Assessing Language Policy in Belarus: Toward Rehabilitation or Death for Belarusian

Tony Brown, Bryn Mawr College

Shortly after his election to the office of President of Belarus in 1994, Alaksandr Lukashenka launched a disguised attack against the Belarusian language in the form of a referendum that offered the people of Belarus a choice of whether to maintain a Belarusian-only language policy or adopt a Belarusian-Russian dual language policy. This research addresses the subsequent effects of Russian becoming an official language in addition to Belarusian on the attitudes toward language utilization of university students in Belarus and on governmental regulation of Belarusian and Russian in official and non-official domains.

Six hundred forty-five students from institutions of higher education in the cities of Minsk, Grodno, and Vitebsk participated in the study by responding to a questionnaire asking whether they considered Belarusian and/or Russian useful and/or necessary in public, governmental, private, and educational domains. With the exception of the educational domain (where the study of Belarusian is mandatory), student responses give every indication of eventual language death for Belarusian. Students value Russian as a functional language that is indispensable for carrying out the day-to-day routine and, on a larger scale, achieving financial success. Student attitudes toward Belarusian, on the other hand, indicate an overall lack of interest in elevating Belarusian from a formal and academic language to that of an operational and practical language. Observed utilization data of Belarusian and Russian in the Minsk metro and on the signs of official and non-official sites corroborate student responses that Belarusian serves a formal rather than functional role in society.