The Bitter Smack of Belarusian Language
This month an advertising campaign that may puzzle foreign observers was launched in Minsk. Advertising company “Belzneshreklama” began to advertise the Belarusian language. Their posters show various berries and Belarusian names for them. And what is more unusual – they also decided to display the Russian translation.
The title of the campaign is: “The taste of the Belarusian language”. One would think that Belarusians would know how their language tastes and need no reminders about it. However, a population census in 2009 showed that only 30% of Belarusians speak Belarusian every day. Understanding the language situation in Belarus is difficult for foreigners.
Coming to Minsk for the first time, one might think that Russian is the only language spoken in the country. Until the newcomer gets lost when he wants to get out at “Oktjabrskaja" underground station and does not understand that he should have done so when “Kastrychnickaja” was announced. Stations are announced only in Belarusian on public transportation which may create difficulties for those who speak only Russian.
While Belarus has two official languages, Russian dominates in the capital. Belarusian TV is in mainly in Russian (except for a negligible number of programmes), the same is true for print media. Belarusian, or rather a mixture of Russian or Polish and Belarusian called “Trasianka,” is spoken mainly in the countryside, depending on the geographical situation of the village.
Belarusian was the only official language in the country until the referendum in 1995. Since then, the use of the Belarusian language has become a political issue. The pro-Russian government of Lukashenka stigmatized Belarusian-speakers as radical opposition activists. This policy has changed with the cooling down between Russia and Belarus. After the gas conflict in 2007, the authorities cautiously started promoting the Belarusian language as a characteristic of Belarusian national identity.
Still, it appears that in 2011 instead of putting up some posters, a broader approach is needed to foster the use of the Belarusian language. Generations of Belarusians have grown up in a Russian-speaking environment and have been socialized in a russophone educational system. There is only half a generation of young people that have gone to school between 1991 and 1995, when Belarusian was the first language.
However, there seems to be no serious intention to create a Belarusian-speaking environment. Most of the mass media continue to broadcast in Russian – with very few exceptions. It is very difficult to find literature for children in Belarusian. As a result, those few parents who want to raise Belarusian-speaking children buy books for children in Russian and translate them into Belarusian themselves. As a consequence, most children learn Belarusian as a foreign language when they go to school.
These days only 2% of children in Minsk attend a Belarusian-speaking school. In the whole country, only 19% of pupils are taught in Belarusian. These numbers have decreased significantly since 2001 and it reveals that there is no clear tendency towards promotion of the Belarusian language.
In order to prevent Belarusian from disappearing, more than a small number of activists are needed. A language lives through its speakers. It must come naturally to the Belarusians to speak their beautiful language. The more people speak it – the more often it will be heard in the streets. And one day, people will stop turning their heads in astonishment when they hear a foreigner speak Belarusian in the streets.
‘Don Quixote’ Role of the Belarusian Opposition – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
This month Belarusian analysts focused on geopolitical games involving Belarus, the deep roots of the economic crisis and the inability of the officials in Minsk to deal with it. Another topic which began to receive more attention is the Belarusian parliamentary elections in 2012.
Geopolitical Mill. Political scholar Andrey Suzdaltsev attributes Lukashenka's regime longevity to sitting in the "grey" zone of the struggle between the EU and Russia for political and economic influence in the post-Soviet space. The analyst is sure that, until recently, the West objectively appreciated Lukashenka because he acted against Russian policy in the post-Soviet space, and even on the world arena. Suzdaltsev regards Poland and Lithuania's leaks of information about opposition activists' bank accounts as a planned action rather than an unfortunate incident.
The author believes that now the EU has the task of crushing Lukashenka by Moscow hands. He argues that the West in fact has been fighting not the regime of Lukashenka, but solely its pro-Russian vector. This situation, according toSuzdaltsev, condemns the Belarusian opposition to play the role of Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
Belarusian Example. In another article Alexander Suzdaltsev analyzes Russia’s attempts to establish control over Belarusian gas transit pipeline. Until this spring Russian Gazprom refused to link the sale of Belarus' gas pipeline with gas prices over the next three years. But now Russia agreed to this because it is interested to use Belarus as an example to lure in Ukraine which has resisted Russia's attempts to gain more control over Ukraine's energy giantNaftogaz. Russia also hopes that Ukraine will become a full-fledged member of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Suzdaltsev concludes that in Russia's battle over Ukraine the official Minsk is ready to take any geopolitical role as long as it is paid for.
Belarusians Lliving Beyond Their Means. Yury Pshennik, taking into account the price increase in August, seeks to answer the question of what can Belarusians afford today. He writes that Belarusians and Belarus for many years lived beyond their means. Now as the economic crises hits the country, many began to understand that the Belarusian economic model is unsustainable. The number of people who go abroad to earn a living has sharply increased as salaries have plummeted. However, the government is not serious about reducing its expenditures and continues to build new ice hockey palaces and presidential residencies.
Doing Nothing as a Method of Governance for Belarus. Another former presidential candidate YaraslauRamanchuk argues that the official Minsk does not have any coherent strategy, resources or professionals to deal with the economic crisis. He argues that the authoritarian political system is not designed for official decision-making and combating crises. It can only efficiently manage security organs, which will stay loyal as long as they are well paid.
Parliamentary Elections on Our Own Terms. Ales Mikhalevich recommends what needs to be done in order to 2012 parliamentary elections to become a key step towards democratic change. Former presidential candidate AlesMikhalevich, who now lives in exile argues against boycott of the 2012 parliamentary elections. Although he has no illusions regarding the official outcome of the elections, he thinks it is important to mobilize people to put pressure on authorities to release political prisoners.
Nomenclature wants to strengthen its position. The Chairman of the Council of the Republic of BelarusAnatoly Rubinov advocates the creation of a political party on the basis of the pro-governmental association "BelayaRus". Political scientist and politician Dmitry Kuhlej believes that in this way part of the Belarusian nomenclature goes to the end of the stage of authoritarian modernization and it would signal a reduction in the role of the president in the Belarusian politics.
The Only Way to Bring Changes Closer. Petr Kuznetsov suggests that only by changing the paradigm of values will Belarusians achieve positive change in society. He believes that the economic crisis alone will not lead to changes and it is important to help Belarusians understand and appreciate the value of human dignity, freedom, and human rights.