History Belarus Timeline and facts
Belarus History Timeline: Belarus as we know it today is not based on a tradition of state continuity. Always caught between two poles, the Orthodox East and the Catholic West, for almost all its history, this territory has existed only as part of larger ensembles: Kievan Rus’, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian State, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union… This would explain the difficulties in defining the true Belarusian national identity. In 1918, the first Belarusian state was formed with the name of the People’s Republic of Belarus.
A year later, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was born from this state. However, the country did not emerge with its current geographical borders until after World War II. Finally, in 1991, following the implosion of the USSR, for the first time in its history, it became an independent state under the name of the Republic of Belarus.
Kievan Rus’ and the Principality of Polotsk in Belarus History
Early Belarus history: Until VIe century, there is little information about the history of Belarusians. The first human settlements in the territory date back to the middle of the Paleolithic period (100,000-40,000 BC). Concrete traces have been found everywhere, including the oldest in Žyrovičy, in the Gomel region, dating back to 26,000 BC.
The history of the territory really begins in the VIe century with the arrival of the first proto-Slavic tribes and their organization into political entities. The Slavs developed relations with the indigenous peoples of Baltic origin who were quickly assimilated. During the Xe century, Ruthenia of Kiev imposes itself on the territory of Belarus and imports Christianization according to the Greek rite. Under Kievan influence the local tribes organized themselves into several states. Thus arose the principalities of Vitebsk, Minsk, Turaw and Mstsislaw. On all dominates the principality of Polotsk which quickly constitutes itself as a major state of the region.
Founded around the IXe century by the Krivitches and mentioned for the first time by the Chronicle of past times in 862, Polotsk accepts the sovereignty of Kiev, while retaining a certain autonomy due to the nature of the Belarusian territory characterized by the presence of deep forests and swamps difficult to cross. During the second half of the XIe century, under the reign of Prince Vseslav, the principality of Polotsk knows its apogee and frees itself from the influence of Kiev.
It benefited from commercial contacts with the Scandinavians, the Balts, Byzantium and experienced a strong cultural and religious flourishing which gave birth to the Cathedral of the Hagia Sophia in Polotsk, as well as the manuscripts of Saint Euphrosine of Polotsk and Bishop Cyril of Turaw.
At the beginning of the XIIe century, Kiev Ruthenia experienced a period of decline that led to its disappearance. Power struggles between the princes caused its fragmentation into enemy principalities. The arrival of the Mongolian and Tatar hordes from the XIIIe century, the invasions of the Teutonic Knights and, later, the rise of Muscovite power are at the origin of the end of the domination of Ruthenia.
Although the Belarusian principalities were only marginally affected by the invasion of the Mongols, only Turaw was burned, the threat of the Teutonic Knights pushed the Belarusian princes to move closer to the principality of Navahrudak which at the time was in the process of constituting itself as an independent state.
In History of Belarus: The Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Belarus history: In the XIIIe century, the alliance of the Slavic and Baltic principalities leads to the creation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, founded in 1236 by Prince Mendog, with Navahroudak as its capital. A shrewd politician, Mendog quickly took control of a fairly large territory, located at the junction of Slavic and Baltic settlement regions: the Litva. In the attempt to push the Teutonic Knights to the north and the Mongol Empire to the south, the duchy continued to encompass new territories.
Belarus was Republic of Central Lithuania
After a variety of delays, a disputed election took place on January 8, 1922, and the territory was annexed to Poland. Igeligowski later in his memoirs that were published in London in 1943 condemned the annexation of the Republic by Poland, as well as the policy of closing Belarusian schools and the general disregard of Marshal Józef Piłsudski’s confederation plans by a Polish ally. Years earlier, the interrogation report of the 19-year-old revolutionary Pilsudski on March 10, 1887, indicated that he called himself a “Belarusian nobleman.”
