Belarus Will Remain Belorussia for Moscow Journalists and Scholars

Paul Goble

Despite Minsk's official insistence that Belarus is "the uniquely correct form of the name of our state" and the willingness of at least some Moscow officials to agree to that practice, Russian journalists and academics say they will continue to identify their Western neighbor as Belorussia.

On Thursday, Belarusian Deputy Justice Minister Alla Bodak told a session of the Unified Collegium of Justice Ministries of the two countries that "the uniquely correct form of the name of our state is 'the Republic of Belarus' and 'Belarus'" and that any other formulation was incorrect (

Russian Justice Minister Aleksandr Konovalov responded that his ministry uses the name Belarus and will continue to do so in official documents. Indeed, he said, to do otherwise would be "impermissible." But he added that he was "not certain that all the media of Russia will use the official name" -- although he insisted the use of Belorussia was customary and not a slight.

The Russian official explained that in the case of Moldavia and Kirgizia, for example, "two countries of the former USSR," Russians rarely use their official names, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan, preferring instead to follow "historical habit" rather than out of any desire to denigrate these states.

But if Russian officials are at least prepared to follow international practice and identify countries as they prefer to do, Russian journalists and Russian philologists have made it clear that they plan to continue calling Belarus Belorussia regardless of Moscow or Minsk says (

Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of the Union of Journalists of Russia and one of the authors of the Russian media law, said that despite the appeals of the Belarusians, the rules of the Russian language should determine what Russians call their neighbor. At the very least, he added, such questions were "the affair of philologists and not justice ministries."

Meanwhile, Yasen Zasurky, the head of the journalism faculty at Moscow State University, agreed, adding that the use of the term Belorussia was "a definite tradition which should not be violated." Any "search for a compromise" should involve "consultations between the two sides."

And Vladimir Pykhov, academic secretary of the Institute of the Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences, took a harder line. He said that "in the Russian language, there is none norm for the neighboring country - Belorussia - and that should be followed," apparently regardless of the desires of its residents and their government.

Doing anything else, Pykhov continued, would be an unfortunate political act. "At the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, for political considerations were undertaken a series of renaming in the Russian language: Tallinn appeared with two 'n's, Almaty [appeared in place of Alma Ata], Kyrgyzstan [instead of Kirgizia], in [rather than on] Ukraine, and so on."

Perhaps, he went on, all this had to be accepted "politically. But linguistically, it couldn't be and hasn't been. Consequently, Pykhov argued, "the current proposal concerning the replacement of 'Belorussia' with 'Belarus' is political and it is hardly worth making that the norm. Politics," he added without apparent irony, "must not take precedence over language.


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