Archive for the ‘Belarusian Language’ Category

Based on materials by Syarhey Zaprudski. First published in the book Belarus – the third sector people, culture, language East European Democratic Centre. Warsaw-Minsk 2002

The Republic of Belarus, established in July 1990, partly inherited the language policy pursued by the BSSR in the last year of its existence. To a great extent this policy was determined by “The Law of the BSSR on the Languages in the Byelorussian SSR adopted in January 1990. Article 2 of this law declared the Belarusian language the only official language in Belarus and qualified Russian as the language of international relations among the peoples of the USSR” However, this law did not regulate the use of languages in unofficial communication.
Various articles of the law were going to be gradually introduced during the next three to ten years. The adoption of the law on languages should be considered both as the result of external factors and a significant victory of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF).

The first Belarusian Language Grammar was composed and printed in Vilna (Vilnius), back then the capital of Grand Duchy of Lithuania – in 1596 by Lauryn Zyzani. The second version of Belarusian Grammar – “Grammatiki Slovenskiia” (“Slavic Grammar”) – was published in Vilna by Meleci Smatrycki in 1618. Grammar by Smatrycki underwent multiple reprints in the coming years. Such the fifth and sixth reprints were done in Moscow in 1648 and 1721. It was re-edited by Paula Nenadovich in Rymniki in 1755 and became the basis of Serbian literary language. Hristan Dupchanin has reworked it for Bulgarian language. This Grammar also became the basis of the first Ukrainian grammar of Ivan Mogil’nicki.

The law on languages, adopted in 1990 after the Belarusian language had suffered a long period of decline between the 1930s and 1980s, should be seen as a legislative means aimed at defending a weaker language. At the same time, the law stipulated a much broader use of the Belarusian language, which was supposed to change from a minority to majority language in the future.

Language legislation and related practical measures that were not secret but brought before the public were a novelty for state institutions of post-Soviet Belarus No special bodies existed that could design and pursue a language policy, therefore, in the initial stage of implementation, the executive branch had to rely on the intellectual resources of a non-governmental organization, which had experience in this field, the Belarusian Language Society (BLS) founded in June 1989.

Thus, in May 1990, BLS together with the Ministry of Education of the BSSR held a scientific and practical Conference entitled “The Official Status of the Belarusian Language: Problems and Ways to Implement the Law “In September 1990, the Council of Ministers adopted “The State Programme for the Development of the Belarusian Language and Other National Languages in the BSSR” that stipulated a number of measures for implementing the law over the course of the 1990s. Both in the BSSR and the USSR, the discussion regarding language problems in Belarus was under the control of the party. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the declaration of independence of the Republic of Belarus and the suspension of the CPSU and CPB, possibilities of free speech increased greatly, The USSR – the regional superpower – was now gone from the World map. An independent Belarusian state emerged and protests arose among the Russian-oriented population, which to a large extent comprised the Belarusian elite. Just yesterday they identified themselves exclusively with the USSR and had no need for contact with the Belarusian language or culture. Finding themselves in this completely new situation, these people argued that the existing legislation is poorly grounded and attempted to discredit both the new linguistic trends and the social and political groups behind them. With Belarus adopting a multiparty system, language issues became an essential element of political discourse. Democraticaly oriented figures fiercely competed for the right to speak on behalf of “the true” democrats and the political environment in Belarus saw many ephemeral pro-democratic associations seeking their own niches.

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