In 1252, in order to avoid further crusades of the Teutonic Knights, Mendog agreed to convert by making the Litva a Christian state. Stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania included present-day Belarus, Lithuania and most of Ukraine and was one of the largest countries in Europe. At the head of the Grand Duchy was a king whose powers were however limited by the presence of a Parliament composed of noble families. Committed to the existence of a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state, the Lithuanian princes pursued a policy of openness and religious tolerance towards their vassal peoples. Slavs, Balts, Poles, Germans, Jews and Tatars live in harmony next to each other.
Old pagan beliefs coexist with the practice of various cults. In 1323, under the initiative of Prince Ghedimin, the capital was transferred to Vilna. From 1384 dates the emblem of the Grand Duchy representing a knight brandishing his sword. Considered the historical symbol of the first Belarusian nation, from 1991 to 1995, it will be adopted as a national emblem. The danger represented by the Teutonic Knights threatened the peaceful existence of the Grand Duchy, which also found itself without an outlet to the sea and therefore unable to develop trade.
At the end of the XIVe In the century, Jagiellon, Grand Duke of Lithuania, then inaugurated a policy of rapprochement with Poland which led to the signing of the Union of Krewo in 1385. After converting to Catholicism and marrying Hedwig of Anjou (canonized in 1997 by John Paul II), Queen of Poland, in 1386, he became King of Poland under the name Władysław II Jagiellon. The ties between the two States are therefore becoming closer.
From 1409 to 1411, a war took place between the Teutonic Knights on the one hand and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, supported by Poland, on the other. On July 15, 1410, at the Battle of Grünwald, the Belarusians triumphed and definitively repulsed the Teutonic Championships managing to reconquer the lands of the Samogitians (the current Lithuanians) that had been occupied by the Teutonic Courts. Thus, for the Grand Duchy begins an era of great prosperity. From the end of the XIVe century, many cities receive the right of Magdeburg, and thus the possibility of governing themselves autonomously. Everywhere popping up town halls, shops are flourishing.
The History of Belarus Timeline
Among the different populations composing the Grand Duchy, the “litviny“, ancestors of Belarusians, exert a profound linguistic and cultural influence. Until the XVIe century, Belarus is the center of the Grand Duchy. Old Belarusian, used both by the aristocracy and in administrative acts, is its official language. In 1520, the first legal statutes of the state were written in this language. In 1517, Francysk Skaryna, a famous Belarusian man of letters, published in Prague the first book in Belarusian, it was a Bible. Then, in 1522, he set up a printing press in Vilna, the first in Eastern Europe.
Belarus The Polish-Lithuanian State
From the end of the XVe century, the rise of Moscow leads to a subsequent rapprochement between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Freed from the Tatar yoke in 1480, the princes of Muscovy began their territorial expansion becoming spokesmen of Christianity after the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453. In 1569, the Treaty of Lublin marked the union between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and gave birth to the multi-ethnic and multi-confessional Polish-Lithuanian ” Republic ” (Rech Pospolita).
Within the union, each state retained its emblem, its national language (for the Grand Duchy it was Belarusian), its laws, its administration, its courts, its treasury and its army, but the Sejm and foreign policy were common. The new state kept the “democratic” structure that was also specific to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The power of the monarch was also controlled and limited by the nobles of the Union who met regularly in the ” sejm “, a kind of parliament.
The powerful noble families of the Union, such as the Oginskis, the Sapega, the Radzivill, the Golšanskis guaranteed the Republic another era of economic and cultural prosperity. The Poles still dominated the Republic, mainly because of their quantitative preponderance. The Belarusian nobility had limited power in the political and economic spheres, which made them particularly vulnerable to Poland’s campaign of ” Polonization ” undertaken. The influence of Polish culture and Catholicism developed, especially among the elites who gradually became members of the szlakhta, the Polish nobility.
Polish is gradually replacing Old Belarusian as the official language. Nevertheless, minority languages are protected, in particular thanks to the creation of many printing works.
