A man from the Belarusian city of Bobruisk has filed suit in a Moscow court against three Russian news agencies seeking compensation for their use of the word ‘Belorussia’ instead of ‘Belarus’ as the name of his country, something he says has damaged his honor and dignity.
“I am a citizen of a state with an official name – the Republic of Belarus,” he told the court, and calling that country Belorussia is offensive to him personally and to all Belarusians. He is asking for the court to order the news agencies to change their practice and to award him 14 million rubles (380,000 US dollars) in damages.
In reporting this story, Russia’s Regnum news agency says that the notion that Moscow insists on the use of Belorussia is an idea being pushed by “a small group of activists inside the post-Soviet republic who consider themselves not Belorussians but ‘Belarusians’ and even ‘Litvins.’” That group opposes the use of Russian there even though most residents speak it.
But the news agency also notes that while it “usually uses the traditional Russian name ‘Belorussia,’ it not only allows its authors to use the term Belarus but even has a project which bears that name. But at the same time, the agency says, it opposes “attempts to arbitrarily change the rules of the Russian language.”
And Regnum says that Minsk has been taking actions against Russian speakers in Belarus, thus making many Russians more inclined to use the Russian and not the Belarusian term. It notes that in September 2013, a man was convicted for responding to a Belarusian in Russian and on June 12th of this year, the Minsk Rus’ Cultural Society was shut down.
The Russian agency did not say, but lying behind this case – which the Moscow court will likely toss out – is a much bigger issue: the view of Vladimir Putin and many Russians that there is a “triune” Slavic people consisting of Great Russians, Little Russians and White Russians.
By challenging this notion in a Russian court, a Belarusian activist has seized the opportunity to focus attention not just on these words but on the imperialist agenda lying behind them.