Multilingualism among the Catholics in Belarus in the Late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Centuries. Sociolinguistic study
The book discusses the sociolinguistic status and prestige of the Polish language and the changes in the national identity of Catholics in Belarus due to the switch from Polish to Belarusian in the Catholic Church. The research shows that the national identification of Catholics in Belarus is changing. The oldest generations most often self-identify as Polish. For those from the middle and youngest generations, the link between nationality and their religion is not obvious as being a Catholic does not exclude a Belarusian self-identity. Belonging to the Catholic Church results from being baptized in the Catholic rite, while national identity can be defined in many ways and re-defined by various life experiences. Catholicism has proven to be a less debated and more durable category than nationality.
The observations I made during the research in 2009–2012 confirm the process, identified by scholars, of the “de-Polonisation” of the Catholic Church in Belarus. Yet this phenomenon is considerably more complex than many studies devoted to these issues suggest, and I would argue that examining it solely in terms of Catholics’ loss of “Polishness” is insufficient. It is also connected with transformations in both the model of religiosity and understanding of young people’s (choice of their) own religious and national identification. Religion is becoming a deliberate choice, rather than the consequence of originating in a Catholic family. This applies both to believers who come from a Catholic environment and those from mixed or religiously indifferent families. The Church shaping the young generation of Catholics is a different one from that which defended Polishness throughout the most difficult years.204 Young people no longer see it as a carrier of religious and national models, but only as conveying religious ones. It has room for both Poles and for Belarusians. My informers’ statements clearly showed that Polishness and Belarusianness do not cancel each other out, but rather complement and enrich one another, in the same way as praying alternately in Polish and Belarusian. Analysis of the statements I collected suggests that for young people there is no antagonism between the Polish and Belarusian languages or Polish and Belarusian nationalities, and it is possible to draw from both traditions to consciously construct one’s own identity at various levels.
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