In the XVIe century, under the influence of the Reformation, many Belarusians, especially nobles, converted from Orthodoxy to Protestantism. Following the Catholic Counter-Reformation, they became Catholics. In 1596, to resolve the conflict between Orthodox and Catholics in the country, a synod of Orthodox bishops proclaimed in Brest the union with the Catholic Church while preserving the Byzantine rite. This is the birth of the Uniate Church. This decision settled only part of the conflict and met with opposition from the small clergy and peasantry who, especially in the eastern regions, remained Orthodox.
The religious conflict now undermined the social foundations of the republic, pitting the predominantly Orthodox peasantry against the “Polonized” aristocracy, often Catholic. The prosperity of the republic was then affected by the many foreign incursions that definitively marked its decline. From 1648 to 1651, the Belarusian territory was invaded by the Cossacks of Boris Khmelnicki who, supported by the local population, waged a war against the feudal system and the lords of the szlakhta. After taking control of Ukraine they conquered Polesia and the eastern parts of Belarus. Defeated by the Lithuanian army, the Cossacks were pushed back into Ukraine.
In 1654, Tsar Alexis I declared war on the Polish-Lithuanian Union. The Muscovite army manages to occupy a large part of Belarusian lands. Cities were destroyed, a significant part of the Belarusian population, including craftsmen and traders, was deported to Siberia. With the armistice of Andrusovo in 1667, the Polish-Lithuanian Republic emerged from the war very weakened: the entire left bank of the Dnieper passed under the authority of Moscow. The decline accelerated with the Northern War (1700-1711) during which the country was devastated by the Russian, Swedish and Saxon armies. This succession of wars has terrible consequences for Belarusian society, which is losing half of its population.
Totally ruined and delivered to anarchy, the Polish-Lithuanian state was the subject of three successive partitions (1771, 1793, 1795) which brought Belarus as we know it today into the Russian Empire.
The History of Belarus or Belarus?
History of Belarus: The official name of the country, adopted from 1991 with independence, is Republic of Belarus. However, in this book, we will retain the Frenchized name of the country consecrated by custom, ie Belarus. Whether Belarus or Belarus, both names refer to the phrase “belaja Rus’“, i.e. “White Russia”.
If the term “Rus’” refers to the state of Kiev, of which the eastern part of Belarus was part of the Xe-XIIe S., the reasons for the use of the adjective ” belaja ” remain shrouded in mystery. In this regard, there are several hypotheses, all devoid of historical foundation. It is said that Belarus is “white” for the very light color of the hair and skin of its inhabitants or their traditional clothes, rigorously white! According to another, more plausible hypothesis, the adjective “white” refers to the fact that Belarus was not invaded by the Tatars in the XIII.e century, so it remained “white”, that is to say, free.
In reality, the terms Belarusian and Belarusian entered the common use of the language only towards the end of the XIXe century. At the time of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Union, Belarusians spoke of themselves with the term “litviny“, i.e. the inhabitants of the “Litva“, of “Lithuania”, while Lithuanians were called “Samogitians”. The full name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was ” Velikoe knjažestvo Litovskoe, Russkoe i Žemajtskoe ” (Grand Duchy of the Litvins, Russians and Samogitians). When, in the XIXe century, the Samogitians appropriate the name of “litviny“, the Belarusians are therefore forced to choose a new name, different from that of “litvin” and “russkij“.
At that time the term “Belarus” already appeared in written sources in reference to the present-day Mogilev region. Today, the term “litviny” is generally used by defenders of Belarusian national identity who are trying to make known a page of national history that Tsarist historiography and 70 years of Soviet historiography have erased from the memory of the people.
The Russian Empire in Belarus History Timeline
In the XVIIIe century, begins a new phase of Belarusian history, that of Russian domination. An integral part of the Russian Empire, Belarus is now called White Russia, which testifies to the intense process of “Russification” to which it is subjected. Three main stages constitute this Russification. The first is consistent with the Napoleonic defeat of 1812. At the time, the territory of Belarus was the major theater of battles. Many Belarusians joined the French and Polish armies.
