16 May 2021, Sunday, 20:32
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

Freedom Day Comes Today

Freedom Day Comes Today

Belarusians are celebrating the 103rd anniversary of the restoration of independence.

Today, Belarusians mark the 103rd anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian People's Republic.

Pavel Latushka, a former diplomat and ex-director of the Kupala Theater and head of the NAU, urged the Belarusians to go out to the central streets of their cities across the country on March 25, the Freedom Day, at 5 p.m.

Why do we celebrate the anniversary of the restoration of independence on March 25?

On the 25th of March in 1918, the Rada of the Belarusian People's Republic (formerly the executive committee of the All-Belarusian Congress) adopted the Third Charter in German-occupied Minsk. The Charter proclaimed the BPR a free and independent state. The Rada declared that the Brest Peace Treaty, signed by the Bolsheviks and the Germans, was no longer valid, so it called for a revision of its terms.

The Germans responded to the act of March 25th by dissolving the Rada and the People's Secretariat of the BPR and then banning it. However, the authorities continued to operate in Belarus, and afterwards in exile. Now, Ivonka Survilla heads the Rada of the BPR. She preserves the tradition of restoration of the Belarusian statehood.

Where and how the state independence of the BPR was proclaimed

The Third Charter of the Rada, which proclaimed the state independence of Belarus, was adopted in the morning of March 25th during the Rada session in Minsk, Serpukhowskaja St. 9 (now Volodarskogo Street 9). In the middle of March, a session hall was rented from the peasant land bank located on the third floor.

As the participant of the sitting Yanka Stankevich remembered, some members of Rada couldn't hide their excitement and the chairman - Yanka Sereda - had trembling hands. The Third Charter was adopted just at sunrise. Someone exclaimed: "The sun of independent Belarus is rising!"

Who was a member of the first government (People's Secretariat) of the Belarusian People's Republic

The first Belarusian government (People's Secretariat) was established by the Executive Committee of the Council of the All-Belarusian Congress on 20 February 1918 in Minsk, which was controlled by the Belarusian insurgents when the Bolsheviks escaped. At first, the government, headed by Iosif Voronko, consisted of 7 people. Later, their number reached 15. According to the recollections of Konstantin Yezovitov, the composition of the First Government of the BPR was as follows:

Iosif Voronko - chairman (prime minister) and people's secretary (minister) of foreign affairs; Ivan Makreyev - internal affairs; Ales Smolich - education; Yefim Belevich - justice; Ivan Sereda - national economy; V. Redko - relations; Tomasz Grib - agriculture; Poluta Bodunova - guardianship; A. Karach - mail and telegraph; Pyotr Krechevski - control; G. Belkind - finance; Pavel Zlobin - Great Russian affairs; Moisha Gutman - "first comrade" (first deputy) chairman and secretary of Jewish affairs; Konstantin Yezovitov - "second comrade" chairman and national secretary of military affairs; Levon Zayats - head of the affairs of the National Secretariat.

Later, the composition of the first government changed, among other things, because Makreev, Zlobin and Belkind resigned in April in protest against the adoption of the 3rd Statute.

A German patrol in a street in Minsk, March 1918. (kp.by)

The Armed Forces of the BPR

The BPR did not have time to create a Belarusian army, but such attempts repeatedly took place. Belarusian units began to form as part of the Russian army back in the fall of 1917. In February 1918, when the Executive Committee of the All-Belarusian Congress took power in Minsk, the 1st Minsk Belarusian Regiment was created, which existed until the arrival of the German troops.

Belarusian Hussars in front of the building of the military commandant's office in Hrodna, 1919.
Photo: nn.by

According to the historian Oleg Latyshonok, author of "The Hussars of the BPR", about 11 thousand people, mostly volunteers, served in the Belarusian military units during 1917-1923. The most heroic episode of the struggle for the BPR was the Slutsk armed uprising of 1920. The hastily formed Slutsk Brigade of BPR fighters fought the Red Army for a month.

