TUT.BY Life histories: Belarusian-speaking businessman, instructor in physics, programmer and… robot

Not  philologists, not historians, not cultural workers, but Belarusian speaking people. On the International Mother Language Day the correspondents of  TUT.BY found people who speak Belarusian which very is uncommon. Although it seemed strange for all the respondents to be interviewed about the Belarusian language, they could not refuse and talked about their path to the native language.

“If you do not like the authority or something like that, stop to complain and start with yourself”.

Andruś Palievič began to study the Belarusian language being 33 years old. Today he is 40, he leads the furniture company “AUPI”. One of the essential aspects of corporate ethics is greeting, farewell and gratitude in Belarusian. On the walls in Andrew’s the office everyone can see  paintings with “winged” hussars, nobles in arrays, the illustration of Battle of Kircholm. The role of dustbin carries a mortar which man bought in the market, called “the Field of Dreams.”

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

We are sitting at the round table, around us is the furniture, which is produced in the Andruś’s company. Next to us is the chief engineer Alieś Padźko. He is also Belarusian-speaking. All peaces of furniture have titles in Belarusian: “ramonak”, “vojciech”, “vajavoda”.

– But the names are written in the Latin alphabet, so if customers call, they often instead of “vayavoda” talk “vadžyvuda”, – Alieś is smiling.

The interlocutors confirm that the furniture with belarusian names has a good effect on business. People often buy something just because it has titles in Belarusian.

Andruś says that he started to learn the language being an adult.

– Children of the military could not learn the language. My kind mother said that I needn’t this language, and I was taken away from Belarusian. I  began to speak Belarusian, when the wife was pregnant. As I thought, what would I tell my son? As I thought about what I would tell my son about who the Belarusians are, what history, language we have. I have purchased a lot of Belarusian music recordings and audiobooks. I have thrown out all the Russian and English disks of the car. I studied Grammar by “Primer” Catholic, all the material was in Latin. I use only Latin letters for Belarusian spelling,  – he says.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY
Today, according to Andruś words, his son at school is one of the best in Belarusian.   Speaking about his son’s  school life the interviewer recalls a story about shooting there a film where children were asked
– One said that he wanted to be a designer,  the second – a farmer, my son said that, as a dad, he wanted to do furniture. Then the teacher asked about children’s biggest dream. One girl said she wanted to wake up – and the school would be exploded. And she said it very sincerely. The teacher pressed the parents, saying that the child went to school with no pleasure. Well, the child said so. What’s wrong with that? – The interviewer asked.
Andruś and Alieś say that in shops sellers worst of all react to the word “vitaiy”. They don’t understand at all what it means and ask again: “Vitalik?”.
– We went together in Poznan and also spoke only Belarusian. The whole week a woman talked with us and then said, “How good, sirs, you know the Polish language.” I object, “This is not Polish, it is the Belarusian language.” And she replied, “It seemed to me that you speak  Polish, but with Russian accent”, – Andruś remembers.
But this is not the only story of Andruś i Alieś. Once  they travelled by train to Moscow. The Russian waitress even asked to sit near them and listen to their speech.
In one of Minsk karaoke clubs Belarusian speaking company, includingAndruś and Alieś, somebody called diaspora.

– Diaspora in Belarus …. Then, when we were asked who we are, we answered: “Belarusian Diaspora”, – say the interlocutors.In   Andruś company a person can’t be hired if he does not respect the native language. Once a teacher of Belarusian wanted to work in one of their shops.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

– She called and said in Russian, “I want to sell the furniture,”- said Andruś . – From the first words it seemed to me that for her Belarusian is something unattractive. But she is a teacher of Belarusian and says such words in Russian …

Unfortunately, that woman hasn’t become an employee in the company.

– If I am a Belarusian, I will not get rid of the language. Language is not a policy. I’m bad for democracy, – Andruś expresses his point of view (the same with homosexuality and democracy). – Totalitarianism is a standpoint. If you are stronger, you are rigt. I can’t apply democracy. Imagine, I would now go to the plant and act with workers as equal. They would not do the job, only babble. Their task is to work and earn money. And if they do not like the behavior of the director? And  go on strike?Here work only those, who respect my rules. My rules is to do their job.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY
Andruś has a positive attitude to Belarusian nationalism. He adds that all you need is to start with yourself.

– If you do not like the authority or something like that, don’t footle. Start with yourself. If you want to speak Belarusian, then talk. If you want to be conscious, get education, do your job, – he says.

Alieś adds that today Belarusians need to restore continuity.

– It would be better if our grandfathers hand over all customs and traditions. Today we are restoring all things that parents have not passed on, – he says.

