Belarusian People's Republic

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Belarusian People's Republic
Белару́ская Наро́дная Рэспу́бліка
Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika
Unrecognized country

1918–1919
 

 

 

Flag Coat of arms
Anthem
Belarusian: Ваяцкі марш
"Come, We Shall March in Joint Endeavour" BNR Nacyjanalny himn - My vyjdzem shchylnymi radami.ogg
Capital 1918  Minsk · Vilnia
1918–1919  Hrodna
Capital-in-exile 1919–1923  Kaunas
1923–1945  Prague
1948–1970  Paris
1970–1983  Toronto
1983–present  New York
Languages Belarusian
Government Republic
Chairman (President) of the Rada BNR
 -  1918–1919 Jan Sierada
 -  1919 Piotra Krečeŭski
Chairperson-in-exile
 -  1919–1928 (first) Piotra Krečeŭski
 -  1997–present Ivonka Survilla
Historical era World War I
 -  Independence March 25, 1918
 -  Soviet invasion January 5, 1919
Currency Ruble

The Belarusian People's Republic (Belarusian: Белару́ская Наро́дная Рэспу́бліка, [bʲeɫaˈruskaja naˈrodnaja rɛsˈpublʲika], transliterated as Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika, BNR),[1] historically referred to as the White Ruthenian Democratic Republic (German: Weißruthenische Volksrepublik;[2] French: République Démocratique de la Ruthénie Blanche[3]) was a failed attempt to create Belarusian state that declared independence in 1918.

It was founded on March 25, 1918 in Minsk and replaced by a Communist government on January 5, 1919. In order to distinguish Belarusian National Republic from similarly named communist republics, it is also known as the "Belarusian Democratic Republic". It ceased to exist when Minsk was captured by the forces of Bolshevik Russia and the Byelorussian SSR was founded in Minsk to replace it.[1]

Authorities of the BNR later formed a government in exile. As of 2014, the Rada (Council) of the Belarusian People's Republic is the oldest existing government in exile (see Government in exile#Current governments in exile).

History[edit]

The Belarusian People's Republic was declared during World War I on March 25, 1918, when Belarus was occupied by the Germans according to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

After the 1917 February Revolution in Russia, active discussions started in Belarus about either gaining autonomy within the new democratic Russia or declaring independence. Representatives of most Belarusian regions and of different (mostly left-wing) political powers, including the Belarusian Socialist Assembly, the Christian democratic movement and the General Jewish Labour Bund, formed a Belarusian National Council in late 1917. The Council started working on establishing Belarusian governmental institutions. Both the Bolsheviks and Germans refused to recognize it and interfered in its activity. However, the Germans saw an independent Belarus as part of the implementation of their plan for buffer states within Mitteleuropa. The Bolsheviks had negotiations with the Belarusian Democratic Republic regarding an eventual recognition, but later decided instead to establish a Soviet puppet government of Belarus - the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus.

Parallel with negotiations that started between the Germans and Bolsheviks, the Belarusian Council started actively demanding recognition of an autonomous status for Belarus, with continuing internal discussions on whether it should become an autonomy within Russia or declare national independence.

The Republic's first government.
Sitting, left to right:
Aliaksandar Burbis, Jan Sierada, Jazep Varonka, Vasil Zacharka.
Standing, left to right:
Arkadz Smolich, Pyotra Krecheuski, Kastus Jezavitau, Anton Ausianik, Liavon Zayats.

In its First Constituent Charter, passed on February 21, 1918, the Belarusian Council declared itself the only legitimate power in the territory of Belarus. On March 9, following the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the Germans and Bolsheviks, the Belarusian Council issued a Second Charter where it declared the establishment of the Belarusian People's Republic. The Belarusian Council became the provisional government of Belarus and was renamed the Council of the Belarusian People's Republic.

On March 25, 1918, the Council issued a third charter declaring the independence of Belarus. Following that, local meetings were held within Belarusian cities that issued resolutions supporting the creation of an independent republic.

Territory[edit]

In its Third Constituent Charter, the following territories were claimed for BNR: Mogilev Governorate (province), as well as Belarusian parts of Minsk Governorate, Grodno Governorate (including Belastok), Vilna Governorate, Vitebsk Governorate, and Smolensk Governorate, and parts of bordering governorates populated by Belarusians, rejecting the then split of the Belarusian lands between Germany and Russia.[4] The areas were claimed because of a Belarusian majority or large minority (as in Grodno and Vilna Governorate), although there were also numbers of Lithuanians, Poles and people speaking mixed varieties of Belarusian, Lithuanian and Polish, as well as many Jews, mostly in towns and cities (in some towns they made up a majority). Some of the Jews spoke Russian as their native tongue; others spoke Yiddish.

Military[edit]

President and General Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz.

There were attempts to create regular armed forces of the newly established Belarusian republic.[5] Belarusian military units started to form within the disorganized Russian army already in 1917.

