Migrants from Eastern Ukraine Put Pressure on Belarus
Belarus has never had anything resembling the number of migrants it has recently experienced. Over the past 12 months the Belarusian population, thanks to the 100,000 refugees from the Donbas, has increased by 1%. Indeed, Belarus has more Ukrainian migrants per capita than any other country.
Belarus is not a particularly attractive destination for migrants, since it does not offer much in the way of social benefits or employment opportunities. For a long time Afghans, who came to Belarus in the 1980s and 1990s, accounted for 70% of all the country's refugees.
These days, the picture is rapidly changing. The number of Syrian refugees remains minimal but the sheer volume of people migrating from the Donbas has put serious pressure on Belarus' economy and has even contributed to the growing crime rate.
Belarus Meets the Middle East
Belarus has never been particularly attractive to immigrants for a number of reasons. The public authorities are under no obligation to provide refugees with housing, a means of subsistence, or even language courses. Refugees can apply for additional support (which the state has the right to deny them) like food, clothing, travel and accommodations, but this assistance has a $200 ceiling. Therefore, migrants usually use Belarus as a jumping off point en route to the European Union.
Refugees usually come to Belarus from the Middle East and former Soviet republics. As is true with most countries in Europe, Belarus differentiates between refugees and people who have emigrated for humanitarian reasons (subsidiary protection).
Afghanis have long been the only major group to receive refugee status in Belarus. It started in the 1980s, when many Afghanis who came to the Soviet Union to study decided not to return home. The stream of migration continued through the 1990s, as more of them came to Belarus to reunite with their families.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, Belarus has attracted more and more Syrian refugees. In 2013, 63 Syrian citizens applied for asylum in Belarus. Syrians receive significant assistance from the international community in Belarus. The state media has repeatedly put out stories about the Syrians living in Homiel in an apartment that was purchased for them by the United Nations.
While many Syrians have trouble negotiating the local language, Afghans are a good example of immigrants adapting to Belarus. So far, it would appeas that the Belarusian media has never once reported of there being any problems with Afghan refugees. Others migrants tend to come from countries where Russian has at least some presence in public life, so it is easier for them to adapt. For instance, the author’s classmate from Georgia was able to learn Belarusian in just a few years.
Donbass Goes to Belarus
In 2014 and 2015 more than 100,000 Ukrainians made their way to Belarus, thus increasing the country's population by more than 1%. Migrants from Ukraine do not hold refugees status, as Ukraine is not formally in a war and its citizens that coming to Belarus are not persecuted in Ukraine. Most of them obtained either a permanent or temporary residence to live in Belarus. Generally, migrants say that the government and the Red Cross provide around a $ 250-300 one-time allowance for each person to help them readjust.
migrants from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine have access to social services such as kindergartens and hospitals Read more
While the appropriate data is not available, it seems, according to media outlets, that most Ukrainians are able to find work in agriculture, construction or commerce. A large number of migrants have settled in rural areas, where some have even managed to secure either an apartment or a house for free. As Aliaksandr Lukashenka mentioned last year, "we need a labour force, and we are ready to settle them in various parts of the country, provide them with shelter and jobs.”
The Belarusian authorities hope that Ukraine's refugees will help to rescue the country's agricultural sector, as it continues to decline. Despite the low salaries, many Ukrainians are inclined to work in agriculture, if for no other reason, than the absence of war.
According to an decree signed by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, migrants from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine have access to social services such as kindergartens and hospitals. However, while teenagers from the Donbas can go to Belarusian schools for free, they still do not have money for buying books or the required school uniform.
Economic Pressure and Crime
In June, many media outlets reprinted a statement by a representative of the Belarusian police who made light of the problems Belarus was facing when trying to deal with the “mentality of the refugees”. According to him, the police have to explain to migrants from the Donbas that it is illegal to cross the street when there is a red light or drink beer out in public places.
Ukrainian migrants are willing to work for a salary several times lower than what a Belarusian would find acceptable Read more
The police reported several cases where individuals from the Donbas got in fights after squabbling over politics. Since the beginning of 2015, the crime rate among individuals coming from Ukraine has increased by 30% according to the Belarusian police. In 2014 crime was also an issue among them, prompting Belarus to deport 200 Ukrainians last year.
The most serious issues revolve not just around crime, but the effect of Ukrainian migrants on the labour market. Most of them are willing to work for a salary several times lower than what a Belarusian would find acceptable. This makes it even harder for Belarusians who have lost their job due to economic recession to regain footing.
Mikhail Miasnikovich, former prime minister and current head of the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament, said in April that the Ukrainian immigrants "have created a certain amount of pressure on the economy.” According to him, “Belarus has to think about employing its own people, not just help out our Ukrainian friends.”
On 15 July, UNHCR Representative in the Republic of Belarus Jean-Yves Bouchardy appealed for more support for refugees from Ukraine, as his organisation lacks funding to help Belarus and mostly concentrates on Syrian immigrants who have received refugee status. “They are in a worse position than Ukrainians because they do not speak Russian, which seriously hinders their employment opportunities,” mentioned Jean-Yves Bouchardy.
According to Ihar Shunevich, the Minister of the Interior, some Ukrainians have already left Belarus. This is due to the fact that Belarus appears to be unprepared for migration on this scale and cannot support everyone coming in. This might have been different, but Belarus has thus far failed to engage the international community in the name of supporting Ukrainian refugees.
Getting Belarusian Names and Places Right
For many foreigners the Latinised spellings for Belarusian places and names continue to present real difficulties or just appear unpronounceable.
Belarusians themselves feel annoyed about the ways their names are transliterated from Cyrillic into Latin script. It has become even more complicated with Belarus having two official languages – Belarusian and Russian.
Some people transliterate proper names in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s or the Belarusian Academy of Sciences' standards, which was recently adopted by the United Nations. Most people and the media, however, are inconsistent when switching from one version to another. Despite the various approaches, one thing is clear – if one respects Belarusian identity, it is important to transliterate Belarusian names from the Belarusian language.
How should one write the name of Alexander Lukashenka, then? Is it Aleksandr Lukashenko, Aliaksandr Lukashenka or even Aliaksandr Lukašenka? This is a point of confusion for many foreign journalists and researchers writing about Belarus. For instance, the respected British publication The Economist calls Belarusian leader Lukashenka and, alternatively, Lukashenko, while other Western major outlets use only Lukashenko.
Belarusians have their fair share of problems with transliteration, and sometimes use a different spelling of their names at different points. For example, Alexander Hleb, a former football player for Arsenal and Barcelona, switches between Hleb and Gleb.
Similar problems arise in writing out geographical place names. For foreigners it is difficult to grasp that Oktiabrskaja ploshad and Kashtrychnickaja polshcha refer to the same place. These are transliterated from two different languages – Oktiabrskaja from Russian and Kastrychnickaja from Belarusian.
The same is true with Hrodna (in Belarusian) and Grodno (in Russian) or Mahiliou (in Belarusian) and Mogilev (in Russian). Google Maps, for example, uses a bizarre mixture of various systems of transliteration in naming Belarusian geographical areas. Sometimes the names appear in Belarusian Cyrillic, sometimes in Lacinka, sometimes in Russian and whatever language is employed, they are not always used correctly.
Four Ways to Transliterate
Currently people use four different spellings of Belarusian names or cities: a transliteration from Russian, the spelling used by Belarusian Ministry of Interior, a random transliteration and the standard adopted by the United Nations. The first three fail to aptly convey the Belarusian language's designations and the fourth spelling is the single standard that Belarusian and foreign linguists recognise.