“In the preparatory courses of the 9th grade we are beginning to learn the language from scratch”

Ihar Varaksa is a Belarusian physicist. Today he works as the deputy director on educational work of the  Belarusian State University Lyceum. The interviewer said that he started to speak Belarusian seven years ago, when the daughter was born. Today, he looks at his “experiment” with pride and narrates that the daughter is one of the best pupils who know Belarusian in class.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

Varaksa Ihar started his path to the language in childhood  when his parents sent him to his grandparents in the village Semezhevo of Kopyl district. Today, he is grateful to them for it, because there he was able to understand the native language.

I remember when together with father we went to his friend in Minsk. While playing with other children, I realized that spoke in another way than they. Although I thought that spoke Russian. As if  we spoke the same, but in different words, – he reports.

The second step to the Belarusian language was teaching at the Physics Department of BSU.

Now BSU  is considered to be Russian-speaking university, but being first years student  I was fortunate to study higher maths in Belarusian. Now I bless the teacher of mathematical analysis Viktar Karniejavič Achramienk, who showed that the Belarusian language is not only suitable for home appliances, but also for solving serious mathematical problems, – he recalls.
Until 2006, before Ihar’s daughter birth, he was both a Russian-speaking and Belarusian-speaking. Finally, he chose the language thanks to his daughter.

I noticed that  it is hard for children of the first grade to  learn the Belarusian language. They perceive it like English and do not understand. I desided to make my child’s life easier. At home I began to speak only Belarusian, while wife – in Russian. In reality, if you start to speak Belarusian at home, you will speak only Belarusian, – he says.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

Now Igor talk Russian only with old friends who know him as Russian-speaking.

– There are already templates of communication. So it happens that you inadvertently change over language, – he explains.

Igor does not feel himself limited and is satisfied being Belarussian-speaking.

– Now daughter goes to the first class, and I can evaluate the results. Once at the parents’ meeting the class master said: “Liza Varaksa is my lifesaver. She knows all the words.” All plans are fullfilled – he says and continues his life  story. – I remember walking out of the store and talking with my daughter. A woman caught up with and said, “Why do you spoil the child’s life? Can you imagine how difficult life she will have? “

But the author is assured that only improved daughter’s life with Belarusian. Igor says that acquired all children’s books in the Belarusian language, which were published since 2006. They filled six shelves in home library.

An edition is of  a one or two  thousand copies. You feel yourself “an elite” in the sense that only 1,000 people in Belarus have such a book, – he smiles.
The cases, when they don’t  understand Igor, are rare.

One day I had to buy a CD-R disk.Dropped in underground walkway shop near the GUM supermarket. I said, “Please, give me the cheapest CD-R”. When paid, I saw that I was given a thin envelope, but the price of the disc was not the cheapest. Probably the seller didn’t understand the difference between words “thin” and “cheap” in Belarusian,” – he recalls.

By Ihar’s opinion, in Belarus a few people speak Belarusian because of shyness.

By occupation I have to communicate a lot by telephone. Most people are happy to hear the Belarusian language. One in two says that he would like to speak Belarusian, but many people do not remember the words, there is no practice. But if you like a language, you should at least take the first step, and vocabulary will be fullfilled over time, – he said.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

Ihar is upset seeing the level of modern Belarusian language among pupils:

I do not want to be a pessimist,  I am not assured about the prosperity of the language in the near future. Now the Lyceum of BSU holds the second stage of rehearsal testing, only one in four lyceum student elects Belarusian, three-quarters of high school students choose Russian. In general the lessons of language in high school should be more. For example, in high school according to the standard curriculum there is one hour of the Belarusian and Russian languages in a week in all areas of education except for philology. In basic school – two hours in a week. This, in my opinion, is not enough. The result is that pupils do not know neither one nor the second language in a perfect way, – the interlocutor gives an example. The same situation is with graduates of the basic school.

Most applicants of BSU Lyceum, who enter philology department,  do not understand literary texts. They do not have language practice, they do not know vocabulary. In recent years, we had to substantially revise the content of training courses on the Belarusian language and literature. Previously, we proceeded from the fact that the graduates of the basic school (at least, those who are going to enter the philological direction of education) know the language, can speak it, and we just have to improve their knowledge. Now we pay great attention to the study of vocabulary, word formation, syntax. In fact, at the preparatory courses in the 9th grade, we are beginning to learn the language from scratch, – he says.

“When I arrived in Minsk, I thought that everyone speaks Belarusian.”

