Belarus was formerly a part of Poland until a series of wars in the 18th century resulted in Belarus’s split between Russia and Poland (History). Until the First World War, Belarus was always under the influence of these two states. Both the Bolshevik Revolution and the end of Russia’s participation in World War I created a confusing situation in the West. The German army surrendered to France, Britain, and the United States, while remaining undefeated in the East. Russia was preoccupied with an internal civil war between the Red Army and White Armies. Local politicians in Lithuania declared independence and tried to “raise armies of their own ” (Snyder,60). This situation in the West produced a perfect opportunity for local Belarusian activists to resurrect the idea of
independence or at least sovereignty within Belarus. Germany still had claims to
Belarus as a result of the Brest-Litvosk Treaty. Representatives from most Belarusian regions converged to form a Belarusian National Council in 1917. This council was responsible for establishing government institutions. The Belarusian National Council had also proclaimed Vil’nia as part of an independent Belarus in March 1918 (Snyder, 61). The Belarus that the National Council envisioned was a multinational state, “and their territorial claims were combined with a statement on toleration” (Snyder, 61). Lutskevich, the leader of the Belarusian National Council, wanted to recreate Lithuania into a “modern socialist federation stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea” (Snyder, 61). The Council established a close relationship with the Ukraine’s People Republic, organizing food supplies from the Ukraine to Belarus (Wikipedia). The government also built between 50 and 100 schools and made plans to build a university in Minsk. The Council also established diplomatic representations in Germany, Estonia, and the Ukraine to lobby and support Belarusian interests, soldiers, and refugees throughout the former Russian Empire (Wikipedia). The Council was technically established under German occupation, and Germany did not recognize the state’s legitimacy. However, Germany saw that an independent Belarus would be a buffer state, while “Belarusian activists hoped to use the presence of the German troops to cover for the creation of their own states before the Bolsheviks arrived” (Snyder, 60).
However, Germany was forced to pull out of Belarus due to its defeat in World War I. This situation left Belarus exposed to a new invasion-the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks quickly gained control of Russia and established the Soviet Union, while turning their
attention to Belarus. The Bolshevik Red Guard entered the city of Minsk in January 1919 , squashing the fledging government (History). The council was forced into exile, leaving the country exposed to Bolshevik authoritarianism. While the council was in exile, the Bolsheviks declared the establishment of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, making Belarus into a puppet state of the Soviet Union (History). Poland, who wanted to reestablish its dominance in Belarus, invaded the new state. Under the Treaty of Riga, Poland attained the Western half of Belarus. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, the Soviet Union took back part of the Belarus that it lost under the Treaty of Riga. Nevertheless, the Belarusian National Council failed in establishing an independent multinational state. Its precarious position as a newly-created state without a military and a constitution, and its vulnerability of invasion by the Bolshevik party, meant that Belarus’s subjugation was likely. However, the Belarusian National Council also represented the one of the first attempts of independence from both Poland and Russia.
- Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.)
- Wikipedia, “Belarusian People’s Republic.” Accessed April 20, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belarusian_People’s_Republic.
- History, “Belarusian People’s Republic Established.” Accessed April 20, 2012.