Staunton, September 11 – Belstat, the Belarusian government’s statistical agency, says that the 2019 census showed that Belarus is becoming more Belarusian, with the percentage of people declaring that nationality their own and indicating that they speak the national language rising and the share of those calling themselves Russian and speaking Russian declining.
Vladimir Putin may think that Belarus is part of what he calls “the Russian world,” but demographically, Belarus is moving out of that world at remarkable speed not only because Belarusians and Belarusian speakers are increasing but because Russians and Russian speakers are falling (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/11/belorusov-v-belarusi-stanovitsya-bolshe-russkih-menshe.html).
In the 1999 census, 81.2 percent of the country’s residents identified as Belarusians while 11.4 percent said they were ethnic Russians. Now, the share identifying as Belarusians has risen to 84.9 percent while that of ethnic Russians has fallen to 7.5 percent. The shares of most other ethnic groups have remained more or less constant.
Not only do more residents of Belarus identify as ethnic Belarusians, more of them speak Belarusian – and strikingly Minsk rather than the countryside is a leader in this. There, 34 percent of the population says it speaks Belarusian. In other cities, the figure is 12 to 24 percent, a pattern exactly the opposite of 15 years ago.
For “the Russian world” to be plausible, there need to be ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Putin and many others have routinely claimed that such people dominate the population in Belarus. But the censuses show both that this is not the case and that it is becoming less so every year.
To be sure, were the Kremlin to annex Belarus, some there might reidentify as Russians to curry favor with the occupiers; and more would speak Russian because that would be the language of the empire. But unless that happens, Belarus will continue to move in the direction of other countries in the region, making talk about “a Russian world” all the more absurd.