Ales Bialiatsi: Lukashenka’s System Ruthlessly Eradicates Belarusian Language
As a result of the referendum of 1995 Belarusian lost the status of the only state language and the Belarusian authorities returned to the practice of the large-scale suppression of the language of the titular nation. During the last ten years the Lukashenka-established state system has ruthlessly eradicated the Belarusian language.
It is incomprehensive and offending that it happens in the independent Belarus, but facts speak for it. Now the equal rights that are given to Belarusian and Russian by article 17 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus remain equal only on paper. The authorities purposefully and systematically narrow the sphere of the use of Belarusian language. The struggle against it continues on political and ideological levels.
Almost all regional and district newspapers have been transferred into Russian. The same has happened to radio and television. The correspondents of national TV channels pointedly speak Russian even if they address Belarusian-language speakers.
Belarusian-language writers and poets are persecuted in the country. Their creativity is under a secret prohibition and their names are smeared by the state media. During the last years there have been many cases when the authorities interfered with holding of artistic events and public meetings with prominent literary workers of Belarus. Only every tenth book of this year’s issue is in Belarusian.
The state and departmental office work is done only in Russian. One simply can not receive many documents in mother tongue. Sometimes the situation gets even absurd, for instance when an administrative case is brought for a demand of a Belarusian citizen to give him a customs declaration in Belarusian. The ministers of culture and education willfully do not speak Belarusian, thus showing the ‘level’ of their understanding of the national culture and education. President Lukashenka likes inserting Belarusian words into his speech in an insulting manner, thus insulting the Belarusian language in the eyes of the whole nation.
With every upcoming year it becomes more and more difficult to receive education in Belarusian. This year only 20% of the Belarusian schoolchildren learn in mother tongue.
Every year about 100 Belarusian-language schools are closed for different pretences. The authorities use a wide range of methods for it: small village schools that don’t have enough pupils are closed whereas some other Belarusian-language schools are turned into a lyceum with groundless changes of the language of instruction. The system of continuing Belarusian education in Belarus is violated. There is a very small percent of Belarusian-language kindergartens and day nurseries and almost no colleges and technical schools with the Belarusian language of instruction. The Belarusian authorities pay no reaction to many thousands of signatures of the Belarusian citizens under petitions for the establishment of a Belarusian-language university, the Belarusian. The country does not have a single university with the Belarusian language of instruction. Thus, the constitutional right to education in mother tongue is violated.
I call on the Belarusian authorities to steadily abide by the international undertakings and the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus on observance of the national and cultural rights of citizens. The European community values us for our language and culture. Let us together save and develop the best things we have inherited from our ancestors!
Ales Bialiatski, member of the Union of Belarusian Writers,
director of Maxim Bahdanovich Literary Museum (1989-1998),
vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).