This August marks a year since the large-scale protests had swept through Belarus following the fraudulent presidential election. With several protesters dead and the number of political prisoners in hundreds, Belarus is undergoing one of the most dramatic periods since it proclaimed independence in 1990.
Despite the violence of the authorities, the persistence of the protests demonstrated something unanticipated. One can hardly say that civil society in Belarus is the ‘least developed in Europe’ (Lenzi, 2002) or ‘weak’ (Matchanka, 2014), while social capital is in ‘low stocks’. In fact, social networks, solidarity and trust of Belarusians have never been at these levels.
The brutal suppression of peaceful protest marches has also triggered reaction from various Christian churches in Belarus. This blog post explores how Christian churches engaged with the ongoing crisis. It views their participation as talaka, a form of voluntary assistance, historically, traditional to Belarusian rural communities. Considering the political turbulence and the state repressions, churches efficiently facilitated acts of solidarity within society.
Yesterday I attended the service at the Belarusian Greek-Catholic Church in London. The context, however, was rather disturbing – the Freedom Day celebrated on 25 March in Minsk turned into massive arrests and seizures of peaceful protesters. The priest from the Belarusian Catholic Mission to London marked this strongly in the sermon.
Religious institutions in Belarus reacted differently to these developments. The head of the Belarusian Catholic Church asked for a peaceful resolution and humanitarian treatment of those detained by the police. The Orthodox Church remains silent, whereas a Baptist believer appealed a petition to the authorities.
The writing on the shop display at the Minsk airport, “The native tongue”
So here I am in Belarus, a country with two official languages – Belarusian and Russian. The latter one remains, however, lingua franca. It is the language of almost all spheres of public life, including media, politics, and education. Belarusian remains largely marginalised.
Yet, this linguistic complexity is interesting from my research point of view.
Why certain groups of people decide to express themselves in Belarusian, not in Russian? Why in Russian only? Why solely in Belarusian? Should I pay attention to those choices or are they rather random? Do they necessary carry a political meaning?