A majority of sportsmen of Belaruain heritage don’t speak our native language. What do foreign sportsmen living and playing in the country know about the Belarusian language?
‘The Belarusian language? <…> Belarusian younsters seem not to know Belarusian at all. Older people may well know some words but do not use the language. What more, I have never met a person speaking Belarusian all the time. In my opinion, the reason is that Russia has a great hold over Belarus. Earlier Lithuania had the same experience but these days our youth mainly speaks Lithuanian, and a lot of people do not know Russian. But in the border area and Vilnius a great many people speak Russian. I do not know a word in Belarusian,’ Lithuanian Nerijus Atajevas who plays for a handball club in Brest shares his impressions.
‘Certainly, I know about Belarusian,’ Yuri Tatarin, a Russian handballer who has played for five years in Belarus. ‘When I read in Belarusian I understand a lot because my father comes from Western Ukraine, and some words are very much alike. Why don’t Belarusians speak Belarusian? I think that people speak Russian because the USSR existed; <…> everyone learnt and spoke Russian’.
‘Of course, I’ve heard of bilingualism in Belarus and the domination of the Russian language,’ Georgian Ucho Gogoladze, a player for Dynama-Brest, says. ‘Maybe, the same situation was created in Ukraine. One cannot even imagine such a thing in Georgia; our national language means much to us. As for Belarusian, the only word I know is dziakuj (thank you). And more, at the start of the year our management decided to have our surnames written in Belarusian on uniforms. So, after being Gogoladze I became Gagaladze’.
‘Words in Belarusian bear more resemblance to those in Czech,’ says hockey player Martin Kadlec from the Czech Republic. ‘When I talk to Jakub Muzic [teammate] people around say that the Belarusian language has the same words. For example, ‘listapad’ (November). All people understand Czech in the Czech Republic, we even speak Czech with the Slovaks.’
‘I know that there is also the Belarusian language in Belarus,’ handball player Lubo Vukic says. „But I have hardly heard it in Brest within the year I have spent here. Very few people speak Belarusian and that is why I can’t understand it. I don’t know why it is happening. In Croatia the situation is reverse. The Croatian language is our pride! To my mind, every people must know its national language. Unfortunately, I do not know a word in Belarusian because nobody taught me’.