Staunton, June 27 – The Soviet government followed by the Belarusian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka have done their utmost to destroy the Belarusian language, but the Belarusian people have kept it alive much as Jews persecuted for their beliefs kept their faith and are now reviving it despite Lukashenka’s opposition.
In a remarkable article in today’s Novaya gazeta entitled “We are Real!” Irina Khalip, the paper’s correspondent for Belarus, point out that most Belarusians are put off by the military parades Lukashenka loves to watch but not just because of the dust and damage to the roads they leave behind (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/06/27/76960-my-nastoyaschie).
Instead, they are offended by Lukashenka’s marshal’s uniform, by the interior ministry’s wearing an NKVD uniform from the 1930s, and by the fact that all the orders in the military are given in Russian. Some view this as a group of uniformed collaborators; but others as “an army of occupation.”
And they see such performances and especially the use of the Russian language not only as “alien” to themselves but as “the result of a longstanding, targeted and planned destruction of Belarusian,” their native language. Such “a loss of language always leads to distrust and even hostile feelings toward government institutions.”
Khalip says she is “very sad that Russians, including alas friends, colleagues, educated and intelligent people most often of all do not understand the drama here.” Even in her own paper, she notes, there sometimes appear lines like “’only Russian will give a Belarusian access to science and culture; otherwise they will sit in their villages at a time of space flights.’”
“I do not intend to engage in polemics,” she continues. “I do not want to explain to the author that access to science and culture is possible in any language, that for the Belarusians the professional path to the West rather than the east is for the Belarusians much more popular, with Polish and Czech is not English more important and with more prospects than Russian.”
“The state of the Belarusian language now didn’t drop on us from the sky,” the journalist says. Belarusians didn’t decide one fine day to give up their language and use Russian, except of course of a few “renegades” who seek to “muddy the waters by trying to speak Belarusian in a customary Russian-language milieu.”
That isn’t true, Khalip says. Instead, “the Belarusian language was destroyed over a long period and in a planned manner, in the framework of Soviet colonial policy. From 1920 to 1937, there were four state languages in the BSSR – Belarusian, Polish, Russian and Yiddish.” And those languages were all on the coat of arms of the republic.
In government offices at that time, business was conducted in two languages – Belarusian and Yiddish. “It is possible that this is what led them to their fate. With Yiddish, it is true, Hitler ‘helped’ a lot; [but] with Belarusian, the Soviet authorities dealt with on their own.
Under the slogan, “if you speak Belarusian, that means you’re a nationalist!” the Soviet authorities in the 1930s “destroyed practically the entire national intelligentsia. In 1937, they shot hundreds of writers and scholars and burned their archives in jail yards so that no word from these nationalists would survive,” Khalip says.
Thus began “the stigmatization of Belarusian,” and “Belarusians really began to speak Russian – in order to survive.” Belarusian schools were closed, universities stopped teaching in it, and Belarusians were allowed to study their native language only two hours a week as if it were foreign language rather than their own.
“But,” she continues, “the real Belarusian language, living and warm, became a secret knowledge, just like the Jewish faith was for the forcibly baptized Spanish Jews.
And do Russians know “why Alyaksandr Lukashenka has held power for so many years? Because he is conducting the very same colonial policies [the Soviets did] in exchange for oil and gas at domestic Russian prices. In 24 years, not one Belarusian-language university has opened in Belarus; and Minsk with its two million people has only seven Belarusian-language schools.”
“The Soviet bureaucrat Alyaksandr Lukashenka is not in a position to destroy his internal raykom matrix and therefore issues forth phrases like ‘in Belarusian it is impossible to express anything great.’” But precisely because he and Moscow say these things, the Belarusians themselves have taken it upon themselves to save their language and their nation.
Belarusians, she says, “speak their language. They use it consciously in their families and in their company offices. Belarusian-language stores and automobile dealerships are appearing. The books of Svetlana Aleksiyevich are popular. And other Belarusian books are distributed by mobile phones.
As a result, “international brands coming into Belarus order ads in the Belarusian language.” And because this is so, the Novaya journalist and ethnic Belarusian insists, the Belarusian people are reviving their language and ensuring the survival of their nation well into the future.
“They will return their language, and they will open universities, and they will be happy,” she says. But under one condition: that they won’t again be shot by those who want to build an empire rather than a nation.
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