Indeed, the Napoleonic occupation was generally well accepted by Belarusians. The enlightened nobles adhered to the ideas of Napoleon Ier And the peasants saw it as the end of serfdom. After the Battle of Berezina, Belarus was reconquered by the Russians.
The Polish Uprising of 1830 triggered the second stage of Russification of the country. Some Belarusians participated, mainly nobles from the west of the country, while the peasants remained passive. Military repression was followed by administrative measures to “de-polonize” the region: suppression of the Polish education system, prohibition of teaching Polish. Assimilated to a deviation from Polish, Belarusian is also banned. In 1839, the Uniate Church was attached to the Moscow Patriarchate, which definitively consecrated the dissemination of Russian culture by the Orthodox Church.
The third phase of Russification follows the riots of 1863-1864 sparked by a Polish-Lithuanian-Belarusian patriotic movement which, guided by the revolutionary Kastus Kalinowski, had as its ideal the reconstitution of an independent state within its borders of 1772, before the first partition of Poland. The tsar’s repression was severe. Several tens of thousands of inhabitants, half of whom come from Belarus and Lithuania, are deported to Siberia.
At the turn of the century: revolutionary and nationalist movements
Since the beginning of the XIXe century, revolutionary ideas run through the Russian Empire, especially Russia, supported by liberal nobles. In the 1830s, Belarusian and Lithuanian nationalist currents also emerged. However, these currents did not find the support of the population. The transmission of ideas was done through the publication of texts, printed in Vilna or St. Petersburg, and the Belarusians were overwhelmingly illiterate.
Industrialization at the end of the XIXe Siècle changed the situation slightly. The progressive urbanization of the peasants led to the formation of a working-class social layer that now had access to nationalist propaganda, active in the main Belarusian cities. However, this layer remained derisory: in 1900 out of seven million Belarusians, there were only 24,000 workers. Moreover, the absence of a Belarusian bourgeoisie and the presence of Russian, Jewish or Polish workers explains why political mobilization is based more on social than national problems.
It is mainly the socialist current that promotes the development of national sentiment. Eager to awaken Belarusian, Ukrainian and Lithuanian national sentiments in order to create a federal and multinational state, the Polish Socialist Party promoted the creation of the Belarusian Socialist Gramada in 1902. The leading Belarusian political party, it is demanding agrarian reform and autonomy for Belarus. During the revolution of 1905, he was at the origin of strikes and demonstrations that followed one another on Belarusian territory.
From the First World War to the First Independence in the History of Belarus
Considered by the belligerents as a strategic space during the First World War, Belarus became the scene of bloody clashes. Nevertheless, the war had positive effects on the situation of the country contributing to its autonomy.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed on 3 March 1918 by the German Empire and Bolshevik Russia, assigned to Germany vast territories formerly belonging to the Russian Empire, including Belarus. Anxious to create anti-Russian and anti-Polish sentiment, the Germans stirred up Belarusian nationalism and allowed Belarusians the freedom to create their own schools and teach their own language. On 25 March 1918, in Minsk, the Belarusian Congress proclaims the birth of the Belarusian People’s Republic. However, the autonomy granted by the Germans, interested only in weakening ties with Russia, is too superficial. When the Germans capitulated in 1918, the Red Army took their place.
It does not stop in Minsk, but takes control of the Vilna region. On February 27, 1919, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the creation of the Lithuanian-Belarus Soviet Republic, with Vilna as its capital. Poland, which feared the neighborhood with the Soviets and aimed at the reconstitution of its 1772 borders, reacted with weapons, triggering the Polish-Soviet War. At the end of April 1919, the Poles seized Vilna, then Minsk and most of Belarusian territory.
