament Building, National State Library, Karl Marx street and Lenin street in the city. It was very interesting! Tomorrow (on September, 21 - editor's note) I will drive to Vitebsk (a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia, Lithuania, Latvia - editor's note) to take part in the seminar dedicated to the tolerance towards refugees. I also plan to get acquainted with part of the Jewish culture in Belarus - the Marc Chagall Museum in Vitebsk.
Forsecurity.org: The seminar «Belarusian diaspora: past and present», which held in Minsk with the assistance of the Foreign Policy and Security research center, had a form of discussion. What was the most remembered?
Renee Buhr: It came to my knowledge that there is NGO «Radzima» («Motherland» - editor's note) in Belarus, that scientists from the Faculty of International Relations (BSU, Minsk) are preparing for publication a scholarly work on the history and current state of the Belarusian diaspora, that your scientists research the Belarusian diaspora in Argentina - we are, in the U.S.A., not seldom forget (with a smile - author's note) that the Belarusian diaspora there are not only in the USA but in other countries. I hope this seminar would cement relations between the Belarusian and the American universities to enlarge our range of vision. The interpretation of what is happening in Eastern Europe by the Americans is such-and-such, in Eastern Europe one can find another interpretation. Therefore it is necessary to carry out academic exchanges.
Forsecurity.org: Your research interests include the study of nationalism in East Europe. The word «nationalism» has an affective connotation for the inhabitants of Eastern Europe. Various people even confused «nationalism» with «Nazism».
Renee Buhr: I suppose that Nazism is extreme form of expression of nationalism. The concept «nationalism» has a negative connotation for common Americans, as well as for common Belarusians. But for scientists it means national identity, in other words «something that brings people together». National identity based on different ground: on the language in Baltic states, on the state symbols in Belarus, as well as in French, for example. Some researchers, by the way, suppose if there is no language-based identity, there is no nation.
Forsecurity.org: A scandal book by the American citizen John Loftus «The Belarus Secret» was published in 1980th in the U.S.A. The author accused U.S.A. intelligence agencies of helping for a number of the Belarusians, who, as the author claims, contributed to the massacres of Jews in Belarus during the Nazi occupation. A few years later the same people has worked at ground zero of large Belarus public associations in the USA. Whose interests were behind the release of this book?
Renee Buhr: I do not know this book. But the first thing I noticed when I heard this question, was the time the book came out. It was the years of Reagan's presidency who well known for his anti-USSR rhetoric. He aimed to unite around himself the adherents of his views by explotation the fear of communism. On the other hand, the book can be true. It is well known, for example, that prominent Japanese scholars were invited to the USA to share developments, despite the fact that they had cooperated with the Nazis.
Forsecurity.org: Here, in Belarus, we learn how supranational institutes in the EU work. At the same time, you, in the USA, explore the formation of the Belarusian nation. Is there a tendency in Belarus to take part in formation of supranational institutes?
Renee Buhr: I analyzed the history of Belarus since times of Grand Duchy of Lithuania (13 century - editor's note) up to the time of the USSR's collapce, and also modern history. There are people in Belarus who believe that Belarus should join the EU despite of partial lose of the national sovereignty, but a majority are against such action. Belarus has a short history as an independent state, so it is untimely to speak about readiness of Belarus to inclusion in the international organization, in which supranational institutes has been formed and are really working. It was, by the way, a topic of discussion with Victor Shadurski (the expert of the FPS - editor's note). For the time being he is the only one person with who I have actively touched base. I want to notice his high level of competency in the foreign policy of Belarus.