Tens of thousands of people joined partisan detachments, including those who fought for the state independence of the BPR (Lukash Semianiuk, Jyrki Monich, Vyacheslav Adamovich-"Dergach» and others). The Belarusian corps was also created on the Romanian front in 1917, which could not be transferred to Belarus to support the government of the BPR.

Major General Stanislaw Bulak-Balachowich also declared his sympathies for the BPR. In 1919, he and his unit joined the "Belarusian service" ("Separate Unit of the BPR"). Later, he fought against the Bolsheviks together with the Polish troops. In November 1920, Bulak-Balachowich declared an "independent Belarusian state" in Mozyr, but soon the Red Army defeated him, and he retreated to Poland.

The capitals of the BPR

The reborn Belarusian state had two capitals, Minsk and Hrodna. During World War I, the front divided Belarus. Vilnia, the main centre of the Belarusian national movement, was under German occupation. After the February Revolution in Russia, Minsk became the new centre. The First All-Belarusian Congress was held there in December 1917. However, it was dispersed by the Bolsheviks. In March 1918, the state independence of Belarus was declared. In late 1918, the BPR's government left for Hrodna via Vilnius before the Bolsheviks returned to Minsk. This city was considered the capital of the BPR until September 1919, when the BPR government returned for several months to Minsk, occupied by Polish troops.

What political forces participated in the creation of the BPR?

The major force in the Belarusian national movement was the Belarusian Socialist Hramada. Its members founded the BPR. The first government of the BPR by Iosif Voronko included representatives of the BSG, the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries and Jewish socialist organizations. However, many Russian and Jewish figures had a negative attitude toward a declaration of independence of Belarus; they were supporters of the autonomy of Belarus within the Russian Democratic Republic. As a result, these figures left the government in early April 1918.

The right-wing Belarusian activists ("conservatives") grouped around the Minsk Belarusian Representative Office, headed by Roman Skirmunt. They stood against the nationalization of the land and had disagreements with the socialists in this respect. Skirmunt and his supporters also hoped for German help in restoring Belarusian statehood. The right-wing activists co-opted into the Rada only in April 1918. Some Belarusian researchers believe that the lack of mutual understanding between the Belarusian left and right political forces significantly reduced the chances of success in the struggle for independent Belarusian statehood.

How the authority of the BPR spread across Belarus

On July 12, 1918, about 400 representatives of local public and political organizations gathered in the hall of the Mahiliou court (earlier it was mistakenly considered that it was the current building of the Regional Museum of Local Lore. However, it was Secondary School No. 1 in Pervomaiskaya Street). The absolute majority of those present supported the idea of independence of Belarus (only 2 persons voted against it, 9 persons abstained).

Mahiliou was the only provincial town in Belarus that held such a representative meeting in support of the BPR. However, similar meetings were held in dozens of provincial towns. They established Belarusian Rada's there, and the BPR authorities relied on them.

The Rada of the BPR obtained support from many regions of Belarus and gradually expanded its influence. Towns sent resolutions to Minsk on the recognition of the power of the BPR government. Babruisk, Radashkovichy, Barysau, Slutsk, Nyasvizh, Navahrudak, Koidanava, Rechytsa, and other towns sent them. The Belarusian Rada spoke for the creation of "one indivisible Belarus in the form of the BPR".

BPR currency

No Belarusian money was created at the time. Tsarist rubles, kerenki, Polish and German money were simultaneously used in the territory of Belarus. However, one can sometimes encounter a reference to the "ruble of the BPR". Some researchers mean the "short-term bond of 1 ruble" issued by the Slutsk district territorial board in 1918.

In February 1918, the Rada and the People's Secretariat operated on the money from the treasury. The Minsk railway workers did not allow the Bolsheviks to take it out during their escape. However, the German occupiers confiscated money. In February 1919, the Belarusian government, which resided in Hrodna at that time, received from the Ukrainian government a state loan of 4 million karbovanets. Part of that money served to set up BPR diplomatic missions abroad, trips by BPR representatives to international conferences, the publication of the Belarusian press, aid to schools and orphanages.