The capture of Kiev by the Poles in May 1920 provoked the Soviet counter-offensive. Within a few months, the Bolsheviks managed to reconquer Minsk and the 1er August the creation of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) is proclaimed. On March 18, 1921, the Treaty of Riga ended the Polish-Soviet War and marked the division of Belarus into three parts: the West goes to Poland, the East to Russia, only the Center with Minsk and its six districts constitutes the BSSR.
The Belarus History: Soviet Belarus, from independence to 1939
On 10 December 1922, Belarus, together with Russia, Ukraine and Transcaucasia, founds the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Between 1924 and 1926, Russia returned to Belarus the territories it had lost as a result of the Treaty of Riga: the regions of Vitebsk, Mogilev and Gomel.
During the 1920s, Belarus enjoyed a political and cultural autonomy that allowed the entrenchment of national sentiment. The protection of national cultures and languages was one of Lenin’s priorities. This is the time of the “Belarusification” of the country. Belarusian is reintroduced as a language of instruction in schools. The administration is “Belarusified”. The results are obvious: schooling is developing rapidly, several higher education institutions, including the University of Minsk, are created, publications in Belarusian language appear. The New Economic Policy (NEP) is bringing remarkable progress on the economic front, both in agriculture and industry.
During the 1930s, with Stalin’s seizure of power, the autonomy that had characterized the previous decade was replaced by a strong centralization and standardization. Hostile to all centrifugal tendencies, Stalin launched a campaign of repression aimed at breaking the Belarusian national ideology. According to official statistics, more than 600,000 people perished as a result of Stalinist repressions. Many Belarusian intellectuals who had promoted national awakening during the 1920s through a “Belarussification” of cities were arrested and executed, including 100 at night between 29 and 30 October 1937.
In education, administration and commerce, Belarusian is marginalized in favor of Russian. In the countryside, land collectivization was now completed by the late 1930s. The 1er September 1939, Poland is attacked by Nazi Germany. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact authorized Germany and the USSR to invade the country according to a precise division. From September 17, the Soviet army invaded Polish territory. The eastern part of Poland, corresponding to western Belarus, is attached to the RSSB.
Belarus History of World War II
On June 22, 1941, German troops entered Belarus. Unprepared for the attack, the Red Army was forced to retreat significantly. It’s a total debacle. On June 28, Minsk was occupied. By the end of August, all Belarusian territory was under the control of Nazi Germany. The Germans created a Belarusian government, the Central Belarusian Rada, which was based on an exacerbated nationalism supported by the Belarusian National Front. Controlled by Berlin, this government served mainly to enforce a policy of repression and terror. The Rada never had the support of the population, which was very suspicious of nationalist ideas.
The majority of the population supported the resistance fighters, demonstrating its loyalty to communist ideals and Soviet patriotism. The occupation of the territory and the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis led to the formation of a partisan movement unparalleled in history. Facilitated by the presence on Belarusian territory of deep forests and numerous marshes, the partisans organized a powerful guerrilla war that forced the Nazis to mobilize considerable resources. The repression is relentless. Belarus is one of the most devastated countries in Europe: 209 cities out of 270 are destroyed, including Minsk and Vitebsk 90%, and 700 villages are burned with their inhabitants.
The Jewish diaspora, which was one of the largest in Europe, is almost wiped out.
In February 1943, the victory at Stalingrad enabled the Red Army to reverse the balance of forces with Germany. On July 28, 1944, Belarus was finally liberated. The toll is tragic: 1.3 million inhabitants, or a quarter of the population, are killed, the country is completely destroyed. To reward the Belarusian people for their acts of heroism and their commitment to communist ideals, Stalin proclaimed them “Hero People” of the Soviet Union. Belarus, like Russia and Ukraine, also receives a founding seat in the United Nations. In 1945, the borders of the BSSR as established in 1939 were confirmed by a treaty signed between Poland and the USSR, which gave Belarus its current configuration.
The History of Belarusians and the war
Docility, resilience, reluctance to change and a taste for stability are typical features of Belarusian identity. Surely the tragic history of the country has helped to root these constants which, originally, are specific to the peasant mentality. Belarusians know how to settle for little: the fact that there is no war is already a source of deep satisfaction and appeasement. If Belarusians have never declared war on anyone, paradoxically over the centuries their territory has been regularly invaded and destroyed, its population killed and deported. The Napoleonic War, the First World War, the Polish-Soviet War and, in particular, the Second World War have left deep wounds in cultural memory.
The country ravaged, its population humiliated and decimated, Belarus resisted with all its forces against the enemy by paying dearly for its patriotism. It is therefore understandable that Belarusians aspire to stability close to submission, to the acceptance of the established order which, even if it is not always suitable, is still preferable to dark periods of war and famine.
From the end of the Second World War, Soviet ideologues built a real mythology around these troubled times, mythology that survived the end of the USSR and continues to be observed as if nothing was changed. The country was filled with tanks and military planes placed as monuments at the entrance to cities, memorials appeared everywhere, and the country adhered to the idea that its history begins with the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) at the end of which Belarus acquired its current borders. May 9, Victory over the Nazis Day, is probably the biggest holiday of the year and one of the pillars of Belarusian identity.
Reconstruction of the history of Belarus
At the end of the war, the state of destruction of the country insistently posed the problem of its reconstruction. Grateful to the Belarusians for their war effort, Stalin launched a major program of reconstruction and modernization of the country. Taking advantage of investments from other Soviet republics, Belarus is experiencing accelerated economic development that transforms it from a rural country into a major industrial center.
Agriculture is experiencing remarkable development, especially in livestock, in the production of rye, potatoes, sugar beets, flax. Nevertheless, all efforts are directed towards industry.
A western outpost of the USSR, Moscow created a state-of-the-art military-industrial complex there. Many military bases are located there. Large industrial complexes sprang up throughout the country: metallurgy, chemical industry and mechanical engineering (tractors and trucks). Urbanization is progressing, skilled work is developing. The progress that the country is experiencing is accompanied by many opportunities for social advancement, especially for scientists and the military, which makes Belarus a land of immigration for the inhabitants of other republics, especially for Russians. During the 1970s and 1980s, the standard of living of the Belarusian population was the highest of all the republics of the Union.
Economic development is, of course, the result of the adoption of an appropriate training policy. The progress in cultural and educational terms is remarkable: in a few years illiteracy disappears, the school and university network develops. Cultural progress, however, passes through a process of Russification that leads Russian to become the vector of modernization for the masses of Belarusian peasants in the process of urbanization. From 1938, the learning of Russian was compulsory in all schools in the USSR. Russian is the language of the army. The Communist Party offers promotions only to those who have a perfect command of Russian.
The Belarusian language, eliminated from the economic spheres, sidelined in education, is gradually marginalized until it becomes the language of the rural environment.
Perestroika and independence of Belarus History
The economic, cultural and social progress that the Soviet regime brought to the country is undoubtedly the source of the very strong attachment shown by Belarusians to it. At the time of the implosion of the USSR, Belarusians identified themselves overwhelmingly with Soviet citizens. That is why, when Gorbachev inaugurated perestroika, the attitude of Belarusians towards the liberal reforms introduced was one of conservatism, even hostility. This did not prevent the rise of a national opposition movement in the mid-1980s.
Opponents took two opportunities to step up their criticism of the leaders. Firstly, the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on 26 April 1986. Although Chernobyl is located in Ukraine, 70% of radioactive deposits spread over Belarus. The mismanagement of the disaster and the silence of the authorities on its consequences provoke the discontent of the population. Second, in 1987, in Kurapaty, near Minsk, mass graves were discovered containing nearly 250,000 victims of the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.
Zianon Pazniak, the historian behind this discovery, founded in 1989 the Belarusian Popular Front, a centrist party that fights for democratic reforms, for the real independence of Belarus, as well as for respect for human rights. The Party is also joined by citizens who are fighting for the Belarusian cultural and linguistic renaissance. Following the implosion of the USSR, on July 27, 1990 Belarus proclaimed its independence. On 25 August 1991 it was incorporated into the Republic of Belarus. In December 1991, it actively participated in the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, of which Minsk became the seat.
When did Belarus became a country?
When did Belarus became a country? In March 1990, elections for seats in the Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR were held. Although the pro-independence Belarusian Popular Front took only 10% of the seats, the population was content with the selection of delegates. Belarus declared itself sovereign on July 27, 1990 by issuing the Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.
With the support of the Communist Party, the name of the country was changed to the Republic of Belarus on August 25, 1991. Stanislav Shushkevich, chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus, met with Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine on December 8, 1991 in Belavezhskaya Pushcha to formally declare the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
In March 1994 a national constitution was adopted in which the functions of Prime Minister were assigned to the President of Belarus.
Belarus from 1991 to 1994
On 8 December 1991, Belarus participates with Ukraine and Russia in the Belovej Agreements, which decree the end of the USSR as a state. Belarusian President Stanislaw Shushkevich, who signed these agreements, remained in office until the 1994 elections. Despite the historic turning point, there is no fracture with the previous regime, which is mainly explained by the strong sovietization of the population, the weakness of the opposition and the central role of Belarus in the Soviet military system. The nationalist opposition, embodied mainly by the Belarusian Popular Front, supports Shushkievich. He makes the construction of national identity the central point of his program.
However, it fails to constitute a broad popular movement, as it cannot rely on a sufficient consensus among the population on Belarusian identity and destiny. The young republic tries to convey its ideology through symbols that the population perceives as distant, almost artificial. The first is the adoption of the Belarusian language as an official language. However, Belarusian is spoken only occasionally and the dominant language remains Russian. Secondly, nationalists insist on the Baltic identity of Belarusians and on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as the first state of Belarusians, but again without success.
Firstly because Lithuanians also claim this idea, secondly, because this idea was used by nationalists during the Second World War and supported by the Nazis. Sovietism survived the fall of the Soviet Union. The years following the fall of the USSR were years of great hesitation and immobility. President Shushkievich, a man of dialogue and supporter of liberal political and economic reforms, is supported by the deputies of the Popular Front, but his power is limited because he has an essentially ceremonial function.
Executive power is mainly the responsibility of the Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister, Viacheslav Kebich, a career Party bureaucrat, surrounded and supported by representatives of the old nomenklatura who, little by little, are integrated into the new Belarusian Parliament. If Shushkievich favors certain measures that go in the direction of a market economy, Kebitch aims to maintain the system of administered management of the economy. If Shushkievich adopts a policy of openness to Western countries and autonomy from Moscow, Kebitch works for a strengthening of ties with Russia.
While the country was in a state of profound economic and social degradation, the rivalry between Shushkievich and Kebitch was exacerbated. On 28 January 1994, Shushkievich was forced to resign. He was replaced by Mecheslas Grib, a Kebitch devotee. On 15 March 1994, a new Constitution was adopted. It limits the powers of Parliament in favour of those of the President who becomes the head of the executive.
The Lukashenko era
In July 1994, the first presidential elections in Belarusian history were held. Former director of the sovkhoz, Aleksander Lukashenko won the election and won with 81.1% of the vote. Coming from a rural background and a new man compared to the political forces present on the Belarusian scene, Lukashenko embodies the desire for stability and political security to which most of the population, nostalgic for the Soviet era, aspired. As soon as he was elected, Lukashenko was primarily concerned with reassuring the population of his attachment to Soviet values and strengthening his personal power.
