Opposition activists stage “National Flag Avenue” demonstration

Opposition activists staged a demonstration in downtown Minsk on Monday evening, marking the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the white-red-white flag and the Pahonya emblem as Belarus’ state symbols.

Some 100 people, including prominent opposition figures Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, Lyavon Barshchewski, Ales Makayew, Maksim Vinyarski and Yawhen Afnahel, took part in the demonstration, initiated by Malady Front, a Czech-registered youth opposition organization.
Participants with white-red-white flags in their hands formed a line along Independence Avenue, Minsk’s main thoroughfare, from Kastrychnitskaya Square to Independence Square, standing at a distance of five to 20 meters from each other.

There were many uniformed police officers and plainclothesmen at the scene, who watched and filmed the “National Flag Avenue” demonstration but did not intervene.

“I am convinced that the 19th of September will eventually become a public holiday and the current red-green state flag will become a thing of the past,” Paval Sevyarynets, co-chairman of the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy party, told BelaPAN.

Authorities’ efforts to suppress the use of the white-red-white-flag and the Pahonya emblem have led to them becoming sacred, said Mr. Nyaklyayew, a poet-turned-politician who was a candidate in a presidential election in 2010. The current more tolerant attitude of the authorities towards the flag and the emblem is due to the developments in Ukraine, he noted.

Malady Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich said that he was impressed and encouraged by the demonstration. He noted that there would have been more flag-carrying participants if there had been more available flags.

The demonstration lasted for an hour and ended with participants gathering together in Kastrychnitskaya Square. “We call on everyone to raise the white-red-white flag everyday, not only on special occasions, so that it begins to fly over the House of Government and other public buildings as soon as possible,” Mr. Dashkevich said.

On September 19, 1991, the Supreme Soviet (Council) of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic renamed the country the Republic of Belarus and adopted the historically national white-red-white flag and the Pahonya coat of arms as the country’s state symbols.

In a controversial national referendum, held on May 14, 1995 on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s initiative, 75 percent reportedly voted for the replacement of the white-red-white flag and the Pahonya emblem by Soviet-style symbols, with 65 percent of those eligible taking part in the vote.

Pressing for replacing the white-red-white flag, Mr. Lukashenka explained that this flag had been used by the Belarusian collaborators of the Nazis.

After the 1995 referendum, the flag became a symbol of opposition to the Lukashenka government and an indispensable attribute of street protests in the country. In this capacity, the flag strongly irritates police and government officials.

The Pahonya coat of arms (charging knight on horseback) was the state emblem of the Grand Duchy of Litva (medieval Belarusian state) between 1336 and 1795 and was used on the state seal of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic.