The Belarusian language has almost always been consistently oppressed at the state level. The state created favorable conditions for the development of the national language only in the second half of the 1920s and at the beginning of the 1990s. In today’s Belarus, Belarusian is one of the two state languages and the language of the titular nation, but Belarusian speakers regularly face discrimination and sometimes danger. Nevertheless, in the conditions of the large-scale social and political crisis of recent years, many citizens of Belarus are actively rethinking their own identity, looking for and defending ways of asserting their Belarusian belonging.
Language legislation of the Republic of Belarus
Let’s try to analyze how the situation with the legislative regulation of the rights of speakers of the Belarusian language has been developing in recent decades.
During the years of “perestroika” in all the republics of the Soviet Union there was a rise of national revival, this topic became relevant in the BSSR as well. In 1989, the Constituent Congress of the Belarusian People’s Front “Adradzhennie” (“Revival”) was held, its participants voiced a proposal to give the Belarusian language the status of the state language . In 1990, the law “On languages in the Belarusian SSR” was adopted, Belarusian was recognized as the only state language in the republic . In the fall of 1990, the State Program for the Development of the Belarusian Language was adopted . The status of Belarusian as the only state language was established by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994, while the Russian language was defined in this document as the “language of international communication”.
Unfortunately, such favorable conditions became only a temporary window of opportunity for Belarus. After the presidential elections of 1994, the authoritarian regime of A. Lukashenka began; upon his initiative, in 1995 and 1996, there were held referendums, on the basis of which the state national symbols were abolished, the policy of integration with the Russian Federation was approved, and Russian was constitutionally given the status of the second state language. The 1995 referendum was held in unlawful conditions, 19 deputies went on hunger strike to show their disagreement with its conduct, but were beaten by security forces and forcibly removed from the building of the Viarkhouny Saviet . The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly determined that the 1995 referendum did not meet international standards of a free and fair vote .
In 1997, there was adopted the Statute of the Union of Belarus and Russia, according to which Belarusian and Russian became the official languages of the Union, but Russian was designated as the working language of the Union bodies .
In 1998, the edition of the law “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” legitimized Belarusian-Russian bilingualism in the state and public sphere .
Thus, in current Belarusian legislation, language rights are articulated primarily through the concise wording of the current Constitution of the Republic of Belarus . This is Article 17:
The official languages of the Republic of Belarus are Belarusian and Russian.
And also part of Article 50:
Everyone has the right to use their native language, to choose the language of communication. The state guarantees, in accordance with the law, the freedom to choose the language of education and training.
The language rights of Belarusian citizens are described in more detail in the law “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” . Let’s refer to two articles of this law, which we consider fundamental:
Article 2. State languages, other languages in the Republic of Belarus
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, Belarusian and Russian are the official languages of the Republic of Belarus.
The Republic of Belarus ensures comprehensive development and functioning of the Belarusian and Russian languages in all spheres of public life.
The Republic of Belarus on the state level attends to the free development and use of all national languages used by the population of the Republic.
Article 4. Obligation of managers, other employees of state bodies, local government and self-government bodies, enterprises, institutions, organizations and public associations to speak Belarusian and Russian
Managers, other employees of state bodies, local government and self-government bodies, enterprises, institutions, organizations and public associations must know the Belarusian and Russian languages to the extent necessary for them to perform their official duties.