Juraś Hiecevič speaks Belarusian. He has taught robots to speak his native language. The young man is Ph.D in Engineering Science, the head of the speech synthesis and recognition laboratory of the Joint Institute of Informatics Problems of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Together with the team from the laboratory, he developed a program that can voice texts. Juraś enters the text “Hello, TUT.by!”, clicks the button on the site of the program and computer pronounces greeting.

 Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

Juraś is 29 years. He sits at a computer in the workroom and demonstrates the features of the Belarusian know-how. He says that the text-to-speech synthesizer is profitable development for people with impaired vision, for those who can not read, or for example, for those who drive an automobile. The programm can instantly process electronic text to an audio file. Such developments for other languages have  been produced, but for Belarusian just come into use. From speakers he hears phrases that a minute ago a young scientist has inputed from the keyboard.

The video of the Belarusian mobile autonomous robots which talk from the exhibition “TIBO-2013”:


Juraś is native of Grodno. He was born in the village Krupava of  Lida district. Seven years he spent in a local secondary school and then for the next four years he studied in high school №1 in Lida. Then the scientist graduated from  the Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences of BSU, obtained master’s degree, completed graduate studies, defended his thesis under the direction of Doctor of Technical Sciences Boris Lobanov. For  seven years Juraś has been working in the sphere of  speech synthesis and computational linguistics.

I lived in a village near the town of Lida. People there speak in a simple language: something in Belarusian, something in Polish, Lithuanian or Russian. Local population creates a lot of popular sayings and jokes. When I arrived in Minsk, I thought that there all people speak Belarusian. I thought: where do people live, who publishes textbooks? In Minsk. Where is Scorina Street ? Also here. But the monument should be put, apparently, for transport workes, as almost everything about their work – street names, bus stops, advertisments – are in Belarusian. The rest to be in Belarusian lacks solutions and dedication of our people, – explains Yuri.

He says, that before entering the university spoke in a simple Belarusian. In the first year at the university used  the Russian language, as well as all other students, pretending, that he is Russian-speaking, and, moreover, he does not want to speak his native language. Then realized that was is necessary to return to the roots.

I saw that the students pretend they do not speak Belarusian. If they need meat, potatoes, money, then asked parents in a simple language. I behaved the same being first year student. I acted out as if didn’t know the language and talked the same way like in television. But when I came to God in the evangelical church, I realized that God offered our people through Jesus Christ  the forgiveness of sins. If you reject something, you automatically reject all gifts from God, and therefore have problems now. For me, today, to move away from the Belarusian language, as well as to move away from the belief in God because I do not want to go to hell after my physical life, – says Juraś.

Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

In his opinion, Belarus is a partisan land, where everybody can speak Belarusian but shy. Opinion about the “partisan land” Juraś playfully acknowledges by three gold medals of Darja Domračava.

Why did we win in biathlon? Because it is a kind of sport that is reminiscent of a well-versed main occupation of Belarusian insurgents or guerrillas: cross-country skiing through the forest and successfully shooting, – he smiles.
Young scientist believes that the Belarusians, unfortunately, are the best Russifiers in the world:

In America, a Belarusian meets another Belarusian. And in what language do they speak? In Russian. But why? There is no coercion or any other interruptions and still they speak Russian.

Juraś’s wife is also Belarusian-speaking, the son is almost two years, and his first words – “Dad, Mom, Jesus” were said in Belarusian. The interviewer does not see any difficulties being Belarusian-speaking. On the contrary, he highlights only advantages in education, work, family, in shops, in new surroundings. But he says that many organizations have appropriate documents in the Belarusian language, for example,some legal acts or forms.

Sometimes the questions arise in the passport office when you fill the form in Belarusian, – he remembers. – All is full, as it should be, and you are said, “You are not registraited.” “Why”? – I asked. “You wrote in Belarusian”! – this is responce. – “The  Belarusian language is guaranteed by the Constitution “,-I comment. And answer, “We have instructions on paperwork”.  But what is more official, instruction or the Constitution? The same happens in the bank, in the military subpoena …
Фото: Александр Васюкович, TUT.BY

Yuras is sure if Belarusians want to speak Belarusian, they need to start. Moreover, they should translate documents and books in the Belarusian language, and then pass them for another.

When my wife wanted to have a driver’s license, I said, “Translate the rules in Belarusian, and then go to learn”. Therefore we have translated them  – he points out a manual on traffic regulations in the Belarusian language.

Yuras does not politicize the Belarusian language.

Language is something what God has given us, and we need to use it. If we use it, we have a blessing. I think that most of the current leaders who finished Belarusian-language schools,could help the Belarusian nation, if returned to Belarusian, – he said.
According to the interlocutor’s point of view, if the language lives in a family, it will live among people.