Before the 16th century the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages used to be one and the same — Ruthenian! Ruthenian split in half throughout the 17th century, as the Polish part of the Polish-Lithuanian empire ruled what’s now known at the Ukraine, and Lithuania ran what’s now known as Belarusia. From that point on, the language we now call Belarusian experienced a constant identity crisis. Before the Belarusian became independent in 1992 the national language was known as Byelorussian or Belorussian, though some called it White Russian or even White Rutehenian. After independence it was called Belarusan, and now we know it as Belarusian….
Whatever we call it, Belarusian is not the most widely-spoken language in Belarus. According to a Belarusian government study, about 3/4 of Belarusians speak Russian at home, while only about 10% of Belarusians speak Belarusian. Only about half of Belarusians can both read and speak Belarusian, and less than a third can read, speak and write it.
This “Russianization” was a conscious policy of Stalin who wanted to transform Byelorussia into a “buffer zone” along the Polish border to protect Russia from Western influence. The Soviets moved Russian speakers into Belorusia, unofficially banned Belorusian from public use and suppressed all forms of national culture.
In class we’re going to reclaim a bit of Belarusian (or whatever we choose to call it) by using it to say hello and goodbye.
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