Friday, September 4, 2020

Debates about 'Belarus' versus 'Belorussia' Unnecessarily Politicized, Petrov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 3 – Few people care that those in other countries call their state by a name different than the one they use, Dmitry Petrov says. Thus, Russians aren’t upset that the English call Russia “Russia” and not “Rossiya,” and the Georgians are not worried by the fact that Russians call their country “Gruziya” rather than “Sakartvelo.”

            But in the case of Belarus/Belorussia, the question has become “excessively politicized,” the linguist and radio commentator says, with people on both sides staking out positions that ignore key realities and exacerbate relations that should not be and do not need to be made any more complicated than they are (

            All too many Russians who insist on the use of Belorussiya rather than Belarus apparently have forgotten that the term they prefer isn’t characteristic for Slavic languages, something that is also true of Rossiya, with its “echoes of Latin and later Polish influence on our language, Petrov continues. 

            When Belarussia was part of the Russian empire and then the USSR, it was called that; but at the same time, people used Belarus. The population did in tsarist times, and few who remember Soviet ones will forget the Belarus tractor. People accepted that as entirely normal then, but somehow they don’t want to do so now.

            Moscow media figures insist on Belarussiya and Belorusy rather than Belarus and Belarusian, and they usually invoke the existence in Moscow of the Belarusian railroad station and the Belarusian metro station to justify their position. 

            In deciding what word to use, people rely on three things: tradition, comfort, and orthographic rules.  We know that there are denigrating terms that should not be used to refer to other peoples because they are insulting. But “the words Belorus, Belorussky and Belorussia were never used in Russian-speaking culture” in that way.

            “We also know that in official diplomatic protocol” the name of the country to the West of the Russian Federation is the Republic of Belarus. So the two variants coexist. Neither is therefore more correct than the other whatever some in Moscow insist on or some in Belarus fear, the linguistics specialist says.

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