The Swedish Foreign Ministry officially renounced the old name Vitryssland, which literally means White Russia, in favour of Belarus. However, most European countries still call Belarus that way. What are they and what are their arguments?
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus explain that the issue of renaming is complex.
In the official documents of the UN and the Constitution of Belarus, the Republic of Belarus or simply Belarus is used. According to the law, the name of the country is transmitted into other languages in accordance with the “Belarusian sound”. For instance, in the English language, it is Belarus.
Back in the 1990s, Belarusian representatives urged the UN member states to call the country Belarus. And still, many neighbour countries keep calling us White Russia or White Rus’ in their language. There is no uniformity in media: for instance, most Ukrainian media, as well as the Euronews television channel, use the official version of Belarus.
The situation in Russian media is different: the leading TV channels (Channel One Russia, RTR, NTV), news agencies (RIA Novosti, TASS) and online publications (Meduza, Lenta, RBC) use “Byelorussia”. As an argument, media representatives cite the norms of the Russian language. In particular, that there is no connecting “a” sound, and therefore the option Belarus is wrong.
Last year, a campaign to change the name of the Belarusian state started in China: before that, our country was called White Russia or Byelorussia in Chinese, now it is Belarus. Also, a year ago, after much debate, BBC News Russian changed its approach to naming some countries of the former USSR, Belarus included.
In 2014, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry took to Twitter asking to call Belarus “in accordance with UN standards.” However, the name White Russia or White Rus, as diplomats explain, is still used, since this is the historical name of the country, which was used during both the times of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
For example, in Lithuania Belarus is Baltarusija, in Latvia – Baltkrievija, in Germany – Weißrussland, in Greece – Lefkorosía, in Denmark – Hviderusland, in Estonia – Valgevene, in France – Biélorussie, in Italy – Bielorussia. All these words consist of two parts: “white” and “Russia”.