Minsk Forum XXI Vilnius Session: Exploring Belarusian Identity in the 21st Century

The workshop aimed to explore various aspects of Belarusian identity and address the challenges faced by Belarusians in preserving their language, culture, and heritage.

Insights from the Workshop

On 11 September 2023, in Vilnius, Lithuania, a workshop titled “Belarusian Identity in the 21st Century” was held as part of the Minsk Forum XXI. Facilitated by Anastasia Khamiankova from Imaguru Startup HUB, this workshop brought together a diverse group of participants, primarily Belarusians representing democratic forces of Belarus, the diaspora, researchers, journalists, and grassroots activists. The workshop aimed to explore various aspects of Belarusian identity and address the challenges faced by Belarusians in preserving their language, culture, and heritage.

The workshop covered a range of pressing topics related to Belarusian identity, including:

  • Discrimination of the Belarusian Language: Participants discussed strategies to combat the discrimination of the Belarusian language within Belarus and explored ways to ensure its survival.
  • Belarusian Nation-Building and Identity: The workshop delved into past experiences and contemplated how culture and mindset can be revitalized in Belarus.

The discussions among participants, who hailed from diverse backgrounds and professional fields, proved both challenging and fruitful. Many shared personal experiences and opinions, emphasising the need for open and honest dialogue on these critical issues. Participants were so engrossed in their discussions that some expressed a desire for more time to continue the conversation.

One of the key takeaways from the workshop was the emphasis on solving the problems of Belarusians as a whole, rather than focusing solely on individual activist agendas. Participants developed empathy for Belarusians from different walks of life, recognizing that their efforts should benefit the broader community.

The groups emerged with innovative ideas to address the challenges facing Belarusians. The first proposed a media project called “Smak pa-biełarusku” (Taste in Belarusian), where Belarusians would cook traditional dishes and discuss success stories from their country. This project aimed to promote Belarusian culture, history, and achievements while avoiding political topics.

The second group focused on physical survival and welfare. They proposed initiatives such as reappropriating the traditional Dažynki festival for wider distribution, creating Belarusian-language educational content for children, and establishing an institution to aggregate the needs of socially vulnerable groups in Belarus.

The methodology employed during the workshop was rooted in design-thinking, encouraging participants to step into the shoes of their target audience or beneficiaries. Groups engaged in activities such as interviews, brainstorming, focusing, and presentation, with a particular focus on understanding what their target audience thinks, feels, says, and does. The identified target audiences included Belarusians within and outside the country, as well as stakeholders. This approach enabled participants to gain a deeper insight into the needs and aspirations of these diverse groups.

The Minsk Forum XXI workshop on Belarusian identity provided a platform for open, empathetic, and solutions-oriented discussions. It showcased the resilience of Belarusians in the face of challenges to their identity and offered innovative solutions to address these issues.