Do Belarusians actually speak Belarusian?
While in the cities Belarusian people predominantly speak Russian, in rural areas people tend to speak Belarusian. Moreover, most of Belarusian Russian speakers consider Belarusian as their native language.
According to the 1999 census, 85.6% of over 8,000 Belarusians surveyed consider Belarusian their mother tongue, and 41.3% of them said they used Belarusian at home. In addition, Belarusian is considered a mother tongue by 67.1% of Poles who live on the Belarusian territory, 57.6% of whom speak Belarusian at home.
Many Belarusians do indeed speak Russian primarily. However, this is the result of discrimination against the Belarusian language during the country’s past in the Russian empire (from 1794) and then in the Soviet Union (from 1922). Both Russian and Belarusian have been the country’s official languages since the referendum in 1995 (Belarusian was the only official language between 1991 and 1994). According to the 1991 census, the first census in independent Belarus, Belarusian was spoken at home by 36.7% of the population and Russian was spoken by 62.8% of Belarusians.