hidden europe 28

A matter of letters: Belarusian

by hidden europe


The complex story of the Belarusian language and its flexible deployment of three different alphabets deserves to the better known. Early Belarusian texts in the Arabic script (called kitabs) are a remarkable part of Europe's cultural heritage.

The Belarusian language is something of an enigma. In the first year or two after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the language had a huge boost with the media and state institutions promoting the use of Belarusian in the affairs of newly independent Belarus. Unsurprisingly, this generated a degree of angst among those elements of the population who spoke or wrote Belarusian only falteringly. In May 1995, a referendum in Belarus restored the status of Russian as an official language - nominally on a par with Belarusian, but in practice Russian is overwhelmingly dominant, and language activists have highlighted their fears for the future of Belarusian which has now been relegated to second place. A much reported comment by the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, allegedly deriding Belarusian as being ill-suited to great thoughts, has done nothing to promote the language.

Yet Belarusian happens to have a rather intriguing history.

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