Belarusian language finds refuge in online community

Nov 22, 2012

Belarus is a country with two state languages: Belarusian and Russian. While the first one stands higher in the national constitution, that’s only because B comes earlier than R in the alphabet. As of the 2009 national census, fewer than 2/3 of the population call Belarusian their native language but not even 1/4 reported speaking it. In comparison, more than 80 percent claimed Belarusian as their native language in the 1999 census.

It is not heard in the streets of Minsk. The Belarusian language is perceived as a marker of “oppositionism” even though it is officially a state language – mainly because it is one of the center points of the democratic ideology and agenda.

If Belarusian language education keeps shrinking, this is no stretch of the imagination that fewer and fewer people will be speaking the language in their everyday life, especially if they are not connected with democratic activism or literature. And therefore it is strange – and inspiring – that there is a community in VKontakte that, using only the Belarusian language, will soon hit the mark of 70,000 subscribers. This community is not spam or marketing, and each picture there gets more than 500 “likes” on average.

This community is not something “brainy” – it publishes demotivators and collages with some life-related “philosophic” statements, which are trendy in Russian-speaking groups. It publishes localizations of movies (e.g. the Pulp Fiction) or some funny trailers (e.g. of the “Scottish Voice Elevator“) into Belarusian. And while there is not so much content of this type, the number of subscribers continues to grow.

This community is non-political and it publishes only demotivators and not “brainy” stories for “brainy” intellectuals. It is popular for the pictures with some statements – exactly the same for which Russian-speaking communities are popular.

Most importantly this means that the Belarusian language is not limited to just activists. Also, it’s shown democratic Belarusian-speaking circles that the degree of “hostility” to Belarusian from “average people”  is severely exaggerated. This in turn gives hope for its revival when the government changes.

About the Author

Alaksiej Lavoncyk

Alaksiej Lavonczyk is a media activist and social media expert from Minsk, Belarus. He had been in charge of the training projects for the NGOs and media on building their capacity in online campaigning and end-user security. Alaksiej had also acted as a consulting and technical expert for NGOs and media in Belarus and four countries of Central Asia (except Turkmenistan) on upgrading media/NGO websites to meet contemporary standards, and on their promotion online. Alaksiej is also running an online training centre for the Central Asians preparing the specialists in SMO promotion.
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