Wednesday, September 16, 2020

‘The Language of the Belarusian Revolution is Russian,’ Belogorova Says

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 15 – “The language of the Belarusian revolution is Russian,” Olga  Belogorova says, a product of some of the factors that made Russian so important in Ukraine at the time of the Maidan and of unique conditions in Belarus now and a development that by itself will have an impact on Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation.

            At the time of the Maidan in Ukraine, the Russian regionalist activist says, “journalists, bloggers, politicians and public figures” there “spoke and wrote in Russian,” only periodically including Ukrainian words or providing translations into Ukrainian in the media traditional and electronic (

            They used Russian for three reasons: first, many in Ukraine used Russian and the leaders of the revolution wanted to be sure to reach them; second, many Ukrainians who took part in the Maidan did not then speak Ukrainian well; and third, by doing so, “Ukrainian politicians were trying to inform the citizens of Russia about what was taking place” in Ukraine.

            Because Ukrainian activists made that choice, Belogorova says, “many Russians bypassing state media received and receive to this day reliable information about events on the territory of Ukraine, including in Crimea, Luhansk and the Donbass.”  They also came to recognize as lies Moscow’s claims about discrimination against Russian in Ukraine.

            Ukrainians and Russians, she continues, still fight about linguistic differences between them when both are using Russian. Ukrainians insist on “v Ukraine” while Russians demand that people use “na Ukraine.”

            The situation in Belarus now is very different. “Almost always Belarusian politicians appeal to their audiences in Russian, and Belarusian media rarely translate political information into Belarusian as Ukrainian media have.”  There are sites where this happens, but they do not set the weather.

            At the same time, however, Belarusian activists are driven by some of the same calculations that drove their Ukrainian counterparts six years ago. And also like Ukrainian Russian speakers, they differ from Russian speakers from the Russian Federation on some important aspects of the language.

            Belarusians insist the name of their country is Belarus and not Belorussia, the term Russians use. They are “Belaruses” not “Belorusy.” And with increasing frequency, they put the Russian preference in brackets when they use their own. But as of now, “Russian has become the main (or dominant) language of the Belarusian revolution.”

            It is possible that the next generation of leaders there will speak only in Belarusian, especially if Russia intervenes in ways that offend the Belarusian people as Moscow has done in Ukraine.  In fine, Belogorova argues, “whether Russian on the territory of Belarus will alienate people or not depends on the behavior of the Russians.”

            But one thing is already clear or should be, she says. “Russian no longer belongs just to the Russian people living on the territory of Russia or in the diaspora … and it does not belong to the Russian state.” Russians should take pride that others want to use it, and they must accept that the language will change in the process.

            It will develop as other world languages have, with local variants becoming ever more important and the core group of speakers no longer defining how others use it. That has already happened with English, Spanish, French and German. It is now happening in Ukraine and Belarus among other places with Russian.

            In the future, other “Russian languages of non-Russian origin” are likely to appear: “Ukrainian Russian, Belarusian Russian, their mixed forms like Surdzhik and Trasyanka. and of course, our regional Russian languages of the oblasts, krays and republics of the Russian Federation.”

            Moscow doesn’t own the language. But its use beyond the borders of the Russian Federation can be a valuable resource if the Kremlin does not act in a way that politicizes in a negative way the use of Russian and leads ever more people to turn away from it and from Russia as well.

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