Slutsk Defence Action
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|Slutsk defence action|
|Part of Russian Civil War|
|local units associating themselves with the Belarusian Democratic Republic||Russian SFSR|
|Commanders and leaders|
The Slutsk defence action or the Slutsk uprising (Belarusian: Слуцкі збройны чын or Слуцкае паўстанне) was an unsuccessful armed attempt to defend the independence of Belarus in the region of the town of Slutsk.
Peace of Riga
The preliminary peace accord (later finalized in Peace of Riga), signed on October 12, 1920, set new borders between Poland and the Soviet republics that divided modern Belarus and Ukraine in two parts. A Belarusian delegation was not invited to the Riga congress — neither from the Belarusian Democratic Republic, nor from the puppet Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus.
National movement in Slutsk
The main moving power of the Slutsk defence was the local peasantry fighting against the Bolshevist agrarian policy of War Communism and supporting the independence of Belarus declared on March 25, 1918. Leaders of the defence were local intellectuals and szlachta.
Slutsk was an important centre of Belarusian national life. Local intellectuals kept tense contacts with groups supporting the Belarusian Democratic Republic in other regions.
In 1918 a Belarusian National Committee led by Paval Zhauryd was created in the town.
Soviet–Polish War and Slutsk
The news about the division of Belarus between Poland and the Bolsheviks provoked indignation in Belarusian society. Immediately after Polish reoccupation of the town the Belarusian National Committee recommenced its activity and started forming Belarusian self-defence units. First, a 500-man Belarusian militia corps was created.
The Polish military were preparing to withdraw to Polish territory and did not prevent the creation of Belarusian military units. Many Polish military consisted of Belarusians and sympathised with the self-defence activities.
Still, there was no unity among Belarusian activists as to how to further strategy. There was a fraction that advocated cooperation with Poland. On the other side, there were even proposals for cooperation with the Soviets. Because of these contradictions much time needed for military preparation was lost. Lack of solidarity had its negative effect during the whole military defence action.
Only in November 1920 the withdrawing Polish military authorities transferred the civil power to the Belarusian National Committee. In all local communities and villages democratic elections took place; new elected Committees replaced the previous Polish-appointed local administration.
Local representatives of Belarusian socialist revolutionaries, who were the main advocates of the idea of Belarusian independence, decided to call up a Congress to confirm the authority of the Belarusian Republic in the region. Delegates from all local communities (five from each) and Belarusian organisations (one from each) were invited.
Congress of Sluchchyna
On November 14, 1920 the Congress of Sluchchyna (Slutsk region) started its work. There were 107 delegates from Slutsk and its surroundings as well as several representatives of the Belarusian army of general Bulak-Balachovich.
The government of the Belarusian National Republic appointed Paval Zhauryd its commissioner to Sluchchyna.
The Congress passed a resolution declaring the authority of the government of the Belarusian National Republic and protesting against the Soviet invasion of Belarus. A decision was made to organize armed resistance against the bolshevik occupation:
The First Belarusian Congress of Sluchchyna, formed of 107 persons, salutes the Upper Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic and declares that it will give all its powers for the revival of our Fatherland and categorically protests against the occupation of our Fatherland by foreign and impostor Soviet powers. Long live the independent National Belarusian Republic in its ethnographic borders!
A Rada of Sluchchyna consisting of 17 people was elected with the chairman Uladzimyer Prakulevich. Its function was to organise civil governance of Sluchchyna before regular elections could be held as well as to organise a military defence.
Military command was given to a troika led by Paval Zhauryd. The Rada declared a general mobilisation and continued creation of military units.
The mobilisation was very successful among inhabitants of Sluchchyna, in the villages of Cimkovichy, Kapyl, Syemiezhava, Hrozava and surroundings. Soon there were ca. 10,000 men mobilised into the newly created forces.
Two regiments were formed by the Rada: 1st Slutsk regiment under lieutenant colonel Akhrem Haurylovich and the 2nd Hrozaŭ regiment under captain Siemianiuk. These two regiments formed the Slutsk brigade under Anton Sokal-Kutylouski. The military headquarters was transferred from Slutsk to Syemyezhava because of approaching bolshevik armies.
The military defence action was actively supported by Belarusian nationalists from different regions of Belarus at that time occupied by Polish troops.
From Hrodna a banner with the Pahonia and the motto To those who went to die for the life of their Fatherland was sent to Slutsk. The military commission of the Government of the Belarusian Republic that was acting as Belarus' defence ministry, sent several military specialists to help to organise the defence. Soon a well-organised military hospital and military court were created by the Slutsk brigade.
The Slutsk Rada had tight contacts with the army of Stanislau Bulak-Balakhovich and planned to coordinate with it.
On November 21, 1920 the Rada of Sluchchyna made a new declaration:
In the moment of self-determination of all nations and their struggle for freedom the Belarusian Rada of Sluchchyna carries out the will of the peasantry that delegated the protection of the independence of our Fatherland Belarus to it. The Rada declares to the whole world the will of Belarusian peasantry that Belarus must be an independent republic in its ethnographc borders Stating that and being the speaker of the will of the people, the Rada of Sluchchyna declares that it will stand for the independence of Belarus and protect the interests of peasantry against violation by foreign invadors. If needed, we will do it by military means despite a numeral advantage of the enemy, because what we do is honest and honesty will always win.
The Rada gave the order to all military units and volunteers to group near Siemiežava on November 24. A demonstration took place on the central square of Słuck.
On November 27 the first encounters between Belarusian and Soviet forces began.
The Słuck brigade made some successful attacks near Kapyl, Cimkavichy and Vyzna. Against the Belarusian forces fought the Omsk division of the Red Army. Despite some support from the local population, the Belarusian units lacked ammunition and arms.
This started an anti-bolshevik partisan movement. As people joined them, the Slutsk Rada made an appeal to the soldiers of the Red Army to stop resistance as well. Many of them did, as there were numerous Russian peasants opposing the Soviet agrarian policy among them. Therefore, the Bolsheviks had to bring in units consisting of Latvians and Chinese to combat the Belarusian units.
Still, the powers were unequal and on December 31 the Slutsk brigade had to retreat to Polish territory where it was disarmed by Polish border guards.
Some of the defendants of Slutsk later returned to Belarus but were captured by the bolsheviks and dealt with accordingly. Some of the Belarusian military stayed in the region as a partisan Green Army and continued armed resistance against Soviet rule till the 1930s.
Modern reflections of the Slutsk military defence
During Perestroika, numerous political groups dedicated themselves to publicise the history of a movement that was virtually erased from history during the Soviet time. November 27 became a holiday that groups like the Belarusian Popular Front and some intellectuals celebrate as Heroes Day. However, Belarusian officials under president Alexander Lukashenko do not recognise the Slutsk military defense as significant, mostly due to the pro-Soviet official state ideology dominating in Belarus.
- Слуцкі збройны чын 1920 г. у дакумэнтах і ўспамінах, складальнікі Ляхоўскі Ул., Міхнюк Ул., Гесь А., Менск, 2001 (The Slutsk Defence Action of 1920 in documents and memoirs, by U. Liakhouski, U. Mikjniuk and A. Hes, Minsk, 2001)
- Беларусы замежжа ўшанавалі герояў Слуцкага паўстаньня, Radio Svaboda
- Slutsk on Belarusguide.com
- Zianon Paźniak: The Slutsk defence action is a glorious example for us (Belarusian)
- Article (Belarusian)