Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 62

Thousands of Minsk residents (5,000 by the authorities’ understated count) demonstrated on March 28 to mark the anniversary of the Belarusan National Republic (BNR), which existed fleetingly in 1918. The national-democratic opposition, and all who resist re-sovietization and russification, consider the BNR a precursor of their own efforts to achieve independent Belarusan statehood. The Belarusan state emerged, alongside the Ukrainian and the three Baltic states, following the defeat of the Russian Empire by Germany in the First World War, thanks to efforts of the nationally minded Belarusan intelligentsia. An elected Supreme Council (Rada) and a government named by it asserted themselves against the Bolsheviks, took power in Minsk in February 1918, and proclaimed the BNR on March 25. The BNR established diplomatic contacts with a number of European countries before it fell to Soviet Russian forces. The ensuing Soviet-Polish war led to a partition of the present territory of Belarus (see Richard Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, Harvard University Press, 1997, pp. 150-154).

Soviet rule imposed a veil of secrecy on those events and forbade any public mention of the BNR except to denigrate it. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, the secrecy was lifted and national-democratic groups observed March 25 as Freedom Day. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has re-imposed the official taboo on the BNR. The March 28 meeting combined homage to that independent state and condemnation of the Russian military’s apparent contingency plans to return Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Belarus (Belapan, March 29; see the Monitor, March 29).