For years, Belarus has been one of the countries least widely known outside of Eastern Europe. While the reasons for that are complicated, confusion over its Russian-sounding name can’t have helped it establish its identity.

Now, one of the leaders of the country’s long-running protest movement, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has launched a campaign, from her exile in Lithuania, to rebrand the troubled nation.

In a post on her Telegram channel on Monday, she revealed that she had sent a formal communique to her host country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, asking him to intervene and change how her country is referred to.

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FILE PHOTO: Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks to the media in Berlin, Germany, December 14, 2020.
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At present, her native land is known in Lithuanian as Baltarusija. However, the one-time opposition candidate insists that it should be changed to a Lithuanian-language equivalent of the more-modern Belarus, as it is known in the English language.

According to her, “this would be a sign of Lithuanian respect for the sovereignty of Belarus and a continuation of the cultural identity of the Belarusian people. The present name, unfortunately, is mistakenly seen as a derivative… linking it to the country of Russia.” She adds that 24 European nations have now updated their nomenclature.

Tikhanovskaya’s move is the latest in a long history of controversy that cuts to the heart of the country’s national identity. Belarus takes its name from a historic Slavic-language term meaning ‘White Rus,’ sharing the same stem as present-day Russia. In the Soviet Era, its Russian-language variant Byelorussia was often used, before being displaced by the variant it now uses, at home and abroad.

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