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Myths of the past vs stories of the future

Some researchers and experts call the modern Rada of the Belarusian People's Republic "the oldest operating government in exile". Others strongly disagree with this statement. Let's try to understand this issue by making a historical excursion.

In December 1917, the Rada was created as the executive body of the First All-Belarusian Congress. After the signing of the Brest Peace Treaty, this body announced the creation of the Belarusian People's Republic as a part of Russia, then declared the independence of the BPR, and declared itself the supreme power in the territory of Belarus. However, the BPR failed to recognize the proclaimed independence in the international arena. As a result, the Rada of the BPR, after changing numerous places of residence in 1919-1923 (Grodno, Vilno, Berlin, Riga, Kovno), settled in exile in Prague.

In 1919, another historical form of the Belarusian statehood, the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), was successfully developed. Having gone through the vicissitudes of the Civil War, military intervention, in the 1920s, within the framework of successful socio-economic transformations and the implementation of the Belarusianization policy, the BSSR managed to become a unifying principle in the process of further development and strengthening of the national-state identity of Belarusians. The achieved success was also obvious for the leaders of the Belarusian national movement in exile.

At the Second Belarusian Conference in Berlin in October 1925, the Rada of the BPR headed by A. Tsvikevich transferred its power to the government of the Belarusian SSR, recognized Minsk as the only cultural and political center that the Belarusian movement abroad should be guided by, and decided to dissolve itself.

It would seem that all the key points were highlighted and the question according the Rada existence of BPR was closed. However, the minority of the members in exile, headed by P. Krechevsky, who did not agree with self-liquidation, continued their work in Prague. This organization had nothing in common with the BPR and its government (Rada), formed in 1918, either in essence or in status. They had only common name.

In 1928, after the death of P. Krechevsky, V. Zakharko became the Chairman of the BPR Rada. However, in the 1930s, the organization practically ceased its work. The most notable steps in the political activity of this structure in exile were the referral of V. Zakharko to the German occupation authorities in 1939 with a request to allow the Rada of the BPR operation in the territory of occupied Czechoslovakia, as well as sending a protest to the President of the Republic of Lithuania in connection with the incorporation of Vilno into Lithuania.

During the Second World War, the Head of the BPR Rada V. Zakharko rejected suggestions for direct cooperation with the authorities of Nazi Germany. Then, in December 1943, from among the leaders of Belarusian collaborationist organizations, the German invaders created the Belarusian Central Rada (BCR), headed by R. Ostrovsky, as the so-called "national Belarusian government". The Second All-Belarusian Congress in June 1944 proclaimed the BCR the highest and full-fledged representative of the Belarusian nation. However, soon the BCR, together with the retreating German troops, left Belarus forever and continued its work in Berlin.

Realizing that the collapse of Nazi Germany was inevitable, Ostrovsky and his supporters tried to prepare a draft constitution for Belarus, which, after the defeat of Germany, would open up opportunities for them to cooperate with the United States and Great Britain. In January 1945, a draft constitution was developed and approved. The document stipulated that the “new Belarusian state” would be called the Belarusian People's Republic (BPR), and the President and the Government (Rada) would lead it. However, the attempts of the BCR leaders to reform their activities were unsuccessful.

Another political process developed practically in parallel. The fact that before his death in Prague in March 1943 V. Zakharko "bequeathed" his post to the editor of the newspaper of Belarusian collaborators "Ranitsa" N. Abramchik, published in Berlin, was actively advertised among the Belarusian emigration. After the end of World War II, quickly recruiting supporters, including former adherents of the BCR, Abramchik initiated the convening of a congress of representatives of Belarusian emigrant organizations, which took place in December 1947 on the territory of the American zone of German occupation. The congress approved the composition of the new BPR Rada and elected Abramchik as its Chairman. Thus, the new leader was able to implement V. Zakharko's political testament through the creation of another organization with the old name - the Rada of the Belarusian People's Republic.

After that, the Western European Belarusian emigration split into "Krivichi" (supporters of the BPR Rada) and "foreigners" (supporters of the BCR). As a result of a broad propagandist campaign, the bulk of Belarusian emigrant organizations began to support the "Krivichi". The Rada of the BPR was recognized by the American occupation authorities in Germany as the only representative body of the Belarusian emigration, but not as the Belarusian government in exile. For its part, the emigrant structure has become one of the centers for the staff selection for use by foreign special services in the "cold war" against the USSR.

In September 1951, I. Filistovich, an emissary of the BPR Rada, was parachuted from an American plane to the territory of Belarus to organize an anti-Soviet clandestine. In the late 1940s, he was involved in the activities of the Belarusian emigration by one of the members of the BPR Rada B. Rahula, and then he was recruited into the intelligence school of the CIA.

After the landing, Filistovich contacted with an illegal armed group, which consisted of former Belarusian collaborators, and proceeded to reorganize it into one of the links of the alleged clandestine armed organization with the sonorous name "Belarusian National Liberation Armed Forces". In September 1952, Filistovich and members of the clandestine group were detained and arrested. In October 1953, the Military Tribunal of the Belarusian Military District sentenced Filistovich to be shot, and the rest to various terms of imprisonment. Currently, none of the convicts has been rehabilitated.

In August 1952, another spy group, trained at the CIA intelligence school, was dropped onto the territory of the BSSR. It included G. Kostyuk ("Ben"), T. Ostrikov ("Karl"), M. Kalnitsky ("Joe") and M. Artyushevsky ("Fin"). Ostrikov and Kostyuk were given documents signed by Abramchik and confirming that their owners were carrying out the task of the BPR Rada to organize communication between the "Belarusian government" and "Belarusian patriotic organizations" in the territory of the BSSR.