The provision about fundamental articles is not accidental. We have already mentioned that in 1998 the law “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” was edited. The conjunction “or” was added to the wording, which strengthened the practice of ignoring and violating the rights of Belarusian-speaking persons: Acts of state bodies of the Republic of Belarus are adopted and published in Belarusian and (or) Russian… Belarusian or Russian is used in transport, trade, medical and household services… In the Republic of Belarus, education and training in preschool and socio-pedagogical institutions are carried out in the Belarusian and (or) Russian languages…
If Articles 2 and 4 of the Law “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” are to be followed as the main ones, the wording with the conjunction “or” (which allegedly facilitates the possibility of language choice of citizens) must first of all protect the linguistic rights of private individuals. Unfortunately, in practice, the specified wording is most often interpreted as a permission for official bodies and officials of the Republic of Belarus to use only the Russian language, regardless of the requests of the population. This practice contradicts both the already mentioned basic Articles 2 and 4 of the Law “On Languages” and the norms of such global human rights documents as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved and announced in 1948 by the UN General Assembly , or the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, developed and adopted by institutions and non-governmental organizations at a special meeting in Barcelona on June 6-9, 1996 .
Let’s consider the consequences of such intentional ambiguity of the language legislation in Belarus.
Official statistics concerning the language situation in the Republic of Belarus over the last decades
In order to get a thorough, supported by numbers picture of the development of the language situation in Belarus over the last decades, we analyzed the contents of all (about 250) statistical collections published from 2012 to 2022 and posted  on the website of the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus. Language statistics in one form or another are offered by 37 of the reviewed publications. The statistical data on the language situation published on the website cover 1990–2021. As a rule, information about book and periodical printing, educational institutions, library funds is provided through linguistic optics: information of this kind is offered in a number of “educational and cultural” publications.
At the same time, information concerning languages is consistently missing from such official statistical collections as “Belarus in numbers”, “Science and innovative activity in the Republic of Belarus”, “Information society in the Republic of Belarus”, “Service sphere in the Republic of Belarus”, “Regions of the Republic of Belarus”, “Family in the Republic of Belarus”, etc. That is, the language factor is not considered as determining for most areas by statistical researchers. We must also note that almost all statistical studies are carried out/published only in Russian (the only exception among all available collections is the bilingual publication “Results of the Census of the Republic of Belarus 2019 = Results of the Census of the Republic of Belarus 2019”), which also clearly violates the rights of Belarusian-speaking population.
What do the statistics tell us?
Native speakers. The publication of the results of the 2019 census shows that the share of Belarusians who consider the Belarusian language to be their native language , decreased over the period 1999-2019 from 86% to 61% (minus 2,145,552 persons) . Share of Belarusians who speak Belarusian at home , decreased over these two decades from 41% to 28% (minus 1,098,033 persons) . It is very important to note that the rapid decrease in the number of speakers of the titular nation’s language cannot in any way be characterized as a natural process and is definitely a consequence and evidence of consistent Russification forced by the state.
Education. Over 2005-2020, the share of children studying and being brought up in preschool education institutions in Belarusian decreased from 12.7% to 9% . The share of students studying in Belarusian in day institutions of general secondary education decreased over these 15 years from 23% to 10.7% . The share of students of secondary special education institutions receiving education in Belarusian decreased from 0.9% to 0.09% . The share of Belarusian-speaking university students decreased during this time from 1.9% to 0.07%; the share of students studying in Belarusian and Russian decreased from 41.9% to 38% . The number of teachers of the Belarusian language in day institutions of general secondary education decreased over 2005-2020 from 8574 to 6732 persons.
Libraries. Over 2005–2021, the number of Belarusian-language publications in the country’s library collections decreased from 13,749.2 to 9,394.7 thousand copies . At the same time, a significant part of Belarusian-language publications is stored in the National Library of Belarus, where the dynamics are actually positive: the number of documents in Belarusian increased from 253.7 to 378.8 thousand copies during the specified period . On the one hand, this is at least some good news for defenders of language rights, on the other hand, this fact indicates that access to Belarusian-language publications in Belarus is becoming more difficult for the “ordinary” population, becoming not so much a common right as a privilege for a select group of people.
Press. Over 1990-2020, the annual circulation of magazines in Belarusian decreased from 33.3 million to 1 million copies, the annual circulation of magazines in Belarusian – from 312 to 39.6 million copies .
Book printing. Over 1990-2020, the annual circulation of books and brochures in Belarusian decreased from 9.3 to 3.1 million copies .
