This File Last Updated: 1996/12/01

Book Review:
Belarus: From Soviet Rule to Nuclear Catastrophe

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    See note at bottom.

    The fall issue (Vol. 8, No.3) of the The Belarusian Review contains a review on the following book by Dr. David Marples:

    "Belarus: From Soviet Rule to Nuclear Catastrophe." By David R. Marples. Illustrated. 200 pp. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. 1996. Cloth, $39.95.

    David R. Marples, professor of History at the University of Alberta, Canada, is a Canadian scholar whose earlier research focused on Ukraine. He has authored four books, two of them on Chornobyl. While doing his research on the Chornobyl disaster, he learned that Belarus had received the lion's share of the fallout. In April 1992, six years after the disaster, he was invited to visit Miensk for the first time. Later, while attending another major conference in Miensk, he heard the following plea from the Belarusian participants: "We need attention; we are suffering from the effects of a disaster and yet we are being ignored by the outside world."

    The plea was heard and this book was born. The book is based on the author's extensive research during his seven visits to Belarus in 1992-1995.

    In addition to Chornobyl, Marples was much interested in the country's political change. Thus the research centered on two major questions: has Soviet rule in Belarus retarded national, cultural, and state development; and second, what have been the main medical, social, and political repercussions of the Chornobyl disaster? To answer these questions, Marples devoted five chapters in which he provides a detailed perspective of a republic in a deep crisis and struggling for national and political survival.

    The first two chapters deal with the repression and urbanization under Soviet rule and the national nihilism affecting the Belarusian language and culture. The two chapters on Chornobyl comprise the first intensive study on the health consequences of Chornobyl in Belarus, ten years after that event. They highlight the impact of radioactive fallout on cleanup workers, evacuees, and those who live today in the contaminated zones.

    The last chapter, "Perestroika and Independence," describes the effect of Perestroika on Belarus, the emergence of the Belarusian Popular Front, the question of nuclear power in Belarus, and the fateful referendum in 1995 and its implications as to the future course of the country. The chapter is concluded with an epilogue, which is reprinted below.

    The writer follows the Belarusian spelling of place names in the text, using as a guide the map issued by the Committee for Land Surveying of the Belarusian Council of Ministers in 1992. For the spelling of people's names, the author uses the Belarusian version for persons of Belarusian origin and the Russian version for persons of Russian origin. For transliterating the names, the author follows the U.S. Library of Congress with slight modifications of his own.

    The book uses a Belarusian Review map of Belarus in the introductory part and on the book jacket and makes reference to some of the articles appearing in the Belarusian Review. Referring to historiography, the author states that "it is still a difficult task to uncover impartial and objective treatments of a Belarusian national tradition within the Republic." He points out that "the history of Belarus has been left largely to the diaspora of North America and Europe." He says that Jan Zaprudnik's Belarus: At a Crossroads of History, "brought Belarus back into the mainstream of Soviet and post-Soviet studies" and uses it extensively in his bibliography. He says that "the number of specifically Belarusian institutions devoted to the study of the country and its history are very few: a Belarusian Academy of Arts and Sciences operates in New York; the well edited Belarusian Review is published in Los Angeles." Marples asserts that "Belarusian studies are not widely taught at Western universities" and when they are, "such studies must be considered marginal at best."

    The book may be ordered from the publisher, St. Martin's Press, Scholarly and Reference Division, 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, USA, at the special Belarusian Review price of $31.96 (20% off the $39.95 list price).

    Don't send your orders to the Belarusian Review. For additional information, contact (212) 982-3900.

    This book review is copyright by, and appears here courtesy of

    Belarusian Review

    P.O. Box 10353
    Torrance, CA 90505, USA

    Fax (310) 373-0793     E-mail:

    In the interests of full disclosure: Dr. Marples contributes articles to the Belarusian Review, and the maintainer of this A Belarus Miscellany Web site has on one occasion as well.

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