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.