Media. In one of the collections, we found data on the language of television broadcasting. Unfortunately, they cover only one year, so they do not provide an opportunity to trace and consistently characterize the dynamics of changes. But in each case, we note that in 2011, Belarusian-language broadcasting on the “state package” TV channels of the Republic of Belarus took up 626 hours of air time (with 35,302 Russian-language hours) . And we will comment on this fact as an obvious inconsistency with the provisions and norms of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, which recognizes the right of the community to the fair presence of its language and culture in mass media .
Thus, it is possible to state that the Belarusian language has consistently lost its position in all spheres examined with the help of statistical data.
At the same time, we should note that the official statistics data available in public format, which take into account the linguistic aspect, are selective and fragmentary in nature. As a rule, the available statistical studies leave an insignificant part of the “educational and cultural” field for the Belarusian language – and even then they rarely allow tracking long-term dynamics. In order to reflect consistent changes in certain areas even over two to three decades, we had to collect data from various statistical publications.
In addition, the current official statistics absolutely do not reflect the functioning of the Belarusian language in such areas as economy and finance, science and technology, labor communication, medicine, army, judiciary, record keeping, etc.
Everyday manifestations of linguistic discrimination in the Republic of Belarus
Meanwhile, in the information space (in the press, on the websites of professional media resources and on private pages in social networks), news about another case of linguistic discrimination regularly appears and is discussed. And sometimes even worse – there appear news about open threats, pressure and repression against Belarusian-speaking people. Recorded facts  testify that language rights are violated in various areas.
This area is one of the most important in private and public life, so the main evidence of violations in recent decades concerns education at various levels. After a brief revival in the early 1990s, the violent conversion of Belarusian classes into Russian began with the presidency of A. Lukashenka. According to the evidence of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), over 1994-1998, in Belarus, about 500 Belarusian schools were closed, not a single Belarusian school remained in Minsk, only one in Hrodna, and there was no enrollment in Belarusian classes at all in Mahiliou in the 1997/1998 school year .
In 2020-2022, the situation continues to worsen: the University named after Nil Hilevich (the institution that was supposed to be the only Belarusian-speaking university) had to stop the process of obtaining a license from the Ministry of Education. In Homiel, a regional center, there is not a single educational institution with the Belarusian language of education or training. Village schools with the Belarusian language of instruction, which are often local cultural centers, are being closed en masse: for example, with the closure of the Belarusian school in the village of Smolhava, the only museum of Uladzislau Syrakomlia in the country lost its roof. On the initiative of the head of the Council of the Republic Natallia Kachanava, the Belarusian school in Zhyrovichy was switched to the Russian language of instruction, which was a surprise for students, parents and teachers. The history of Belarus is taught in Russian even in Belarusian-language schools. In nominally Belarusian groups and classes, the language format is not followed: events are held in Russian, teachers speak Russian with students during breaks, and sometimes during classes. There are not enough textbooks, manuals, workbooks and school record books in the Belarusian language. There are no Belarusian-speaking speech therapists and no defectology literature in Belarusian. At the BSU Lyceum entrance exams in 2021, forms and exam tasks were offered only in Russian. Standard applications for enrolling new students in schools have a predetermined option of teaching in Russian, the administration of the institutions refuses to accept applications for Belarusian education – at the same time, specialists of education departments later explain the decrease in the number of Belarusian-language institutions as the lack of interest of parents.
Against all odds, parents of students show motivation and sometimes push for the opening of Belarusian-language classes: thus, in 2021, two students studied at the Zhodzina general education school No. 6. The mother of one of them, Anastasia Herylovich, testifies that it was difficult to achieve the opening of a Belarusian-language class, the education department put up obstacles. You can compare this situation with the case of 1997, when Y. Matsko from Hrodna sued the authorities because his daughter was denied education in Belarusian. Unfortunately, then the trial ended not in favor of the plaintiff .
In 1998, the BHC statement noted that state publishing houses do not publish Vasil Bykau’s works, the works of famous writers Natallia Arsiennieva and Larysa Heniyush are deleted from the school curriculum, local authorities refuse to provide venues and halls for musical concerts and events in the Belarusian language.
In 2022, only 6 out of 29 professional theaters in Belarusian are working in Belarusian. One of them – the Theater of the Young Spectator – started staging plays in Russian, including plays based on the works of Vasil Bykau. In 2021, the Belarusian State Philharmonic did not extend the employment contract of cultural worker Larysa Simakovich, according to her, “to date, there is not a single person left who would speak the Belarusian language to the extent that I do.” The National Agency for Tourism shoots videos aimed at the Belarusian audience in Russian and English, there is no Belarusian version of the video. It happens that there is not a single Belarusian-language book on the library shelves by Mother Language Day.
Radio and television
In 1998, the BHC statement noted that after the closure of the Belarusian-language radio station “Radio-101.2”, not a single Belarusian-language independent radio channel remained. At that time, four of the five mass TV channels were Russian-language. On the only Belarusian-language channel, the Belarusian language occupied less than half of the air time.
We noted above that in one of the compilations of the National Statistical Committee, information was found that in 2011, Belarusian-language broadcasting on the “state package” TV channels of the Republic of Belarus took up 626 hours of air time with 35,302 Russian-language hours (that is, 1.7% of the air time).
Since then, the tendency to reduce the Belarusian language on the air of state radio and television has not stopped: for example, viewers testify that in April 2021, the morning news program on the TV channel “Belarus 4 (Brest)” was broadcast for the first time in Russian. The receiving TV and radio company said that the switch to the Russian language “has nothing to do with anything”.
Monuments and places of memory
The Belarusian language is regularly displaced by the state from places of memory and memorial objects: in 2021, the Polatsk District Executive Committee decided to rename in Russian the Belarusian names of geological monuments. In 2022, street and museum signs in Orsha are designed only in Russian and English; in Homiel, among the logos offered to the public for the Day of the City, the only Belarusian version was made with spelling errors; in Minsk, objects dedicated to the Year of Historical Remembrance were signed exclusively in Russian.
Goods and services
The language of advertising, signboards and street signs in 1998 is Russian, according to the then statement of BHC. We talked about the current state of street signs in the previous block. We’ll only add that in Orsha in 2021, the well-known store “Suzorje” (this name, Belarusian word meaning “constellation”, even became the unofficial name of the quarter) was renamed “Produkty” (Russian word meaning “products”). Earlier, another iconic sign of Orsha was removed – “Ranitsa” (a Belarusian word that means “morning”), now it is replaced with “Schedriy” (a Russian word that means “generous”).
As for the language of advertising, it is important to note that today there is a public initiative “Conditions for language”, whose activists consistently send requests to manufacturers to have information in Belarusian on the packaging and labels of goods. Sometimes these requests bear fruit, but unfortunately not always. The manufacturers explain their refusals by the small size of the labels, orientation to the foreign market, and the expected increase in the cost of production when the design is changed.
Regulatory legal acts, documentation
In 1997, in the House of Representatives – the legislative body – documents were prepared only in Russian, which caused the protest of one of the deputies . In the same year, 1997, the director of the Navapolatsk Power Plant issued an order ordering technical documentation to be kept only in Russian . According to the statement of the BHC, in 1998 a number of institutions refused to serve citizens, to issue documents in the Belarusian language when recording acts of civil status.
Currently, on the request of the public initiative “Conditions for Language” the National Center for Legal Information reported: as of September 10, 2021, the reference database contained 195,130 normative legal acts, of which 2,729 were adopted and/or issued in the Belarusian language, i.e. 1.4% – back in 2014 they were 3.1%.
At the referendum on February 26, 2022, people refused to vote, including because there were no ballots in the Belarusian language.