According to the historian Oleg Latyszonek, about 11 thousand people, mostly volunteers, served in the army of the Belarusian Republic[6]

General Stanisław Bułak-Bałachowicz supported the Government of BNR and openly positioned his army as a Belarusian national army, also acting as the first President of the Belarusian Provisional Government shortly after the downfall of the BNR before again handing power to the people. For his resistance against Bolshevik forces that killed local Belarusian peasantry, members of Belarusian minority in Poland regard him as their national hero.

The major military action of the Belarusian People's Republic army was the Slutsk defence action in late 1920. The Council of the BNR, based at that time in Lithuania, sent officers to help organize armed anti-Bolshevik resistance in the town of Slutsk. The Belarusian army managed to resist a month against the greater strength of the Red Army.

Other actions of the independent Belarusian government[edit]

During its short existence, the government of Belarus established close ties with the Ukrainian People's Republic, organized food supplies to Belarus from Ukraine and thereby prevented hunger in the country.[7] Diplomatic representations of Belarus had been created in Germany, Estonia, Ukraine and other countries to lobby for Belarusian interests or to support Belarusian soldiers and refugees who landed in different parts of the former Russian Empire.

Beginning in 1918, Anton Lutskevich, the Prime Minister of Belarus, met with Vladimir Lenin hoping to gain recognition for the independence of Belarus by Soviet Russia. The Belarusian delegation even proposed the creation of a federation with the RSFSR and the adoption of the Soviet Constitution in Belarus in exchange for Russia recognizing the independent status of Belarus, but Lenin did not agree to these proposals.[8]

Military and Diplomatic Mission of the Belarusian Democratic Republic in Riga.

The government also managed to create between 150 and 350 schools and preparations for the creation of a University in Minsk were initiated.

Being surrounded by more powerful neighbors and having no allies, the BNR quickly lost its independence and did not become a real state with a constitution or defined territoriality. However, many modern Belarusian historians suggest that creation of the Belarusian People's Republic was the reason for Bolsheviks creating the puppet Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic and allowing some elements of national cultural life in the 1920s.[citation needed]

Exile[edit]

See Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic#In exile

In December 1918, the German army retreated from the territory of Belarus and the Red Army moved in to establish the Socialist Soviet Republic of Belarus. The Rada (Council) of the BNR moved to Grodno, the center of a semi-autonomous Belarusian region within the Republic of Lithuania.[5] During the subsequent 1919 Polish invasion, the Rada went into exile and facilitated an anti-Communist struggle within the country during the 1920s.

In 1925, the exiled government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic discussed relinquishing its authority in favor of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic controlling the eastern part of Belarus. Despite many members of the democratic government advocating this idea, the proposal was not approved.[9]

During World War II, the Belarusian government-in-exile, based in Prague, refused to cooperate with Nazi Germany or with the "Belarusian Central Rada", the pro-German puppet government, and issued statements in support of the Western allies.

The advance of the Red Army in 1945 forced the Rada of the BNR to relocate to the Western part of Germany, occupied by British and American troops. In February 1948, the Rada passed a special manifesto, by which it declared its return to activity. In April 1948 the Rada, together with representatives of the Belarusian post-war refugees, held a conference in Osterhofen, Bavaria.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, similar governments-in-exile of the neighboring countries (Lithuania, Poland and others) handed back their mandates to the corresponding independent governments.

Upon declaration of independence of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1990, it was stated then that the Rada was ready to hand its status to a democratically elected parliament of Belarus. The parliament of Belarus of that time had been elected under Soviet rule. However, these plans were dropped after president Alexander Lukashenko, elected in 1994, established an authoritarian regime accompanied by a return to Soviet policies in regards to Belarusian language and culture.[10]

"Freedom Day" celebration rally held by the Belarusian opposition in 2007.
Ivonka Survilla, current president of the Belarusian government-in-exile.

The Rada BNR still exists as a government in exile and attempts to lobby for interests of the Belarusian diaspora in countries where it has its representatives.

Since the late 1980s, March 25, the Independence Day of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, is widely celebrated by the Belarusian national democratic opposition as Freedom Day (Belarusian: Дзень волі). It is usually accompanied by mass opposition rallies in Minsk and by celebration events of the Belarusian diaspora organizations supporting the Belarusian government in exile.

Presidents[edit]

Chairmans of the Council of the Belarusian People's Republic:

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Symbols[edit]

A national flag of three stripes — white-red-white — was adopted, as well as a state seal (Pahonia) based on an emblem of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Archives[edit]

In 1998, Belarusian linguist and translator Siarhiej Shupa published a two-volume collection of BNR archives (Архівы Беларускай Народнай Рэспублікі. Менск-Вільня-Прага-Нью-Ёрк). The total size of the two volumes is more than 1700 pages. Essentially these are the processed and re-organized documents from the Lithuanian archival fund #582 in Vilnius and they constitute roughly 60% of all the BNR official documents from 1918. Another 20% of BNR official documentation is located in the Minsk archives, and the fate of the remaining 20% is unknown.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]