At the request of Soviet Russia, a significant part of the Ukrainian loan was frozen by the German bank. It is likely that in the early 1920s, Lithuania used that money to finance the Belarusian anti-Polish partisan movement.

Complicated relations with Germany

Germany did not recognize the independence of the BPR and regarded it as Russian territory, as well as a deposit for the contribution to be paid by the Bolsheviks. On February 25, 1918, German soldiers occupied the building of the People's Secretariat (government) in Minsk, removed the Belarusian flag and confiscated funds. In early April 1918, the occupants banned the activities of the People's Secretariat.

However, when the positions of the right-wing forces headed by Roman Skirmunt (one of the authors of the telegram to Kaiser Wilhelm II) strengthened in the governing bodies of BPR, the command of the German 10th Army authorized the institute of advisers at the field commandant's offices in June 1918. When the government of the BPR declared the decrees of the Soviet Russian government invalid on the territory of Belarus, the German authorities let the People's Secretariat deal with trade, industry, social trusteeship, culture and education.

Which countries recognized the independence of the Belarusian People's Republic?

The recognition issue of the BPR by other countries has not been studied sufficiently, the information is sometimes contradictory. For example, historian Anatoliy Sidorevich mentioned in one of his publications, that in 1919-1920, the BPR was de jure or de facto recognized by Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Finland, Turkey and Ukraine. Belarusian diplomatic and military-diplomatic missions, consulates and representative offices operated in these countries (in Kaunas, Riga, Constantinople, Kyiv, Odesa, Prague, Berlin, Gdansk, Copenhagen and other cities.

State symbols of the BPR

In 1918, the governing bodies of the BPR approved the white-red-white flag and the Pahonia coat of arms as state symbols.

For the first time, the white-red-white flag was hoisted over the building of the Governor's House in Minsk after the expulsion of the Bolsheviks from the city on February 19, 1918.

The anthem of the BPR

The anthem was the military march "We Shall Stand Together", written by Makar Kravtsov, a Belarusian poet and serviceman. Kravtsov had a tragic fate - at the end of 1939, he was arrested by the NKVD, and since then nothing is known about his fate.

The state language

In April 1918, the People's Secretariat of the BPR decided upon the Belarusian language as a state one. Thereafter, all records were kept in Belarusian.

Passport of the BPR

The governing body of the Belarusian People's Republic saw about the Belarusian passports. The all-civil passport of the Belarusian People's Republic was issued in 1918 in the Slavonic printing house of I. Galevsky in Berlin. It had 12 pages; the coat of arms was on the cover. The passport included place and date of birth, nationality, special features (height, hair colour, eyes). The passport could be used for travelling abroad. Official government figures of the BPR had diplomatic passports.

In Odesa, the Belarusian consulate registered about 16,000 Belarusian citizens and issued them BPR passports. The Berlin mission of the BPR received permission from the German authorities to issue passports to citizens of Belarus, and government certificates to former Belarusian prisoners of war. Thus, two thousand passports were issued. Their owners, by the way, could live in European countries, obtain visas to move to America or return to their homeland.

Historian Vladimir Lyakhovsky argues that BPR passports were used until the end of the 1920s.

Citizenship of the BPR

The law on citizenship of the Belarusian People's Republic was adopted in December 1919 by the Rada of the BPR. According to this law, any person who lived on the territory of Belarus before 1914 and enjoyed the right of Russian citizenship was considered a Belarusian citizen. Such persons were automatically granted Belarusian citizenship and issued national passports. Dual citizenship was forbidden and considered "high treason".

How long did the Belarusian People's Republic exist?

Active work of the Rada and the Government continued in 1918-1919. The governing bodies of the BPR went into exile in 1919 and located in Lithuania, Germany and the Czech Republic. In 1925, the Soviet special services tried to organize a liquidation meeting of the Rada and the Government of the BPR. However, the Chairman of the Rada, Pyotr Krechevski, and later, Vasil Zakharko, stuck to the ideals of Belarusian independence. They lived in Prague and kept the archive of the BPR. In the postwar period, the Rada and the BPR government were restored in West Germany by a new wave of Belarusian emigration.