Gaining independence: 1980s

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Gaining independence: 1980s

Perestroika (restructuring of the Soviet political and economic system) started by Mikhail Gorbachev was more challenging in Belarus, when compared with other Soviet republics.

Local party leadership was too conservative and opposed liberalization started from Moscow back then. A renowned Belarusian writer and public figure, Ales Adamovich, made a felicitous remark, in which he referred to Belarus as “anti-perestroika Vendée”.

This situation had some objective causes. In the Khrushchev days, Belarus was seen by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaders as a communist avant-garde. The Belarusian people were the first to lose their identity, to merge into “Soviet people as a new social community”, they were first to become atheistic, and so on. These factors led to severe repressions: any nonconformity was immediately repressed. The communists were trying to prevent national elite from forming in Belarus. The consequences of this policy can be observed even today.

During the Perestroika period, there were two main sociopolitical events in Belarus. First, there was the Chernobyl disaster, which was concealed by the authorities for a long time, and the discovery of a mass burial of victims from the Stalin repressions in Kuropaty near Minsk. These events were a crushing blow for the prestige of the Communist Party of Soviet Union.

The first democratic non-formal organizations (“Talaka”, “Martirolog”) emerged in Belarus in 1986, and a founding congress of the first opposition mass movement — the Belarusian Polular Front — was held in 1988. BPF, driven by its charismatic leader, Zianon Pazniak, was the main Belarusian force in fighting for democratization, reforms and state independence.

Author: Handbook on Belarus for International journalists