BNR Rada on the cooperation with the Jewish people, a statement from 1921
On 25th March 1921, in their customary festive statement commemorating the anniversary of the declaration of independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, the exiled Belarusian authorities articulated their stance on cooperation with the Belarusian Jewish minority. This document officially recognised Jewish Belarusians as one of the indigenous groups of Belarus and an integral part of the Belarusian political nation. There were also proposed drafts of official documents within the Belarusian Democratic Republic that advocated for the recognition of Yiddish, Russian, and Polish as official languages.
Jewish political parties actively participated in the First All-Belarusian Congress and played a significant role in the early stages of the Belarusian Democratic Republic’s governance. Several notable Jewish Belarusians held important positions within the government, such as Majsiej Hutman, one of the co-authors of the Third Constitutional Charter of the Belarusian Democratic Republic; Isak Łurje, who headed the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Scandinavian countries; and Samujił Žytłoŭski, the Minister of National Minorities, among others.
During the first half of the 20th century, Belarus was home to more than one million ethnic Jews. Tragically, the majority of Jewish Belarusians fell victim to the Holocaust and were murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators. The majority of those who survived emigrated from Belarus during the Soviet occupation and the 1990s.
Text of the mentioned statement:
On 25th March 1921, three years had passed since the Belarusian people, represented by their finest individuals, demonstrated their unwavering commitment to self-sustaining state-building by declaring the Independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic.
Neither the age-old rule of feudal Poland nor the oppressive grip of the Russian autocracy could extinguish the burning desire for liberation from these historical oppressors in the hearts of our people.
On the contrary, the centuries-long struggle for national existence instilled an unyielding quest for freedom and steeled the resolve of our best sons and daughters in the pursuit of our national ideals.
The historical journey was long and arduous. The Belarusian people made numerous sacrifices on the altar of freedom. Many among the living perished in the self-sacrificing struggle for the welfare and prosperity of our people. Eternal glory to these valiant giants. The Motherland shall forever honour their names.
Yet, the Belarusian people did not stand alone in their struggle. Beside them, another people, the ancient and martyred Jewish community, toiled and fought, their sweat, tears, and blood mingling with the soil of Belarus for centuries.
The torment inflicted by the oppressors upon the faith and lives of the children of Israel was immeasurable. The Russian autocracy believed that it could quench the people’s anger with Jewish blood, even though the Jewish community had repeatedly attempted to break the chains of tyrannical rule. The Polish feudals, in collusion with their oppressors, actively participated in fanning the flames of hatred.
The Jewish people comprehended that they could not hope for compassion from their captors, and that only through struggle could they secure the right to life and freedom.
With this understanding, the Jewish community extended a fraternal hand to their brethren in adversity, the Belarusian people, in pursuit of their shared goal: the struggle for their homeland, culture, and national sovereignty.
On the momentous day of 25th March 1918, the day of the Declaration of Independence of the Belarusian People’s Republic, the collective will of these two sovereign nations resonated loudly and clearly throughout the world for the first time. No mercenary bayonets, no machinations or schemes of chauvinistic imperialists shall deter the Belarusians from the path they have chosen. The inexorable logic of history shall compel recognition of those peoples who earnestly seek an end to fratricide, as they pursue their national ideals, to pacify the turbulent passions and afford our neighbouring nations the opportunity to exchange swords for ploughshares and hammers.
On this momentous day in history, the Belarusian Council [the BNR Rada], upon assuming power from the All-People’s Belarusian Congress, raised a true national flag for the first time, bearing the hallowed inscriptions:
1. The Independence of the Belarusian Democratic Republic as a free and sovereign state.
2. The transfer of all land to the working people, safeguarding their labour.
3. The sovereignty of the Belarusian and Jewish nations and their complete union into one state, the Belarusian People.
4. The civil equality of all nations residing in Belarus, regardless of their faith, and the full fulfilment of their religious and cultural requirements.
These are noble ideals. To live, to strive, and to honourably give one’s life beneath this banner is a source of great happiness.
On the third anniversary of this grand national celebration, the Belarusian Rada and the executive authority, represented by the Council of Ministers, do not call upon you for death, but for life and the pursuit of the sacred ideals bequeathed to us by the heroic champions of happiness and freedom for the Belarusian people.
Citizens! We have unwavering faith that on this momentous day, every honest Belarusian heart beats in unison with ours and resounds with the cry: Glory to the Belarusian Democratic Republic! Long live Belarusian Independence!