Russian-speaking Belarusians and Ukrainians threaten Putin’s ‘Russian world’ and Russia itself


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Most commentaries on Belarus and Ukraine suggest that the relatively large Russian-speaking populations in these two countries are a threat to their survival because they make it easier for Moscow to manipulate the domestic situation of the two and that the growth of Belarusian and Ukrainian speakers thus benefits these countries and harms Russia.

While those may be reasonable conclusions for Belarusians and Ukrainians under certain circumstances, they ignore the way Russian-speaking Belarusian and Ukrainian patriots, people who identify with Belarus and Ukraine, represent a serious threat to Moscow and to Vladimir Putin’s largely linguistically defined “Russian world.”

Indeed, the existence of Russian-speaking countries besides Russia represents a threat to the maintenance of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation itself because they serve to notice that just as there are many English-speaking countries in the world, there could be many Russian speaking ones as well, including Siberians, Far Easterners and so on.

The case of Belarus is especially instructive on these points. A new analysis on the Deutsche Welle portal notes that

“although the majority of Belarusians speak Russian, they not only do not associate themselves with Russia but call themselves citizens of their own country.”

Indeed, Belarusian scholars say that it is quite possible to be a Belarusian without knowing a word of Belarusian and that such an approach reflects a phenomenon more widely recognized among the Irish who speak English or Austrians who speak German but are nonetheless committed Irish or Austrian patriots, writer Valentina Akudovich says.

Andrey Vardomatsky, a Belarusian sociologist, comes to the same point with the rhetorical question: “Do you know the Brazilian language or the Venezuelan one?” Language is “a strong but far from the only indicator of national identity.” Other factors can sometimes play a much larger role.

“An individual can live wherever he wants, speak whatever language he wants, and grow up in whatever cultural tradition, but at the same time consider himself subjectively a representative of a different nation,” the sociologist continues, who argues that language is only one of the five traditional criteria of such identities.

(The others are a shared history, a shared culture, a shared territory, and common socio-psychological dispositions.)

As far as Belarusian identity is concerned, Vardomatsky says, at the present time, Belarusian national identity is more involved with territory and statehood than with anything else. Language issues are important and will remain a source of discord but they are not the determining factor many think.

One of the reasons culture and language play less of a role, cultural specialist Maksim Zhdankov says, is that before World War II, the Soviets largely destroyed the Belarusian intelligentsia and after the war promoted in-migration and out-migration to dilute the Belarusianness of the people.


Since 1991, Belarusians have felt themselves separate and distinct because they now have a state, and as a result, he continues, “even people who speak Russian 100 percent of the time while living on Belarusian territory do not associate themselves with Russia and have a very clear attachment to ‘here and now’” and that “here and now” is “the Belarusian Republic.”

Many Belarusians hope that their national language will become more commonly used and that Russian as a result will be less so, but language alone, they argue, is not going to determine identities, something they can feel good about and that Moscow at least under Putin can only fear.


Edited by: A. N.

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  1. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

    I get the drift of the article but would not underestimate the import of the language. If the Belarusians want to preserve their national identity as distinctly not Russian, they need to get serious about setting themselves culturally as far apart from Russia as possible; and the language is a principal, if not the most principal, elements of such a departure. Brazil (or Latin America, for that matter), is a rather poor example, for it has no other linguistic choice. Besides, neither Brazil nor Ireland borders a state with imperial, land-grabbing ambitions, having already occupied one of its neighbors’ territory on silly linguistic pretexts. Belarus and Ukraine are just the opposite. In Ukraine, thanks to its western parts, the linguistic situation is not as dire, but in Belarus it’s woeful: Two more generations of speaking the katsap vernacular, and the Belarusians won’t know how Belarusian sounds like.

    1. Avatar Dagwood Bumstead says:

      Lukashenko now using Belarusian instead of Russian in his public appearances is a positive sign so it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s a small indication that Luka is trying to increase the distance between Minsk and Moscow. However, Belarus is almost completely dependent on Dwarfstan economically which is a far greater threat than language in my opinion. And Luka has far less room to manoeure than Kyiv which is far less dependent on Dwarfstan economically and is further reducing te economic ties.
      If Luka wants to get rid of Moscow’s embrace he has to seek closer economic ties to the outside world. The question is, though, whether Moscow will let him- probably not.

      1. Avatar Oknemfrod says:

        All very true, Dag. Another question is how eager the West could be to deal with the “Europe’s last dictator” (as Luka calls himself) in view of his history of suppressing every imaginable sort of freedom.

  2. Avatar Микола Данчук says:

    Sorry but, language is relevant when it comes to culture and the Russian mindset. The Soviet is long dead but The Russia still lingers in many who have known nothing else. The arrogance of superiority is strongly rooted in many minds unwilling to surrender to reality that all in their life is nothing but lies. Belligerence is what unites them in a cause contradictory of reality and for many humility is surrender even when there is no rational justification.

    So, language association is extremely relevant especially when one chooses not to conform with the language of the country they live in. An intelligent person will adopt their surroundings and add to it, not require it to change to their preference!

  3. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

    Supreme Kommander Vladolf Putolini of the Unholy RuSzsian Empire strongly disagrees with the thrust of this article. Only Putin is allowed to have an opinion on this topic!

    1. Avatar Sania says:

      bastardje, I have glory to say 90% Belarus’ people say and tell by Russian language
      And feel free anyway

  4. Avatar Sania says:

    Tupytzy, are u here УННВ group , three boys from streets of Minsk?
    They sing songs of free, love, peace and friendship at high level of true and poetry
    using pure ru language only
    About such things ukra people forget now…

    1. Avatar Vlad Pufagtinenko says:

      Let’s hope all Ukrainians forget that child killer language.

    2. Avatar Vlad Pufagtinenko says: