Belarusian resistance movement

Belarusian resistance movement are the resistance movements on the territory of contemporary Belarus. Wars in the area - Great Northern War and the War of the Polish Succession - damaged its economy further. In addition, Russian armies raided the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth under the pretext of the returning of fugitive peasants.[1] By mid-18th century their presence in the lands of modern Belarus became almost permanent.

The last attempt to save the Commonwealth's independence was a Polish–Belarusian–Lithuanian national uprising of 1794 led by Tadeusz Kościuszko, however it was eventually quenched.

Eventually by 1795 Poland was partitioned by its neighbors. Thus a new period in Belarusian history started, with all its lands annexed by the Russian Empire, in a continuing endeavor of Russian tsars of "gathering the Rus lands" started after the liberation from the Tatar yoke by Grand Duke Ivan III of Russia.

Russian Empire

View of Polatsk in 1912

Under Russian administration, the territory of Belarus was divided into the guberniyas of Minsk, Vitebsk, Mogilyov, and Hrodno. Belarusians were active in the guerrilla movement against Napoleon's occupation and did their best to annihilate the remains of the Grande Armée when it crossed the Berezina River in November 1812. With Napoleon's defeat, Belarus again became a part of Imperial Russia and its guberniyas constituted part of the Northwestern Krai. The anti-Russian uprisings of the gentry[2] in 1830 and 1863 were subdued by government forces.

Although under Nicholas I and Alexander III the national cultures were repressed due to the policies of de-Polonization[3] and Russification,[2] which included the return to Orthodoxy, the 19th century was signified by the rise of the modern Belarusian nation and self-confidence. A number of authors started publishing in the Belarusian language, including Jan Czeczot, Władysław Syrokomla and Konstanty Kalinowski.

In a Russification drive in the 1840s, Nicholas I forbade the use of the term Belarusia and renamed the region the "North-Western Territory". He also prohibited the use of Belarusian language in public schools, campaigned against Belarusian publications and tried to pressure those who had converted to Catholicism under the Poles to reconvert to the Orthodox faith. In 1863, economic and cultural pressure exploded into a revolt, led by Kalinowski. After the failed revolt, the Russian government introduced the use of Cyrillic to Belarusian in 1864 and banned the use of the Latin alphabet.

In the second half of the 19th century, the Belarusian economy, like that of the entire Europe, was experiencing significant growth due to the spread of the Industrial Revolution to Eastern Europe,[4] particularly after the Emancipation of the Serfs in 1861. Peasants sought a better lot in foreign industrial centres, with some 1.5 million people leaving Belarus in the half-century preceding the Russian Revolution of 1917.

20th century


The territory claimed by the Belarus National Republic, 1918

World War I was the short period when Belarusian culture started to flourish. German administration allowed schools with Belarusian language, previously banned in Russia; a number of Belarusian schools were created until 1919 when they were banned again by the Polish military administration. At the end of World War I, when Belarus was still occupied by Germans, according to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the short-lived Belarus National Republic was pronounced on March 25, 1918, as part of the German Mitteleuropa plan.

In December 1918, Mitteleuropa was obsolete as the Germans withdrew from the Ober Ost territory, and for the next few years in the newly created political vacuum the territories of Belarus would witness the struggle of various national and foreign factions. On January 2, 1919, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia was declared. Next month, it was disbanded. Part of it was included into RSFSR, and part was joined to the Lithuanian SSR to form the LBSSR, Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, informally known as Litbel. While Belarus National Republic faced off with Litbel, foreign powers were preparing to reclaim what they saw as their territories: Polish forces were moving from the West, and Russians from the East.

Eventually, it was the foreigners who prevailed. When the Red Army entered Minsk on January 5, 1919, the Rada (Council) of the Belarus National Republic went into exile, first to Kaunas, then to Berlin and finally to Prague. Several months later, in August, the Litbel was also dissolved, this time because of the pressure of Polish forces advancing from the West.

Belarusian Soviet Republic and West Belarus 1919–39

Within the USSR, the name of the country was Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was declared on January 1, 1919 in Smolensk under the name of Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (SSRB). Viačasłaŭ Adamovič (Wiaczesław Adamowicz; pseudonym J. Dziergacz) planned and initiated military actions by Belarusian troops against the Soviets in Minsk and was also the founder of the partisan (military) unit, Zialony Dub (Green Oak). Some time in 1918 or 1919, Sergiusz Piasecki returned to Belarus, joining the anti-Soviet Zialony Dub, led by ataman Wiaczesław Adamowicz. When on August 8, 1919 Polish Army troops captured Minsk, Adamowicz decided to cooperate with them. Thus, Belarusian units were created and Piasecki was transferred to Warsaw school of infantry cadets. In the summer of 1920, during Polish–Soviet War, Piasecki fought in the Battle of Radzymin. The frontiers between Poland, which had established an independent government following World War I, and the former Russian Empire, were not recognized by the League of Nations. Poland's Józef Piłsudski, who envisioned a federation (Międzymorze), forming an East European bloc to form a bulwark against Russia and Germany, carried out Kiev Offensive into Ukraine in 1920, but was met by a Red Army counter-offensive that drove into Polish territory almost to Warsaw. However, Piłsudski halted the Soviet advance at the battle of Warsaw and resumed the offensive. Finally the Treaty of Riga, ending the Polish–Soviet War, divided Belarusian territories between Poland and Soviet Russia. For next two years BNR prepared for national uprising in Belarus and ceased the preparations only when the League of Nations recognised the eastern borders of Soviet Union on March 15, 1923.

The Polish part of Belarus was subject to Polonization policies (especially in the 1930s), while the Soviet Belarus was one of the original republics which formed the USSR. For several years, the national culture and language enjoyed a significant boost of revival in the Soviet Belarus. This was however soon ended during the Great Purge, when almost all prominent Belarusian national intelligentsia were executed, many of them buried in Kuropaty. Thousands were deported to Asia. As the result of Polish operation of the NKVD tens of thousands people of many nationalities were killed. Belarusian orthography was Russified in 1933 and use of Belarusian language was discouraged as exhibiting anti-soviet attitude.[5]

In West Belarus, up to 30 000 families of Polish veterans (osadniks) were settled in the lands formerly belonging to the Russian tsar family and Russian aristocracy.[6] Belarusian representation in Polish parliament was reduced as a result of the 1930 elections. Since the early 1930s, the Polish government introduced a set of policies designed to Polonize all minorities (Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, etc.). The usage of Belarusian language was discouraged and the Belarusian schools were facing severe financial problems. In spring of 1939, there already was neither single Belarusian official organisation in Poland nor a single Belarusian school (with only 44 schools teaching Belarusian language left).[7]

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Belarus in World War II

Belarusian partisans near Połock, 1943. The partisan on the left is carrying what appears to be a Soviet PPD-40. His companion is equipped with a Mosin–Nagant rifle, a German bayonet and two RGD-33 hand grenades.

When the Soviet Union invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, following the terms of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocol, much of what had been eastern Poland was annexed to the BSSR. Similarly to the times of German occupation during World War I, Belarusian language and Soviet culture enjoyed relative prosperity in this short period. Already in October 1940, over 75% of schools used the Belarusian language, also in the regions where no Belarus people lived, e.g. around Łomża, there was Ruthenization.[8] After twenty months of Soviet rule, Germany and its Axis allies invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Soviet authorities immediately evacuated about 20% of the population of Belarus and destroyed all the food supplies.[9] The country suffered particularly heavily during the fighting and the German occupation. Following bloody encirclement battles, all of the present-day Belarus territory was occupied by the Germans by the end of August 1941.

During World War II, the Nazis attempted to establish a puppet Belarusian government, Belarusian Central Rada, with the symbolics similar to BNR. In reality, however, the Germans imposed a brutal racist regime, burning down some 9 000 Belarusian villages, deporting some 380,000 people for slave labour, and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians more. Local police took part in many of those crimes. Almost the whole, previously very numerous, Jewish populations of Belarus that did not evacuate was killed. One of the first uprisings of a Jewish ghetto against the Nazis occurred in 1942 in Belarus, in the small town of Lakhva.

