Staunton, October 2 – Today, Minsk has launched a trial census of some 15,000 residents to prepare for an all-Belarusian one in 2019, and experts expect that both will show ever more ethnic Russians living in Belarus reidentifying as Belarusians by nationality and even declaring that they speak the national language rather than Russian.
The 2019 will be the third Belarusian census since the end of the USSR. In 1999, ethnic Russians formed 11 percent of the population; and in 2009, they had declined to only 8.3 percent of the total. That decline reflected less the outmigration of the Russians than their re-identification as Belarusians (regnum.ru/news/society/2328998.html).
“Sociologists note,” the Regnum news agency says, “that there haven’t been any wars or harsh repressions against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, and there haven’t been mass epidemics or other causes which might have led to a reduction in the number of ethnic Russians.”
Consequently, it says, “this question deserves an investigation of its own.”
Valentina Teplova, a professor at the Minsk Spiritual Academy, says that “today, young peope in Belarus find it easier to position themselves as representatives of the titular nation lest they provoke questions about ‘non-Belarusian nationality.’” But she suggests that there are many additional factors at work.
Those include Minsk’s “Belarusianization’ effort, one that is having some success. After all, she suggests, “even though a majority of residents of Belarus speak Russian, many of them in polls say that their native language is Belarusian.”
There are at least three reasons why this trend is especially important: First, it shows that Belarusian identity is strengthening rather than weakening, something that overtime will likely push Minsk even further from Moscow and toward the West.
Second, it highlights the weakness of Russian national identity and even attachment to Russian given that in Belarus as in Ukraine, people Vladimir Putin has assumed he can count on as permanent members of his “Russian world” are making another choice.
And third, it shows that even if Moscow is able to insist on making Russian a state language as it has done in Belarus, that alone may not stop this process of re-identification not only ethnically but linguistically as well.