Cities in BELARUS
Language predominantly spoken at home, Blue Belarusian and Red Russian Photo: Bogomolov.BL in the public domain
Most of the languages of Eastern Europe belong to the Slavic language group. The East Slavic branch - Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian - is the most important with 200 million people speaking these languages.
The official languages in Belarus are Belarusian and Russian. The fact that many Belarusians still speak Russian is a result of Russification during the Soviet era. At the time, 80% of all children were taught only in Russian; now classes are taught in both languages. Until 1984 Belarus was the ex-Soviet republic where its own population spoke the language the worst. At present, only 11% of the population is still fluent in Belarusian.
In 1990, just before independence, Belarusian was declared the official language. For many people, however, this transition went much too quickly and after a referendum in 1995, Russian was also declared the official language. To this day, Russian still plays an important role in daily life. Even President Lukashenko speaks poorly Belarusian and delivers all his speeches in Russian. Although there are a number of Belarusian newspapers, they are larded with Russian articles.
Belarusian is usually written in the Cyrillic alphabet and has loanwords from Russian and Polish. Although Belarusian and Russian are very similar, there are major differences in pronunciation and spelling; a Russian would understand at most 60% when he first hears Belarusian.
Furthermore, a number of dialects are spoken. Yiddish is still spoken by the Jewish minority. Other minority languages are Polish and Turkish from the Tatars.
After independence, the country was called 'Respublika Bielarus' in Belarusian and 'Belarus' in the Western media. Nationalists prefer Belarus because it creates a distance from Russia; those who argue for a union with Russia prefer the old spelling.
Lerner Publications Company
Belarus and Moldova : country studies
Federal Research Division, Library of Congress
Holtbrügge, D. / Weissrussland
Verlag C.H. Beck
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The Reader’s Digest
Russia & Belarus
CIA - World Factbook
BBC - Country ProfilesLast updated May 2023
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