Recent hot debates on the broadcasting language of Deutsche Welle’s new radio program have revealed topicality of the language issue in the Belarusian society which is still taken hard. Yet, is it really taken so hard by the society in general? In the course of the debates, both sides referred to the opinion of the majority of Belarusian citizens. In particular, supporters of broadcasting in Belarusian language reminded that over 80% of Belarusians marked the Belarusian language as their native during the population census in 1999. However, their opponents insist that, according to that same population census, almost two thirds of Belarusian citizens speak Russian at home.

What is the attitude of the Belarusian society itself to this problem? The results of our polling partly answer to this question. Thus, questions about the desirable state status of languages show that an overwhelming majority of respondents gives preference to bilingualism, i.e. equal status of Russian and Belarusian languages. (See Table 1).

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “If a referendum on the state language is held tomorrow in Belarus, how would you vote?”, %

Variant of answer



There should be two state languages – Belarusian and Russian



Belarusian should be a state language



Russian should be a state language



I’m not concerned about this



* This variant of answer was not included in the opinion poll conducted in November of 2004

For the past year, adherents of extreme variant of answer (only Belarusian language or only Russian language) increased very slightly – a little more then by representative error (3%). The number of those standing for equal status of both languages has apparently changed considerably because of appearance of a new variant of answer “I’m not concerned about this.” However, those who are indifferent to the problem would join the opinion of the majority “We should have two state languages” if they have to make a choice.

Frankly speaking, the official status of a language is of a symbolic significance for the most part. Actual realization of this status, in particular in the most complicated field like education, is by far more important and affects the interests of population.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “In which language are / were your children taught at school?”

Variant of answer


Belarusian language


Russian language


Both in Russian and Belarusian


Other language of teaching


Respondents’ answers in Table 2 demonstrate people’s attitude to the teaching language in school rather than reveal real language of teaching. Several respondents even said that the language in which their children are taught in schools is a crude mixture of Russian and Belarusian languages. As per Table 2, it is still far from equality of these languages even taking into account the above said. Is this natural? May be, the majority wants to send their children into Russian-language schools; hence we have such an overbalance of Russian-language schools?

Preferences of respondents are given in Table 3.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “If this depends on you, in what language would you like your children be taught at school?”

Variant of answer






Both Russian and Belarusian


Other language


Comparison of Tables 2 and 3 indicates that people’s preferences are different from real situation. To which extent? The number of respondents willing that their kids study in Russia-language schools only or in Belarusian-language schools only is smaller than the number of those whose children attend such schools in reality. Bilingual schools are the most popular variant and this complies with the political choice of state languages. (See Table 1). In this regards, deviation is the greatest – by 20 points (29.5% and 49.7%).

Table 4 shows distribution of schooling language adherents among respondents whose children attend different schools.

Table 4. Connection between the desired language of teaching and answers to the question “In what language are/were your children taught at school?”, %*

The language I want my children be taught in

The language my children are taught in

Belarusian (12.0)

Russian (43.8)

Belarusian and Russian (29.5)

Belarusian (9.4)




Russian (36.1)




Belarusian and Russian (49.7)




* Table is read down. Those who gave no answer or specified other language are omitted

Thus, the parents whose children study in Russian-language schools are more disposed to such a choice than those whose children attend Belarusian-language schools. Over a half of those who sent the kids to Russian schools did want this. Yet, a third of them would rather prefer that their children attend bilingual schools and know the Belarusian language. Reality coincides with preferences mostly among those respondents whose children study in two languages.

Summing up, we should like to say that the Belarusian citizens are more inclined to bilingualism and equal status of the two languages both at the high political level and in practical teaching.

The above data is a lesson for both the politicians who speak up for dominating position of the Belarusian language and the authorities who cut down the number of Belarusian-language schools converting them to the Russian language. The choice of the most Belarusians is two languages, in education field included.