Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Leibniz-Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Ausgabe: 66 (2018), S. 169-171

Verfasst von: Claus Bech Hansen


Rayk Einax: Entstalinisierung auf Weißrussisch. Krisenbewältigung, sozioökonomische Dynamik und öffentliche Mobilisierung in der Belorussischen Sowjetrepublik 1953– 1965. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2014. 443 S., 13 Abb., 3 Ktn., 14 Tab. = Historische Belarus-Studien, 2. ISBN: 978-3-447-10275-9.

Recent years have witnessed a heightened interest in the post-Stalin period and the de-Stalinization process in the Soviet Union. Famously coined the Thaw by Ilya Ehrenburg and traditionally conceptualised as a period of liberalisation in the political and cultural spheres, newer studies on Gulag inmates (Miriam Dobson), the intelligentsia (Vladislav Zubok), political protests (Robert Hornsby) as well as state and society under Khrushchev (Melanie Ilič/Jeremy Smith) and de-Stalinisation (Polly Jones) have challenged this view and provided a much more nuanced interpretation of the precarious balance act of loosening the fetters of the Stalin dictatorship while containing possible consequences that could endanger the stability and security of the system.

With a case study of de-Stalinization in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) from 1953 to 1965, Rayk Einax’ book Entstalinisierung auf Weißrussisch aims to contribute to this growing body of literature. The book is based on extensive research in Belarus’ian archives (complemented in some cases by other researchers’ documents) and structured in six empirical chapters. Einax intends to revise the concept of de-Stalinisation by analysing Khrushchev’s hyperbolic campaigns on the one hand, as well as the concrete performances and effects of the Khrushchevian modernisation process for the population on the other (p. 27). In order to do so, Einax analyses the policies and processes typically subsumed under de-Stalinisation such as socio-economic change, elite turn-over, popular mobilization and anti-religious campaigns.

World War II was decisive to the development of the BSSR during the late- and post-Stalinist period. Einax sets the stage by analysing the sovietisation of former Polish territories on the western border, incorporated into the BSSR following WWII, and the reconstruction of a destroyed economy. While collectivization of agriculture in the new territories was hampered by popular opposition or circumvention, the general Stalinist prioritisation of industry over agriculture made Minsk the industrial powerhouse of the BSSR (p. 76). This unequal development process from an “agrarian to a (still largely agriculture-based) industrial state” (p. 165) continued far into the post-Stalin period, and while the western regions were eventually stabilised, the weak institutional outreach of the state and party in rural areas remained, an argument that Einax shows from different angles throughout his book.

The reform processes initiated by L. Beriia and continued by Khrushchev following Stalin’s death and their implementation in the BSSR stand at the heart of chapters four to eight. Einax’ convincingly argues that, understood as an epoch-defining concept, de-Stalinisation is sensible only in retrospect and from the view of the centre, since contemporary citizens are unlikely to have felt a coherent political strategy in everyday life (p. 128). This was not least due to of the different faces of de-Stalinization that oscillated between ‘liberalising’ and restricting policies due to the (unanticipated) consequences of the reform process. Moreover, chapters four to six show that developments in the BSSR did not differ from other parts of the Soviet Union: Gulag returnees received a lukewarm welcome upon their release; the Secret Speech resulted in a wave of critical questions from local party organisations and activs; and cadre de-Stalinization in the BSSR remained slow and incomplete. The analysis of the latter is instructive and Einax vividly shows how a complex dynamic developed, directed presumably by different party fractions, internal disputes and perhaps even coincidence (p. 236).

Chapters seven and eight shift the focus from the political arena to popular opinion and everyday life in the BSSR. Dealing with a delicate research subject, Einax attempts to eke out at least some of the concerns of ordinary citizens by analysing scribblings on election ballots from 1953 through 1962, which he understands as a valve that allowed to voice discontent. This is a fruitful approach and Einax shows how popular concerns predominantly centred on material well-being, housing standards and the continuously unfulfilled promises of socialist life although the local party leadership and the Soviet system received its share of grievances (pp. 245280). Again this is nothing new but it provides additional evidence for comparisons across the Soviet Union. The final chapter of the book is devoted to  Khrushchevs anti-religious campaigns. Einax aims to shed light on the relationship between popular religion (Volksfrömmigkeit) in the Belorussian countryside and the atheist state. The results of the campaign have been thoroughly researched by other scholars (e.g. Bohdan Bociurkiw) and although Einax provides an in depth study of the developments in the BSSR, there is little new information to be found.

Einax provides a rich study of the many dilemmas of de-Stalinization in the BSSR. It is not free from flaws, however. Firstly, it is peculiar that Einax aims to introduce cultural historical concepts such as Lebenswelt (29) into the study of the BSSR only to disregard it later (317). Secondly, Einax’ reliance on Soviet institutional sources has resulted in the reiteration of failures and deficiencies of Soviet rule in the BSSR. In addition, these sources are particularly problematic for a study of popular religion because rather than shedding light on the religious followers’ sense of belief or everyday struggle with a repressive state, they largely result in the reproduction of the official Soviet view. Moreover, it would have been better to focus on the arguably huge impact that Soviet rule had on religious practices. Finally, further copy-editing would have benefited the volume by streamlining chapter length, avoiding repetitions, and including better indexing and a full bibliography. Ultimately, however, the book fills an important gap in the historiography of the BSSR and is a welcome contribution for scholars working on de-Stalinization in the Soviet Union.

Claus Bech Hansen, Bonn

Zitierweise: Claus Bech Hansen über: Rayk Einax: Entstalinisierung auf Weißrussisch. Krisenbewältigung, sozioökonomische Dynamik und öffentliche Mobilisierung in der Belorussischen Sowjetrepublik 1953– 1965. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2014. 443 S., 13 Abb., 3 Ktn., 14 Tab. = Historische Belarus-Studien, 2. ISBN: 978-3-447-10275-9, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Bech-Hansen_Einax_Entstalinisierung_auf_Weissrussisch_HBTH.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

© 2018 by Leibniz-Institut für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung Regensburg and Claus Bech Hansen. All rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact jahrbuecher@ios-regensburg.de

Die digitalen Rezensionen von Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas. jgo.e-reviews werden nach den gleichen strengen Regeln begutachtet und redigiert wie die Rezensionen, die in den Heften abgedruckt werden.

Digital book reviews published in Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas. jgo.e-reviews are submitted to the same quality control and copy-editing procedure as the reviews published in print.