Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians a ‘Disappearing Nation’ Even in Belarus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – Ethnic Russians have “no problems” in Belarus – their language is an official one and dominates the public sphere, and there is no tradition of Russophobia among Belarusians -- except that they are so rapidly declining in number that they are becoming “a disappearing nation,” according to PublicPost.

            Many in the Russian Federation accept Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s assertion that he “saved” ethnic Russians in his country from “oppression by Belarusian nationalists, but in fact the situation of the ethnic Russian community in Belarus is far more complicated than that (

                Despite some problems in the distant past, there weren’t any “real Russophobic attitudes in Belarus” for Lukashenka to save the Russians from. “There aren’t any now and there won’t be after [Lukashenka] leaves the scene.” Lukashenka’s predecessor Stanislav Shushkevych “distanced himself” from the nationalists, and the Belarusian Popular Front has had ethnic Russians among its leaders.

            The Russian language dominates the public sphere, PublicPost continues. It has had the status of a state language equal to Belarusian since 1995.  But “in reality, there is no equality” between them.  Lukashenka speaks Russian most of the time, the media is in Russia, and no one bothers to put Belarusian subtitles in Russian films.

            Given all that, the blog continues “Russians in Belarus really can feel themselves right at home.” But – and this is a big “but” – they declined in numbers by a third between 1999 and 2009, falling from 1, 141,000 to 785,000.  And there is no sign that this decline is about to stop anytime soon.

            Part of its reflects the return of some ethnic Russians to the Russian Federation, “but the main factor is the aging and natural decline of representatives of Russian nationality” in Belarus.  According to the Belarusian census, the share of ethnic Russians of pension age rose 11.4 percent over the intercensal period and currently approached “33 percent.”   During the same interview, the share of ethnic Russians under 16 in Belarus fell from 15.2 percent to 7.4 percent.

            As a result, “the ethnic Russians in Belarus are becoming a disappearing nation just like in Tajikistan.”

                In addition to this demographic decline, the PublicPost article notes, “there are no strong pro-Russian organizations and politicians in Belarus.” Lukashenka “monopolizes the theme of friendship with Russia” and Moscow fails to push for such groups. Lasst week, a Belarusian court disbanded on Mensk Russian group, and the Russian foreign ministry said nothing.

            Given that, the blog concludes, “today for the citizens of Belarus, Russians are not those who live alongside them but those who come from Russia to celebrate holidays in Mensk … But in general the Russians in Belarus don’t have problems. Except for one, as was noted above, they are becoming ever fewer.”

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