Transliteration from Russian is commonplace as Belarusians primarily use Russian in their daily lives. Also, many foreigners often perceive Belarusian culture and identity to be part and parcel of Russian culture. Moreover, many Belarusian leaders consciously use the Russian version of their names. For example, the Foreign Minister of Belarus Uladzimir Makej refers to himself as Vladimir Makei.
But Alena Kupchyna, Makei’s Deputy, transliterated her name from the Belarusian language in accordance with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus' standards. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) also follows the same standards. ICAO, a UN specialised agency, only permits the usage of the English alphabet. These spellings often causes complaints as some people struggle to recognise their own surnames in their passport when they are written with this system.
In Belarus one can even transliterate their name from Russian and keep their surname's Belarusian spelling Read more
Those without prior knowledge would not know that the letter “h” stands for a “g” sound in Belarusian. For instance, the author’s name is prounounced something more akin to Rygor than Ryhor. This explains why many people eventually choose to use other transliterations. George Plaschinsky, a Belarusian who changed the transliteration of his name, told Belarus Digest that he had previously written his surname as Plachtchinski, but few could remember it.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs uses the ICAO’s transliteration by default in Belarusian passports, although everyone has the opportunity to specify how to their name should be transliterated when applying for a passport. This opens the door for people from other nationalities to write their names in accordance with their languages. For example, Belarusian citizens of Polish nationality can write their names in passport in Polish. This is one thing that differentiates Belarus from Lithuania, where Poles cannot use the Polish variant of their name on any official documents. In Belarus one can even transliterate their name from Russian and keep their surname's Belarusian spelling.
Despite the fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs makes it possible to transliterate one's name as you wish, this limits people to only English letters and excludes letters like š (sh) or č (ch). This makes it impossible to use the most appropriate spelling, one which was developed by the Academy of Sciences of Belarus and the United Nations, who adopted these Belarusian toponyms.
Historically the Belarusian language has used three modified alphabets – Cyrillic, Latin and Arabic – and with Latin being used in a very broad manner. For example, using this spelling Lukashenka would be transliterated as Lukašenka. Belarus Profile, a sister project of Belarus Digest, uses this version when writing out the names. The titles of Minsk streets and metro stations are written according to this standard as well. Even Google Translate can transliterate Belarusian language according to this system.
Is There a Good Solution?
For Belarusians, the question of how to write out one's own name continues to be a pestering problem. The author of this article once thought about changing his surname from Astapenia to Astapienia, which would bring it more in line with its proper pronunciation. Since many of his official documents were already issued to Astapenia, changing his surname could lead to mounds of bureaucratic hassle and problems down the road. That is why many Belarusians, not satisfied with the transliteration on their passports, continue to be reluctant to change it.
there is only one standard preferred by scholars with the Belarusian Latin alphabet Read more
Despite all these problems, there is only one standard preferred by scholars with the Belarusian Latin alphabet. In 2000, the Institute of Language of the National Academy of Sciences established it as the foundation for the transliteration of Belarusian proper names in foreign languages.
However, this standard needs the support of the authorities' to allow it to be used in passports. It is already more or less the standard with Belarusian place names. According to this method of transliteration, Baranavichy will be Baranavičy and Statkievich will be Statkievič. The Journal of Belarusian Studies, the oldest English language double blind peer-reviewed periodical on Belarusian studies, follows this transliteration method.
Foreigners can use several styles to write Belarusian names, and they all depend on the situation in which they are employed. When it comes to official documentation, a passport helps them to skirt what could quickly become a bureaucratic hassle.
As for academic publications, it makes sense to use the transliteration of the Academy of Sciences as it is the most suitable system available. One can also ask how one should call a particular person – transliterating name from Russian by default can be even offensive to some Belarusians.
While it seems rather farfetched to develop a single unified system right now, it makes sense at least to exclude mostly blatantly incorrect versions – ones that use Russian transliterations. While few people inside Belarus use it, this is clearly not the best practise. Transliterating Belarusian names and places from Belarusian is a sign of respect towards Belarusians and their national identity.