Shortly after landing, "Karl", "Ben", and "Fin" were detained and arrested. "Joe" put up armed resistance and was killed. In November 1955, the Military Tribunal of the Belarusian Military District convicted Ostrikov and Kostyuk. In 1997, the Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Belarus reviewed the criminal case and refused to rehabilitate the convicts. By the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in January 1956, Artyushevsky was released from criminal liability for assisting the investigation.

In May 1953, representatives of the American government officially announced to Abramchik that they could not recognize the BPR Rada as a representative of an "independent Belarusian state" as long as there were normal diplomatic relations between the USA and the USSR.

For more than half a century, the BPR Rada continued its activities, which were not distinguished by great political activity. Traditionally, she announced herself on the anniversary of the proclamation of the BPR, publishing a regular newsletter.

However, in 2000s, the BPR Rada became much more active and again tried to integrate its activities into the internal political process of Belarus. On November 3, 2012 in Vilnius, at a meeting of the leaders of some Belarusian political associations with the Head of the foreign structure I. Survilla, a joint memorandum "On measures to ensure the independence of Belarus" ("Vilnius memorandum") was adopted.

The authors of the memorandum advocated the need "to seek guarantees of the inviolability of the Belarusian national sovereignty from the EU countries, the USA and the Russian Federation, non-recognition of the international legal force of any decisions that are unsafe for the sovereignty of Belarus, which the authoritarian leadership makes on its behalf ...". The participants of the Vilnius meeting, among whom was the first leader of the Republic of Belarus S. Shushkevich, recognized the BPR Rada as "a non-partisan, supra-political body of the Belarusian historical statehood" and pledged to coordinate with it to achieve the tasks outlined in the memorandum, as well as to assist the BPR Rada "in fulfillment of its historical mandate".

The signatory representatives of Belarusian political parties and organizations recognized the Rada of the BPR as a "reserve political depository of the Belarusian independent state" until the election of the "democratic government" in the Republic of Belarus "in free democratic elections with guaranteed state independence".

By such actions, the parties of the "Vilna Memorandum" from among the leaders of individual Belarusian parties and organizations at the political level tried to synthesize the historical continuity between the Rada of the Belarusian People's Republic, which operated in 1918-1925, and the Rada of the Belarusian People's Republic, which was actually created anew by the Belarusian emigration in 1947.

However, the same names do not mean the same historical and political interpretation. The Belarusian People's Republic, the 100th anniversary of which was celebrated in 2018, within the framework of the developed modern concept of the history of Belarusian statehood, is one of the historical forms and an important stage in the formation of an independent and sovereign state.

The Rada of the BPR, headed today by I. Survilla, both within the framework of the designated concept and in terms of other requirements for the state as such, does not correspond to the stated mission. This is not "the oldest operating government in exile", but one of the political organizations of Belarusians abroad. If we talk about the historical tradition, then the modern Rada of the BPR is not the successor of the Belarusian People's Republic, but the BCR, created in occupied Belarus with the consent of the leadership of Nazi Germany.

In 1945-1947, Abramchik and Ostrovsky actively competed not only for leadership among the Belarusian emigrants, but also for the right to use the "Rada of BPR brand" as the name of the future emigrants’ political structure. After the crackdown of Nazi Germany and in the conditions of the Cold War, they had to distance themselves from their fifth column past and hide it behind the new old name "Rada of the BPR" (Ostrovsky and BCCR to a greater extent, Abramchik and Rada of the BPR to a lesser extent).

However, in the end, the Rada of the BPR, gained both those who were not associated with the Nazis during the war years, and those who had rich experience of collaboration in the occupied territory of Belarus, and even Ostrovsky (Rahula), who was a part of the BCR. Most of the ordinary members of the BCR also moved to the camp of the adherents of the Rada of the BPR.

An analysis of the information posted today on the resources of the Rada of the BPR, including electronic ones, shows that this political structure "has been frozen" in its assessment of the historical past. Events of Belarusian history, personalities are interpreted without taking into account the cardinal changes that have occurred in the Republic of Belarus after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the acquisition of state sovereignty and independence. The used semantics has remained at the level of the Cold War period. Historical myths about the “Chorny Kot” and “Belarusian partisan” are being replicated again. The leaders of the BPR Rada mentioned in this article, as well as members of the anti-Soviet clandestine that operated on the territory of Belarus in the post-war period ("Chorny Kot" and its leaders) are heroized.

Only during January 2020, the BPR Rada posted on its resources information on the next date from the birthday of Rahula (with his photograph in military uniform of a participant in the collaborationist Belarusian Regional Defense), Filistovich and Zhikhar. Rahula and Filistovich have already been repeatedly mentioned in the presented material. Information about the graduate of the Dahlwitz reconnaissance and sabotage school of the Abwehr and the head of the anti-Soviet clandestine armed group Zhikhar was published by BISR earlier (From the heroes of the old days...).

I believe that before building new constructs aimed to be included in the internal political processes of the Republic of Belarus and exerting an indirect influence on them, the Rada of the BPR should understand its own history and bring its declared status in line with the actual one. We should not forget the lessons of history. The idea of building a "Belarusian independent state", having passed through the stage of the Belarusian People's Republic, and then the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, was embodied in the form of not only historical, but also actual statehood within the framework of the Republic of Belarus.

Attempts to replay history and implement the idea of a "Belarusian independent state" on the platform of the BCR, and then the BPR Rada, created in 1947, have failed. In this regard, the "Vilensky Memorandum" and attempts to organize the next congress for the independence of Belarus look unpromising both from a historical and political point of view. The BPR Rada finally fulfilled its "historical mandate" even before its actual formation in 1947. The history does not provide a second chance for success for the same political process.