“Supporting Belarusian content-makers, not their Russian counterparts.” What is it like to actually have a native language? — Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya's speech for the Native Language Day in Belarus

Today, on the Native Language Day, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya held a video speech for Belarusians. 

The translation is provided below:

“Today is the Native Language Day. Which language is your native one?  And which language do you speak on a daily basis? The majority of the Belarusians probably responded with “Russian” to the latter question.  Some will say that this was not their choice, some were just used to it, or their parents taught them Russian in childhood and that was the only language they have been hearing for a long time. And just like many Belarusians, I once didn’t think about such matters either.

 But the Russian language was never our choice. And not the choice of our parents. This is in fact not even the choice of our grandparents, because at some point in time they were forced into speaking Russian, instead of Belarusian. This cannot be considered the will of the Belarusian nation, the nation that has been systematically “russified” for centuries. “Whatever the Russian sword can't do, the Russian priest, the Russian official and the Russian school will do” — as said by Muravyov-“the Hangman”, the same person, who brutally suppressed the uprising of Kastus Kalinovsky. Belarusians were forced to abandon their native language and native symbols, their roots and their heroes.  Therefore, an acceptance of “russification” is not just a willful abandonment of the efforts of Kastus Kalinovsky and his followers, but it also is a loss of a chance for a free life for the generations to come.

 Some may suggest — but why would we need Belarusian language? Russian is popular with a larger audience, isn't it more convenient to keep it? Some nations speak languages that aren't theirs just fine. In general, there is nothing inherently wrong with the Russian language, because it is not the Russian language that commits murders.

 The arguments listed above are very common.  Of course, some nations live that way. Of course, some letters can't take anyone's lives. And yet people are now fighting for these very letters. According to Russia — Ukraine, its people and language should not exist and thus, deserve to be attacked. Right after completely ravaging and destroying Mariupol the first thing that the Russian invaders did was changing the road signs — from Ukrainian to Russian.

That means languages do matter. Language is not just a mere way of communication between people. It grants access to information. I am sure, Belarusians will easily understand this example. A language can be compared to a visa.

If one has a Schengen visa, they can visit the EU, travel to various countries, get to know local culture and compare the local lifestyle to theirs. Through language, people can access another information space. This is true for any language — English, German, Spanish, etc.

Meanwhile, Belarus has a visa-free regime with Russia. In recent centuries, Belarus has been disproportionately affected by the Russian cultural and information space.  But I am glad to see that more and more Belarusians are choosing to discuss interviews of Melkozerov, Chaly or Shraibman — instead of their Russian colleagues. Nowadays, Belarusians choose their own movies and read their own books over Russian ones more and more often. 

There are more than 9 million Belarusians.  There are countries in Europe where the number of inhabitants is much smaller, but people there still discuss their local singers, their local football players, their local politicians in their local language — not a language of their neighbor.  Let's talk about Belarusian singers, Belarusian football players and Belarusian politicians. Talk about them in Belarusian. Let's write lyrics and music, make videos, make art, manage your social media — all in our native language.

Create your own Belarus around you. After all, the Belarusian language is not just the language that's spoken by Belarusians. Nowadays, Belarusian language has become our protest voice. And a guidance to those who come after us.”

21 February 2023 в 12:46