Since the early days of the occupation, a powerful and increasingly well-coordinated Belarusian resistance movement emerged. Hiding in the woods and swamps, the partisans inflicted heavy damage to German supply lines and communications, disrupting railway tracks, bridges, telegraph wires, attacking supply depots, fuel dumps and transports and ambushing German soldiers. Not all anti-German partisans were pro-Soviet.[10] In the largest partisan sabotage action of the entire Second World War, the so-called Osipowicze diversion of July 30, 1943, four German trains with supplies and Tiger tanks were destroyed. To fight partisan activity, the Germans had to withdraw considerable forces behind their front line. On June 22, 1944, the huge Soviet offensive Operation Bagration was launched, finally regaining all of Belarus by the end of August. Hundred thousand of Poles were expelled after 1944. As part of the Nazis' effort to combat the enormous Belarusian resistance during World War II, special units of local collaborationists were trained by the SS's Otto Skorzeny to infiltrate the Soviet rear. In 1944 thirty Belarusians (known as Čorny Kot (black cat) and personally led by Michał Vituška) were airdropped by the Luftwaffe behind the lines of the Red Army, which had already liberated Belarus during Operation Bagration. They experienced some initial success due to disorganization in the rear of the Red Army, and some other German-trained Belarusian nationalist units also slipped through the Białowieża Forest in 1945. The NKVD, however, had already infiltrated these units. Vituška was hunted down, captured and executed. He continued to live on in Belarusian nationalist ideology.[11]

In total, Belarus lost a quarter of its pre-war population in World War II, including practically all its intellectual elite. About 9 200 villages and 1.2 million houses were destroyed. The major towns of Minsk and Vitebsk lost over 80% of their buildings and city infrastructure. For the defence against the Germans, and the tenacity during the German occupation, the capital Minsk was awarded the title Hero City after the war. The fortress of Brest, Belarus was awarded the title Hero-Fortress.

BSSR from 1945 to 1990

After the end of War in 1945, Belarus became one of the founding members of the United Nations Organisation. Joining Belarus was the Soviet Union itself and another republic Ukraine. In exchange for Belarus and Ukraine joining the UN, the United States had the right to seek two more votes, a right that has never been exercised.

50 years of Soviet Belarus — a Soviet postage stamp of 1969

The Belarusian economy was completely devastated by the events of the war. Most of the industry, including whole production plants were removed either to Russia or Germany. Industrial production of Belarus in 1945 amounted for less than 20% of its pre-war size. Most of the factories evacuated to Russia, with several spectacular exceptions, were not returned to Belarus after 1945. During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union first rebuilt and then expanded the BSSR's economy, with control always exerted exclusively from Moscow. During this time, Belarus became a major center of manufacturing in the western region of the USSR. Huge industrial objects like the BelAZ, MAZ, and the Minsk Tractor Plant were built in the country. The increase in jobs resulted in a huge immigrant population of Russians in Belarus. Russian became the official language of administration and the peasant class, which traditionally was the base for Belarusian nation, ceased to exist.[12]

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine situated close to the border with Belarus. It is regarded as the worst nuclear accident in the history of nuclear power. It produced a plume of radioactive debris that drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia. Large areas of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of roughly 200 000 people. About 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. The effects of Chernobyl accident in Belarus were dramatic: about 50,000 km² (or about a quarter of the territory of Belarus) formerly populated by 2.2 million people (or a fifth of the Belarusian population) now require permanent radioactive monitoring (after receiving doses over 37 kBq/m² of caesium-137). 135 000 persons were permanently resettled and many more were resettled temporarily. After 10 years since the accident, the occurrences of thyroid cancer among children increased fifteenfold (the sharp rise started in about four years after the accident).

See also


  1. (Polish) Jerzy Czajewski, Zbiegostwo ludności Rosji w granice Rzeczypospolitej (Russian population exodus into the Rzeczpospolita), Promemoria journal, October 2004 nr. (5/15), ISSN 1509-9091, Table of Contents online
  2. 1 2 Żytko, Russian policy…, p551.
  3. (Russian) Воссоединение униатов и исторические судьбы Белорусского народа (Vossoyedineniye uniatov i istoričeskiye sud'bi Belorusskogo naroda), Pravoslavie portal
  4. (Russian) История строительства дорог 1850–1900 гг. (Istoriya stroitel'stva dorog 1850–1900 gg.], Byelorussian Railways
  5. Janowicz, Forming…, p. 247.
  6. (Polish) Janina Stobniak-Smogorzewska, Kresowe osadnictwo wojskowe 1920–1945 (Military colonization of Kresy 1920–1945), Warsaw, RYTM, 2003, ISBN 83-7399-006-2
  7. Ogonowski, Uprawnienia językowe…, pp164–165
  8. Ruchniewicz, Stosunki…, p254
  9. Mironowicz, p136
  10. Strużyńska, Anti-Soviet conspiracy…, pp859–860.
  11. Perry Biddiscombe: The SS Hunter Battalions. The Hidden History of the Nazi Resistance Movement. Tempus, Stroud 2006, p. 66.
  12. Janowicz, Forming…,, p. 248.
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