Wednesday, February 20, 2019

English and Chinese Replace Russian as Second Language in Minsk Railroad Station

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 19 – Whatever may be happening in talks between Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin about the future of the union state, something is occurring that means anything they agree to about closer integration will be undermined on the ground by steps that the Belarusian government is now taking.

            Not only are Russian place names disappearing, Sergey Artyomenko reports, replaced across that country by Belarusian language ones even though almost all Belarusians speak Russian, but in the main railroad terminal in the Belarusian capital Russian has been dropped as the second language replaced by English and Chinese (

            The Russian commentator is outraged by this development. According to him, “the overwhelming majority of residents of Belarus are Russian speakers” and “among Minsk residents, the number of Belarusian speakers is close to the margin of error.” Thus, these changes make no sense and are insulting.

            He cites the Bulba of Thrones telegram channel to the effect that this has been going on for six years, usually without any explanation and on orders from above rather than after the passage of a law or public discussion ( But it is clearly “state policy.”

            “In Russian-speaking Minsk, there almost do not remain any street signs in Russian and Russian signs on government institutions are also being taken down without any explanation,” Artyomenko says. And where the signs are bilingual, the two languages are not Belarusian and Russian but Belarusian and English.

            The Belarusian Constitution specifies that Belarusian and Russian are both state languages and enjoy equal rights. But Minsk is now making it clear that that is not the case and has introduced a new term as put of its “Belarusianization” campaign: “the language of the nation” which is Belarusian.

            Between 1991 and 1994, Belarusian nationalists controlled the government and promoted Belarusian, Artyomenko continues; but when Lukashenka became president in 1994, he stopped this drive. And in 1995, Belarusians voted overwhelmingly to recognize Russian as the second state language.

             Now, however, at a time when Moscow and Minsk are talking about deepening their integration, Lukashenka is overseeing a return to the Belarusianization policies of his predecessors.  “Russian place names in Belarus are ‘disappearing’” and doing so without any discussion.

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