On 14 May 1995, he organised a referendum in which the population was invited to express their views on four issues: the introduction of Russian as an official language; for the flag, the return to the Soviet-era hammer and sickle; economic integration with Russia; the preponderance of the executive over the legislative. The people approve all the changes proposed by Lukashenko. Secondly, the new referendum of 24 November 1996 marked the adoption of a new Constitution which placed Parliament under the control of the President.
Belarus is now becoming an authoritarian regime. Power is concentrated in the hands of the President and his administration. The opposition is excluded from parliamentary institutions; independent media are harassed and shut down; Some opponents of the regime, politicians or journalists, disappear.
On 9th September 2001 Aleksander Lukashenko was elected for the second time. The election is not recognized by the OSCE, which defines it as undemocratic. On 17 October 2004, voters were called to the polls again for parliamentary elections and for a new constitutional referendum in order to extend the President’s power beyond the two terms allowed by the Constitution. Following an electoral campaign marked by the muzzling of the opposition and by unconditional support for the President from all the media, Lukashenko won once again: the “yes” vote won by a wide margin and Parliament remained loyal to him.
At the end of 2005, the Lower House of Parliament set the date for the next presidential elections, 19 March 2006. Following a well-established scenario, the electoral campaign is taking place in an atmosphere of intimidation and threats. Several opposition activists were arrested, independent newspapers were banned, while the government monopolized the official media. The early voting procedure, an ideal ground for manipulating the results, is encouraged; the KGB threatens with the death penalty “terrorists” who dare to demonstrate against the election results.
Nevertheless, the oppositions organised themselves to form a united democratic front represented by Alexander Milinkevich. Aleksander Lukashenko was officially re-elected with 83% of the vote, Aleksander Milinkevich received 6.1% of the vote. Crying fraud, tens of thousands of people took to the streets on March 19 to demand the organization of new elections. Several hundred people were arrested.
In the following days, a few hundred demonstrators camped out in Minsk’s October Square to protest against Lukashenko’s re-election. However the scale of these demonstrations is far from reaching the proportions of the “Rose Revolution” in 2003 in Georgia or the “Orange Revolution” in 2004 in Ukraine. Once again, the vast majority of the population remains inert. At dawn on March 24, the police put an end to this attempted revolution.
The Lukashenko era was marked by a certain inertia and the absence of structural reforms. In recent years there has been a deterioration in relations with Russia, which, since the fall of the USSR, had been Belarus’ closest ally and main trading partner. Two gas “crises” took place in 2007 and summer 2010. The 2010 crisis, which would be at the origin of a commercial dispute, demonstrated the Russian desire to destabilize Lukashenko a few months before the end of his mandate, at least to put him under pressure.
The president’s international image has also worsened, notably when he offered asylum to Kurmanbek Bakiev, Kyrgyz president, who is closer to the United States than to Russia, overthrown in April 2010 in a popular uprising that was bloodily suppressed.
On 19 December 2010, a new presidential election was held. Among the 10 registered candidates Aleksander Lukashenko was proclaimed winner with almost 80% of the vote. The OSCE speaks of imperfections in the counting, as well as of an election far from democratic principles. These results were immediately contested by the opposition and, the same evening, a protest demonstration took place in the centre of Minsk. Tens of thousands of people take to the streets, the seat of government is attacked. The demonstrations are brutally repressed by the police, hundreds of opposition demonstrators arrested, 7 of the 9 opposition candidates are arrested the same day.
In protest against the arrests of opponents of the regime, the European Union, which did not recognize the result of the election, decides on sanctions against Belarus, as well as the ban on European and North American visas for Lukashenko and several dozen of his closest collaborators.
The 2014 financial crisis was a pivotal period in the country’s history, the consequences of which are still being felt today. Civil society accuses Lukashenko of having been at the origin of this crisis and of having taken decisions that have plunged the country into the abyss. Despite protests across the country, Lukashenko has signed laws that he says should help bring the country out of the crisis. On 11th October 2015 Aleksander Lukashenko was re-elected for the fifth time as Head of State.
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