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Family Questioned After Demanding Classes In Belarusian

Uladzimir Khilmanovich (left) and the Astrouski family rally for a Belarusian school on September 2.
Uladzimir Khilmanovich (left) and the Astrouski family rally for a Belarusian school on September 2.
HRODNA, Belarus -- Police have detained and questioned a family in the western city of Hrodna who demanded Belarusian-language instruction at schools, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Ales Astrouski, a professor at Hrodna Medical University, his wife Aksana, and their three young children, along with journalist Uladzimir Khilmanovich, picketed the Hrodna mayor's office to demand education in the Belarusian language for children in the city.

The six held placards saying: "There is not a single Belarusian school in Hrodna, what kind of country do we live in?" "Ethnocide is the silent killing of the nation," and "We want to study In Belarusian!"

Astrouski said they were invited into the mayor's office to meet with Deputy Mayor Iryna Senchankava, who promised them during their meeting to create one class in which teaching will be in Belarusian. Astrouski said he told Senchankava that he would withdraw his children from school and hire a private teacher if such a class was not opened.

He said that when they left Senchankava's office, five policemen intercepted them and took them to a police station, where they were informed they should have filed an application with the city administration 15 days in advance of asking permission to hold a public protest.

Astrouski told them he and his wife were hoping until the last moment that their daughter, Svyatlana, would be able to start her elementary school education in Belarusian. He said they only found out on September 1 that their request for a Belarusian class had been ignored.

Aksana Astrouskaya told RFE/RL that the police asked her who initiated the action, who made the protest signs, and why they chose Lenin Square near the mayor's office to stage the protest.

The police agreed to Astrouskaya's demand that she be questioned in Belarusian, not Russian.

Police told the Astrouski family and Khilmanovich that they might be brought to trial as they had violated the law.

Although both Belarusian and Russian are state languages in Belarus, usage of Russian dominates the country.