Group Maintenance and Ethnic Commitment

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Belarusans/Madeline Ziniak

Although some Belarusans dreamed of going back to the homeland, few actually did so. Anti-Soviet sentiment, the struggle for an independent state, and pursuit of language and cultural retention in Canada propelled community life for post-World War II immigrants. The minimal size of the activist group, and consequently smaller membership in organizations, necessitated cooperation with other ethnocultural groups, such as the Mutual Co-operation League, in the attainment of similar goals.

The growing number of Canadian-born Belarusans who had only a poor understanding of Belarusan heritage, a tendency to identify with Slavs in general, and lack of awareness on the part of Canadian society influenced Canadian-born Belarusans to submerge their heritage. Group identity has, however, been fostered by the traditional celebrations of Easter, Christmas, and other holidays as well as christenings, funerals, and marriages. Family and religion continue to serve as a conduit for language and cultural retention.

The emergence of Belarus as an independent and internationally recognized state in 1991 has launched a renaissance. Canada’s Committee for Free Belarussia announced: “We sincerely congratulate the Belarusan nation with the declaration of an independent Belarus and wish stability and strength to her as well as the unification of the independent Belarusan state and all Belarusan ethnogeographical territories. Long live a free, independent, and unified Belarus.” Unhampered exchange of printed material on Belarus, ability to travel to and from the homeland, reconstruction of Belarusan history with the use of accurate material prepared in Canada, and relief efforts have escalated involvement and mutual ties. Batskaushtchyna (World Association of Belarusans) held the First World Congress of Belarusans in Minsk on 8 July 1993, with the primary purpose of uniting and consolidating Belarusans internationally to promote the spiritual, political, and economic renaissance of Belarus.

Though Belarusan ethnocultural identity in Canada was dulled by historic complexities, Belarusan organizations and publications maintained its profile. The main challenge for the community, as its activist core shrinks through mortality, is to preserve and expand the Belarusan identity in Canada by encouraging younger generations to embrace their heritage. The intense dedication of the post-war immigrants to a free and independent Belarus cannot be reproduced among their Canadian-born descendants, but the emergence of an independent state has provided new incentives for maintaining a Belarusan-Canadian identity. The achievement of independence has created a more identifiable national consciousness and thereby increased the possibility of the survival and evolution of the Belarusan community in Canada.