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Friday, August 12, 2005


Deutsche Welle criticised for language choice

From the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor:

Representatives of civil society in Belarus and the Executive Council of the Rada of the Belarusian Republic are appealing to the European Commission (EC, executive arm of the European Union) and the German government-connected international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle Radio, to correct their recent decision to start broadcasting to Belarus in the Russian language, instead of using the native language of the country.

The EC recently held a tender to broadcasters for a contract to launch a daily, 30-minute news-and-analysis radio program to Belarus, to be aired in the Russian language. The project forms part of the European Union's stated intention to create alternative and accessible information sources for Belarus (an intention that in turn forms part of the EU's draft action plan to promote democracy in Belarus). However, the EC provides a meager €138,000 annually for the radio project. DW plans to launch the program in September through its Russian-language service.

That choice of language has been met with consternation and criticism from Belarusian democratic opposition and intelligentsia representatives. An appeal from those circles, penned by Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka and prominent analyst Vital Silitski, notes that the decision reflects a "complete misunderstanding" of the potential for revival of the democratic nation in Belarus. Referring to the experience of post-Soviet transformation, the appeal notes, "The recovery of national identity is a key factor in the democratization of any nation." President Alexander Lukashenka's regime understands this fact and is therefore discriminating against the Belarusian language in favor of Russian, telling the country and Europe "that the Belarusian language has no prospects and that there is no demand for it among Belarusian citizens."

The EC is not known to have responded publicly. For their part, Deutsche Welle representatives defensively cite the terms of the EC's tender and contract, which only authorize funding for DW's Russian Service to launch Russian-language broadcasting to Belarus. That Service's chief, however, went further in an interview with an independent Belarusian news agency, where she rationalized the decision on three grounds. First, DW has already been broadcasting a Russian-language program to Central Asia for four years. Second, broadcasting to Belarus in Russian is at least "doing something," and thus better than the alternative option of "doing nothing." And, third, "it is stupid to say that Russian is bad and Belarusian is good," the chief is cited as arguing (Belapan, August 8).

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