If Hitler had won

“There were times when our people were to be moved to Belarusian lands,” residents of South Tyrol say.

South Tyrol is an autonomous province in the north of Italy. As before the end of the First World War this territory was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, most local residents speak German.

In the times of duce Benito Mussolini residents of South Italy were resettled there by force to assimilate German-speaking Tyroleans. In 1939 Hitler and Mussolini agreed that the German-speaking population be transferred to German-ruled territory. Even now seniors of South Tyrol keep in memory that they could have been resettled in the occupied areas, including Belarus.

I was often asked if there are any mountains in Belarus. Being answered in the negative, they said: “We could not live without mountains”.

“Does Belarus have a native costume?” men in folk costumes asked me on the way to church. “Yes, it has, but nobody goes to church being dressed like that,” I answered. “Why not? The native costume is the most festive clothes. I got mine from my father!” one of them boasted.

After the Holy Mass the local citizens usually gather in a restaurant to drink some wine and have a talk. “In 1972 we were granted autonomy. Now we have three official languages: German. Italian and Ladin,” they told me.

Ladin is often attributed to be a relic of vulgar Latin dialects associated with Rhaeto-Roman languages. The number of Ladin speakers in South Tyrol does not impress much – it reaches only 2-3 thousand persons but Ladin appears to be a language of instruction at the university of Bolzano, the capital of the province. Bolzano University is the only higher educational institution in Europe which provides instruction in three languages. “Belarus has two official languages, but Belarusian is hardly represented at universities,” I told them. “You have your own language and fail to learn it? Why?” South Tyroleans could not help wondering Belarusians’ behaviours.

Tyrolean youngsters also speak Ladin in their everyday life. “Are there any dialects in Belarus?” girls asked me. “Yes, there are, but one should go to by-places to hear somebody speaking them. In Belarus it is unprestigious to use regionalisms in conversations,” I explained.

“Your country, Belarus, in interesting. But it is a pity that there no miontains there. It is difficult to even imagine that the neighbourhoods is equally plain. We would rather Belarusians come to us, to our mountains,” they said.

Wiktor Szukielowicz, Belsat