Police in plainclothes secretly steal white-red-white flags from the entrances of houses, and state media say that this flag and the “Pahonia” (or Chase) emblem are allegedly symbols of the Nazis. But hundreds of thousands of Belarusians continue to protest peacefully under the national white-red-white flag. Why did the people recognize it as their own after years of prohibition?
Having the flag in the street could result in arrest or a fine. Police and communal workers knocked on the door of those who dared to hang it on their balcony. The white-red-white flag has been banned for 25 years, but hundreds of thousands of people protested in August.
“We see a very strong rejection of Lukashenka, his regime, his legacy. The red-green flag, very similar to Soviet symbols, is rejected as Lukashenka’s legacy, ”said Yulia Shukan, a sociologist at the University of Paris-Nanterre.
Thousands of Belarusians began to associate the red-green flag with the brutality of the security forces and election fraud. Belarusian state media and guests of the Kremlin TV show are trying to denigrate the alternative flag.
“The white-red-white flag was used by Belarusian collaborators during the Great Patriotic War and by people who cooperated with the occupying Nazi authorities,” Vyachaslau Danilovich, head of the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with Belarus 1.
Do the three years of occupation cross out more than a century long history of the national symbol?
“By the same logic, the flags of France, Belgium, Holland, Croatia, our great neighbor in the east – Russia – should be abolished, because General Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army used the same tricolor we see today next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin red wall!” exclaims the historian Ihar Melnikau.
More than a hundred years ago, Belarus declared independence under the white-red-white flag. Architect Klawdziy Duzh-Dushewski is believed to have created the white-red-white flag in 1917. A year later, the white-red-white flag became a symbol of the Belarusian People’s Republic. Its colors correspond to the colors of the ancient emblem “Chase” and the national ornament. Belarusian detachments in the Lithuanian army and the Belarusian movement in interwar Poland marked themselves with white-red-white.
On September 19, 1991, the white-red-white flag became a state symbol again. However, in May 1995, Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s allies removed the flag from the Government House and tore it down. In a referendum, three-quarters of Belarusians voted to replace the BNR symbol with a modified BSSR flag.
“For many, it was a very difficult period in economic terms, nostalgia for the Soviet Union and very idealized memories of what the Soviet Union was like and what life was like under the Soviet Union. Therefore, in 1995, the return to Soviet symbols was an easy and populist step by Lukashenka. Today the situation is completely different. There has been a change of generations, ”sociologist Yulia Shukan comments.
For two decades, the white-red-white flag has been used by opponents of the Lukashenka regime, from cultural figures to football fans. However, its popularity went beyond the politicized circle.
“The white-red-white flag will win not only in the historical sense, in the understanding of the symbols, but also in the aesthetic sense. And the demand, especially in recent months, has grown just unbelievably, ”said the director of the SYMBAL.BY store Pavel Belavus.
Protesters have chosen the white-red-white as their symbol. What about other Belarusians?
“The police and the Nazis had it on their shoulder. And now the half-state is walking around with it! ”
“I am for the white-red-white flag, because I am for Belarus to be a free country.”
“The state flag has been compromised, because it is a state symbal, and our authorities behaved incorrectly” argue residents of Vitsebsk.
Meanwhile, “people in black” removed huge white-red-white flags from high-rise buildings in Minsk. Twenty-seven large and 40 small flags were confiscated from the Hrodna store “Admetnast”. Lukashenka would not stop the war with the white-red-white flag.
Alyaksandr Papko, Belsat