Volume 4, Fascile 1/2 (6/7) December 1997

In search of the Middle Ages

Hienadz Sahanovic

After breakdown of the USSR, history slowly began to free itself from the soviet ideological heritage. However, some attempts of selfaffirmation can be scarcely regarded as successful. First and foremost, it concerns the periodization of history which was officially adopted in 1995. The old soviet scheme of formations (primitive society - till the 8th century; feudalism - the 9th century - 1861; capitalism - 1861-1917; socialism - from 1917) was changed by the classical West-European model with the same chronological frames: antiquity (till the 5th century) - Middle Ages (the 6th - 15th cent.) - Modern Period (from the 16th cent.)

This periodization has already got not only into the school manuals but into academic syntheses. However, nobody has proposed any basing of validity of such an approach yet. It looks like that the only guidance that initiators of this approach followed was their aspiration to do "as it was in the whole world", to write the history of Belarus into the all-european context purely in the formal way. In the result, the manuals and general works with the new periodization are full of inconsequences and contradictions. It appears that in the Middle Ages on the territory of Belarus there were no towns and state, Christianity and written language. At the same time during the 16-17th centuries announced to be the Modern Period the most important features of the medieval society were distinctly revealed here - economy in kind, absolute predominance of rural population, authority of landlords, personal dependence of peasants. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century was still a patrimonial monarchy with underdeveloped system of vassalage.

As far as it goes about the Middle Ages in the history of Belarus (on the whole with respect to the Eastern Europe the term of "Middle Ages" can be used rather figuratively) its chronological frames are quite different. Belarusian past can be better interpreted from the point of view of the concept of "long Middle Ages". The low level of urbanisation, supremacy of agrarian economy, demographic regress which was a result of frequent wars, and some other factors brought about extremely sharp difference between the high (elite) culture and low (popular) culture, exceptional firmness of traditional structures and stereotypes of mentality. As it become evident in conditions of totalitarian regime even today the Belarusian society haven't got rid of some characteristic features of typically medieval mentality - authoritarism, dogmatism, collectivism, etc.

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