Investigations and proceedings
In 1997, there were cases when participants in court proceedings were forbidden to speak Belarusian  or even tried to charge the convicts for translation services .
Nowadays, unfortunately, the number of such cases has not reduced. Occasionally, attempts to obtain investigative or judicial actions in Belarusian bear fruit: for example, in April 2021, the well-known human rights defender Ales Bialiatski, who was called as a witness for questioning by the Investigative Committee, demanded that the questioning and report be conducted in Belarusian. As a result, the investigative activities were postponed, after a few days Ales Bialiatski was interrogated and released . The protocol, the rights of witnesses, questions during the interrogation, the signature on non-disclosure of information were presented in Belarusian.
But more often the officials deny applicants Belarusian-language proceedings. For example, in 2021, Mikola Papeka received a written response from the chairman of the Brest district court that “there are no grounds for familiarizing yourself with the case materials in Belarusian.” When Mikola Papeka asked the judge to speak to him in Belarusian at the court hearing, he heard a rude refusal: “You’re not in the theater.” In the same 2021, in the court of Leninski district of Hrodna, judge Piatrova did not satisfy Tatsiana Kashko’s petition regarding conducting the court session in Belarusian.
Repression, encountering punitive bodies, physical violence
As far back as 1998, the BHC reported cases of detention and beating of people who spoke Belarusian on the street by law enforcement officers.
Unfortunately, today’s many facts are no less disturbing. For example, after the mass arrests in 2020, there were testimonies that the detainees were marked with paint in order to be beaten with particular cruelty.
In 2021, students of language courses “Language again” were detained in Vaukavysk, each detainee had to sign a paper warning of administrative responsibility for violating the order of organizing or holding mass events. Maryia Tsikhanava was detained in Minsk during the shooting of a film, a correspondent of a state newspaper “SB” Liudmila Hladkaya interviewed her while recording on video, including about why Maryia speaks Belarusian. Musician and journalist Illia Malinouski said that during the detention he heard mocking expressions, insults and demands to speak Russian, addressed to him, from the employees of the Pinsk Police Department. In Minsk, 65-year-old Adam Shpakouski was arrested for 15 days after neighbors complained that he “taunted everyone with his Belarusian language.” Political prisoner Valadar (Uladzimir) Tsurpanau was shown by the guards of Mahiliou Prison No. 4 that they did not understand his language, after which he was put in solitary confinement for three days. An employee of the Zhodzina detention center ordered Zmitser Dashkevich to write in Russian in the report, and after Dashkevich refused, he hit him.
In 2022, political prisoner Aleh Kuliesha informed his relatives in a letter that the administration of the Babruisk correctional colony forbade him to speak Belarusian, for this he was summoned for an interview. Ales Tsyrkunou was detained in Minsk at the entrance to the court building and sentenced to 15 days, in the administrative report on the offense it was written that Tsyrkunou was detained for wearing white-red-white symbols and speaking Belarusian. Maryia Karzhanieuskaya in Minsk was ordered by GUBAZiK (Department for combating organized crime and corruption) staff to speak Russian. The staff of Maladziechna district detention center ordered Ales Kaputski: “Talk to us in a normal language”, at the same time, his cellmates responded very well to the Belarusian language.
Thus, the reviewed material clearly demonstrates that language discrimination in Belarus has not decreased in recent years. In the conditions of a large-scale social and political crisis, the growth of self-awareness and the search by Belarusians for their own national identity, the confrontation between the state and speakers of the Belarusian language in 2020-2022 has only increased. The Belarusian language remains under threat of extinction, and its speakers and activists face serious obstacles and sometimes even danger. In our opinion, it is extremely important to collect and publicize cases of both linguistic discrimination and fruitful attempts to overcome it.
 Program documents of BPF “Revival”: Address to the citizens of Belarus, Program, Statute, Decisions (resolutions) of the Constituent Congress. Mn., 1989.
 Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” dated January 26, 1990 No. 3094-XI.
 Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus dated September 20, 1990 No. 240 “On the State Program for the Development of the Belarusian Language and Other National Languages in the Belarusian SSR”
 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1994.
 Siarhei Navumchyk. Ninety-fifth. 2015. pp. 116–160.
 Siarhei Zaprudski. Public affirmation of the Belarusian language and violations of the rights of Belarusian-speaking people // Numbness. From the chronicle of the destruction of the Belarusian language. Vilnius: Gudas, 2000.
 Law of the Republic of Belarus dated July 13, 1998 No. 187-Z on Amendments and Additions to the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus”
 The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus in the edition of October 12, 2021.
 Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” dated January 26, 1990 No. 3094-XІ, edition of January 4, 2021.
 Belarusian text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner.
 Belarusian text of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights on the website of the Belarusian PEN.
 We reviewed all available editions on the website of the National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus in the sections “Collections” and “Booklets” (the names of the sections are given in Russian, because they are not there at all in the Belarusian version of the site).
 “The language that the respondent himself considered to be his native language was taken into account as his native language. If it is difficult for the respondent to determine his native language, the native language was considered the language that was learned first in early childhood.” Results of the population census of the Republic of Belarus 2019: statistical collection = Results of the population census of the Republic of Belarus 2019: statistical collection. Plc.: Altiora Forte, 2021. P. 16.
 “The language used for communication within the family or at home was taken into account as the language spoken by the respondent at home.” Ibid. P. 16.
 Data for 2005-2012: Education in the Republic of Belarus, [2005–2012]: statistical collection. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 47; data for 2013–2018: Education in the Republic of Belarus, [2012–2019]: statistical collection. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2019. P. 48; data for 2020: Education in the Republic of Belarus, [2016–2020]: booklet. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 13.
 Data for 2005-2012: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 67; data for 2013-2018: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2019. P. 67; data for 2020: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2021. P. 18.
 Data for 2005-2012: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 67; data for 2013-2018: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2019. P. 67; data for 2020: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2021. P. 25.
 Data for 2005-2012: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 67; data for 2013-2018: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2019. P. 67; data for 2020: Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2021. P. 29.
 Data for 2005-2011: Culture in the Republic of Belarus: statistical collection. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 75; data for 2010–2016: Culture of the Republic of Belarus: statistical collection. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 43; data for 2021: Culture of the Republic of Belarus: booklet. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 17.
 Data for 2005–2011: Culture in the Republic of Belarus, 2012. P. 76; data for 2010–2016: Culture of the Republic of Belarus, 2017. P. 43; data for 2021: Culture of the Republic of Belarus: booklet. P. 17.
 Data for 1990–2013: Studying Belarus: statistics for schoolchildren. Mn.: National Statistical Committee of the Republic of Belarus, 2013. P. 85; data for 2013–2020: Republic of Belarus: statistical yearbook. Mn.: Ministry of Statistics and Analysis of the Republic of Belarus, 2021. P. 161.
 Culture in the Republic of Belarus, 2012. P. 100.
 See, for example, paragraph 2 of Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights.
 To analyze the current manifestations of linguistic discrimination, we used data from the monitoring of violations of cultural rights and human rights against cultural figures for 2020–2022. Monitoring is performed by the Belarusian PEN on the basis of open sources.
 Here and further, the information of the BHC is given according to the publication: Statement of the meeting of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (1998) // Numbness. From the chronicle of the destruction of the Belarusian language.
 Siarhei Zaprudski. Public affirmation of the Belarusian language and violations of the rights of Belarusian-speaking people.
 Y. Liashkevich. The role of the Belarusian language in the work of the parliament // Zviazda, 02/1/1997.
 Siarhei Zaprudski. Public affirmation of the Belarusian language and violations of the rights of Belarusian-speaking people.
 Narodnaya Volia, 19.08.1997.
 Ales Bialiatski was detained on July 14, 2021, and he is now behind bars.