Belarusian People’s Republic’s white-red-white flag may become historical value

June 19, 2017 12:27

The Liberal Democratic Party has proposed to award the white-red-white flag with the status of a historical and cultural value, which may become an additional argument to legitimize the national symbols of the first Belarusian state. Most likely, next year, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic, the government could legitimise its national symbols.

It is unlikely that the leader of the LDPB was the mouthpiece of the authorities and in some way coordinated his proposal. However, as an experienced politician, Sergei Gaidukevich could see the desire of the authorities to add stability to the Belarusian state, including by co-opting national symbols and otherwise ignored fragments of the national history.

The white-red-white flag, the state flag of the first Belarusian state, the Belarusian People's Republic (1918), was proclaimed the national flag of Belarus in 1991 until 1995. In 1995, President Lukashenka held a referendum, which replaced the white-red-white flag with a red-green flag and a coat of arms designed after the state symbols of the Byelorussian SSR. Lukashenka changed the state symbols in order to strengthen his positions in the struggle against the parliament, and after the Soviet symbols were returned, the white-red-white flag became personified with the democratic opposition. As authoritarianism strengthened in Belarus, the law enforcement agencies started interpreting the white-red-white flag as an "anti-state symbol”.

However, in recent years, the Belarusian authorities, in line with the common desire to strengthen state independence, have taken some steps (albeit inconsistent) towards national reconciliation, including the recognition of some historical fragments and national symbols. The Belarusian opposition also insists on recognizing the national symbols - the flag and the coat of arms - as a historical and cultural value. For example, former presidential candidate Tatyana Korotkevich in 2015 handed over a white-red-white flag to the Museum of Belarusian Statehood and started a petition to recognise it as a historical and cultural value. In 2016, Young Front leader, Dzmitser Dashkevich, collected 10,000 signatures with a similar petition. Now LDPB leader and MP Sergei Gaidukevich has made the same appeal.

Next year, Belarus marks the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic. The Belarusian authorities could make concessions and recognize the white-red-white flag as a national historical value.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.