16 May 2021, Sunday, 22:22
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How the BNR Borders Were Drawn

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How the BNR Borders Were Drawn

The map of the Belarusian People's Republic became the first map of Belarus as a separate state.

The tut.by portal figured out what scientists and politicians were guided by when deciding what the country's borders might be.

The third charter, signed on March 25, 1918, says that the BNR Rada represented the BNR as an independent and free state. What boundaries could it have if everything worked out?

"The Belarusian People's Republic should embrace all the lands where the Belarusian people live and have a numerical advantage, namely: Mahilou region, Belarusian parts of Minsk region, Hrodna region (with Hrodna, Bialystok, etc.), Vilna region, Vitsebsk region, Smolensk region, Chernihiv region and adjacent parts of neighboring provinces inhabited by Belarusians,” indicated in the document.

Now the National Historical Museum of Belarus is displaying a map with the borders of the BNR.

Its creators were inspired by the map of Professor Yaukhim Karski, published back in 1903.

- On the map of Yaukhim Karski, Belarusians were depicted as an ethnic group, and the boundaries of the settlement of this people were marked. The map was later republished several times, - one of the organizers of the exhibition Artur Yanovich explains.

Darota Mikhaliuk, the author of the book “The Belarusian People's Republic of 1918-1920: at the Origins of the Belarusian Statehood,” writes that defining the borders of the Belarusian People's Republic was the most important task, regardless of whether Belarus joins a federal union or becomes an independent subject of international law.

For the first time, the problem of how to designate the borders of Belarus (then - as autonomy within the Russian Federation) was raised in March 1917 at a congress of Belarusian national organizations. Then a commission of historians and ethnographers was created for this task. But the commission did not start its work on the borders, Mikhaliuk writes.

Until the late spring of 1918, the Belarusians did not have the described borders. In May 1918, a commission was created under the People's Secretariat of Foreign Affairs of the Belarusian People's Republic, which began this work.

They took the "Ethnographic Map of the Belarusian Tribe" of 1903 by Professor Yaukhim Karski and its updated version for 1917 as a basis.

“The map of Yaukhim Karski was the first linguistic map that interpreted the Belarusian language as an independent language,” writes Darota Mikhaliuk.

The author of the study notes that Karski defined ethnic boundaries solely based on a linguistic criterion, without taking into account other factors, such as, for example, folklore.

The scientist describes in detail the meetings of delegations from Belarus with representatives of those countries whose ideas about the borders did not coincide with the Belarusian one. One of these disputed territories was Palessie - a rich land, which was claimed by both the Ukrainian and Belarusian sides. It is curious that the Western Polesie - Brest, Pruzhany, Kobryn provinces Karski ranked among the lands with the spread of the Ukrainian language.

The concept of the BNR's borders changed somewhat after the scientist Mitrafan Dounar-Zapolski appeared on the commission.

He believed that the southern Podlasie together with Brest, Pruzhany, Kobrin, as well as the Eastern and Western Palessie on both sides of the Prypiats with Mozyr, Rechytsa, Lojeu, and Homel belong to Belarus for both ethnographic and historical reasons. He argued this mainly by the belonging of the named territories to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after the conclusion of the Union of Lublin; he also referred to an earlier period when the territory of the Prypiats basin was part of the Turau-Pinsk principality. The professor also took into account the ethnographic proximity of Palessie to other regions of Belarus and emphasized the similarity of folklore, ritual, and mentality.

In the final version, the maps were based not only on the developments of professors Karski and Dounar-Zapolski but also on strategic goals. For example, the northwestern border on the map covered the territory of the Grajiv district of the Lomzhin province (now Poland), which cannot be considered ethnically Belarusian. But only in this way did the BNR get a neighborhood with Germany in East Prussia. Some BNR officials saw Germany as the guarantor of the security of the borders of a potential state and the main trading partner.

However, these boundaries did not have time to "work"...

But the main point is that the Belarusians declared in 1918: where the Belarusians live, there must be the BNR.