BNR centenary marked by impressive rally in Minsk

The centenary of the proclamation of the independence of the Belarusian National Republic (BNR) was marked Sunday by a large-scale rally full of festive spirit in front of the National Grand Opera and Ballet Theater in downtown Minsk.

The gaiety of the occasion was not even marred by the preventive arrests of opposition leaders who had said that celebrations would not be enough to commemorate the BNR centenary and the arrests of dozens of people who showed up in a central Minsk square earlier in the day for a commemorative procession.

Unlike the procession, the rally had been authorized by the city government.

The event was attended by a crowd estimated at up to 10,000, with many people holding the white-red-white flag of the BNR, which was also the state flag of the Republic of Belarus from 1991 to 1995 and replaced by a Soviet-style flag as a result of a referendum initiated by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The leaders of major opposition parties – Ihar Barysaw of the Hramada Belarusian Social Democratic Party, Anatol Lyabedzka of the United Civic Party, Ryhor Kastusyow of the Belarusian Popular Front and Yuras Huubarevich of the Movement for Freedom – read out the Third Constituent Charter proclaiming the independence of the BNR, which was adopted at the First All-Belarusian Congress on March 25, 1918.

A video address by Ivonka Survilla, president of the BNR government-in-exile, was screened.

Also screened were addresses by Vytautas Landsbergis, the first head of state of Lithuania and other Lithuanian public figures; Stefan Eriksson, a former Swedish ambassador to Belarus; Grzegorz Schetyna’ leader of Poland’s opposition Civic Platform party; and Fiona Gibb, the UK ambassador to Belarus.

Zinaida Bandarenka, a former Belarusian Television announcer who was one of the emcees at the rally, read out an address from 2015 literature Nobel laureate Svyatlana Aleksiyevich (Svetlana Alexievich), who expressed regret at being unable to be present.

“We were forced to cherish someone else’s past, but a new generation of Belarusians have grown up, which know and value the history of their country and are ready to fight for it,” the writer said in her address.

Speakers included, among others, Alena Anisim, chairperson of the Francisak Skaryna Belarusian Language Society who is a member of Belarus’ House of Representatives; Yury Zisser, the founder of the news website; Syarhey Lepin, spokesperson for the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church; Antony Bokun, a pastor of the Union of Evangelical Faith Christians; and historian Valyantsin Holubew.

BelaPAN Director General Ales Lipay noted in his speech that dozens of Belarusians had been arrested across the country ahead of BNR centenary celebrations and called for solidarity with them. He said that poet-turned-politician Uladzimir Nyaklyayew was among the arrested and recited a new poem written by Mr. Nyaklyayew in jail and devoted to the centenary of the BNR.

The rally featured performances by prominent Belarusian rock bands and singers.

People had to go through security checks before entering the rally area.