Pride in one’s own native language and culture is the bedrock of nationalism. Nationalism in Belarus has been slow to awaken because their language and culture have been subsumed under the oppressive dominance of the Russian language and Russian culture.
The Belarusian language has been suppressed for a very long time. Belarus became part of Russia in 1795. From that date, the language was discouraged. In 1839, it was prohibited to preach in Belarusian. In 1864, students were banned from speaking their mother tongue at school. In 1867, the printing of books in Belarusian was prohibited. In recent decades, the country has loosened the restrictions on the Belarusian language, but not much. Today, Belarusian books are allowed to be published, but they only make up about 9.5% of the market.
Despite this repression, over the years, the native people of Belarus have held their language dear to their hearts and steadfastly refuse to let it become extinct.
A former Soviet Republic, the country declared independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko has held the presidency and has ruled more or less like an authoritarian dictator. Opposition parties have arisen over the years, but they have been suppressed.
Until now, there hasn’t been any opportunity for nationalism to grow in Belarus. The 2010 presidential election is a glaring example of how things have been in the country. Lukashenko received 80% of the vote with the runner up opposition leader, Andrei Sannikov receiving just 3%. Opposition leaders and their supporters claimed that the elections were fraudulent and were no doubt correct. Angered by the result, they took to the streets of Minsk to protest. Many of the protesters and the rival presidential candidates were beaten and arrested by the state militia. Sannikov himself was sentenced to prison and house arrest for over four years. Other protests were arranged via social media some time after that.
Lukashenko is partly to blame for the continued suppression of the Belarusian language. He once stated that “nothing significant can be expressed in Belarusian.” Mr. Lukashenko’s sentiments are patently untrue. Belarus is a Slavic language in the Indo-European language family. It has as much validity, meaningfulness, and usefulness as Russian, Ukranian, or any other Slavic language.
Russian and Belarusian are both official languages of Belarus, but the Russian language has always been the accepted language in popular culture, schools, business arrangements, the media and press, and in government. Despite Belarus declaring independence, they have relied on Russia for business and trade and this has also contributed to the ongoing dominance of Russian culture. Only 23% of the 9.67 million inhabitants speak Belarusian. No more than 10% claim to speak it in their daily lives.
But change is in the air.
There is a spirit of revival for Belarusian culture as language classes in Belarusian are emerging in the country. One of the most popular classes in Minsk is at a cafe known as “Gallery Y”.
A Belarusian language class at Gallery Y:
An active promoter in the Belarusian awakening has been the national campaign “Budzma” which organises cultural events across Belarus and also a festival of advertising in Belarusian called Ad.nak!.
A coordinator of the Ad.nak campaign, Alena Makouskaya states:
“Five years ago, when we started Ad.nak!, we were anxious there wouldn’t be any second edition. Since then the amount of entries tripled. People long for their national identity, to be different, to be proud of who they are. Political is daily, cultural is eternal.”
Businesses are starting to translate their documents from Russian to Belarusian. The private network of gas stations known as A-100 has translated all of their documents to Belarusian and require all staff to speak Belarusian.
An alternative flag is being flown everywhere. To the people of Belarus, their true flag is the White-Red-White flag, not the flag promoted by the Lukashenko government.
The current flag of Belarus:
The picture below shows the flags and symbols from previous occupations. The first column is the Russian-inspired flag and symbol. Next is the flag and symbol for the independence-Lukashenko period. The third is the new flag and symbol that the people want:
The new flag is seen everywhere.
In the streets:
At sporting events:
In the clothes people wear at celebrations:
The Belarusian spirit awakening:
There is also a revival of Belarusian folk culture. Every March, the people celebrate the vernal equinox spring festival known as Kamaeditsa or Gukanne Vyasny (Calling of Spring). The festival includes ritual spring songs, dances, and games. In addition to this festival, neo-pagan rites are also being celebrated to honor their pre-Christian heritage.
The Calling of Spring Festival:
The neo-pagan summer solstice celebration. The man carries a wheel which represents the sun:
Belarus racial demographics:
98+ % White
Other White nationalities
Muslims - 0.5%
Jews - 0.1 - 0.5%
Other miscellaneous non-whites - 0.2%
As you can see from the demographics listed above, it isn’t the threat of non-white immigration that is awakening nationalistic sentiments in the hearts of the people. It is the fact that their native culture has been suppressed for over 220 years.
The people of Belarus are hungry for their own culture, their own identity.
We can all be discouraged from time to time when we think of the daily threats on White societies, but if you look at the positive developments occurring all around you, you can find inspiration in the incredible awakening occurring right now before our very eyes.