Sunday, December 05, 2004

I've been assisting a foreign journalist for a few days this week (Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said they've registered over 1,700 media people from all over the world since the protests started, and some of these new arrivals need a little help) - and today I had a brief experience of translating into English from Belarusian!

We were down by the tents, saw a couple Belarusian flags (red-and-white, not the current Soviet ones), came up to speak with the guy there. At first, I spoke Russian to him, but he asked if I knew Ukrainian, and I said, "Of course!" and he said, "Then I'll speak Belarusian," and that freaked me out, but he told me not to worry - "If you know Ukrainian, you'll understand everything." And I did, except for a few words that would have been very recognizable on paper, but are pronounced with a stress on an unexpected syllable, so that got me confused a few times.

I'm still totally excited about it! I love languages but am too lazy and absent-minded to learn any (my English cannot be explained by anything but a miracle, pure luck) - and being able to understand Belarusian is like a surprise gift, or like a tiny reimbursement for all my stupid attempts to study those very foreign languages like Arabic or Armenian, without much success! With no success whatsoever, actually. Just tons of pleasure.

This Belarusian man we talked to was a seasoned opposition fighter, middle-aged, with a few inexplicable scratches on his face. He's been through a 15-day arrest after the recent referendum and through a hunger strike at a preliminary detention center several years earlier, which ended at a hospital emergency room when his kidneys stopped functioning. He said bad things about some Belarusian opposition leader whose name I don't remember - some guy who encouraged people to go to the polls to vote in the bogus referendum, even though the results had been known at least a year in advance. He said he was sure that the current Ukrainian revolution would soon be repeated in Belarus. "If it wasn't for Russia's special services support, Lukashenko wouldn't last a month in Belarus, because most people don't want him there," he said.

On December 2, he went to the Belarusian embassy here in Kyiv, with a bunch of friends, and delivered a letter to the Belarusian government protesting Lukashenko's support for Yanukovych and his regime's dependence on Moscow.

[...] this should in no way damage the traditionally good, neighborly relations between Ukrainians and Belarusians.

We believe that the Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples have the right to choose the governments they want. The Ukrainian people have made their choice, and that's why Victor Yushchenko will soon become president of Ukraine. And Alyaksandr Lukashenka now has to be thinking not about how to support banditism and Moscow's politics in Ukraine, but about his own departure.

The Orange Revolution has shown that very soon there'll be changes in Belarus, because this is what the Belarusian people are awaiting. They cannot reconcile with the situation their country is in now.

We protest against mass persecutions of Belarusians for their active civil position, and we demand that all political prisoners are freed. We demand that criminal cases against those who protested against mass violations during the illegitimate referendum by taking part in peaceful demonstrations of Oct. 18-20, 2004, are stopped. No - to persecutions for freedom of thought! Yes - to freedom of consciousness!

We are protesting against informational blockade of Belarus, and one-sided and not objective coverage of both the situation in Belarus and the events in Ukraine by the official Belarusian media. We demand freedom of speech. [...]

This letter is too remindful of the 1970s in the Soviet Union - and this is so sad. We asked the guy if he's afraid of repercussions, and he said, "No, this is not the first time for me."

He also said that, following their visit to the embassy, the ambassador declared that they would recognize the president elected by the Ukrainian people, regardless of who he is, Yushchenko or Yanukovych.

Away from politics and back to the languages, I really need to find the names of the months in Belarusian - they are as unusual and ancient and beautiful as the ones we have in Ukrainian - not December/dekabr but something like snejen (from the word 'snow') in Belarusian and hruden in Ukrainian, and not October/oktyabr but kastrychnik (from 'fires'?) and zhovten (from 'yellow'). Very vivid. I have to make a separate post about it later.


  1. Last time I was in Moscow, browsing through a book store, I saw a Ukrainian-Russian dictionary on the shelf and picked it up. I had no idea why. I do now. It was just to have a better seat while "nous sommes tous Ukrainiens" (and I think the Ukrainian people ought to get a prize of some sort for giving this world a positive object of solidarity for a change!)

    For the record, if you're Russian, you need to memorize about 200 words to understand news in Ukrainian. They become fairly intelligible after the first 100, really.

    And here's a reason for Lukashenko to be very concerned: I bought Belarussian-Russian dictionary at the same store. I had no idea why.

    You can find the months in Belarussian here.

    Another Misha

  2. i recently discovered that the outmoded insult "you are a jackass" (US) the word jackass is actually a derivation on the spanish word for donkey

  3. This story is thrilling, if only Western Europeans would be more concerned about Belarussia.

  4. Dear Neeka!
    You are the best! With much gratitude, appreciation and thanks!

  5. Perhaps the Belarusian name for October "kastrychnik" refers to the flame-like colours of the Autumn leaves on the trees.