Less than three weeks after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk formally brought an end to Russia’s participation in the First World War, the former Russian province of Belarus declares itself an independent, democratic republic on this day in 1918.
Modern-day Belarus—also known as Belorussia—was formerly part of Poland, its neighbor to the west, until a series of wars in the late 18th century ended with the partition of Poland and with Belarus in Russian hands. In 1917, Belarus capitalized on Russian weakness and disorder resulting from its participation in World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution of that year and proclaimed its independence, after more than a century of occupation by the czarist empire. At the time, Belarus was occupied by the German army, according to the terms formalized at Brest-Litovsk on March 3.
On March 25, a Rada (or council) pronounced the creation of the Belarussian People’s Republic. Eight months later, however, with the defeat of the Central Powers at the hands of the Allies in World War I, Brest-Litovsk was invalidated and the German army was forced to pull out of Belarus and the former Russian territories. This left the fledgling republic vulnerable to a new Russian invasion—that of the Bolshevik Red Guard, who entered the Belarussian capital city of Minsk on January 5, 1919, and crushed the republic’s government.
With the Rada in exile, the Bolsheviks declared the establishment of the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Poland, determined to reestablish its historical dominance over the region, promptly invaded the new soviet state; the Treaty of Riga of 1921 gave Poland the western part of Belarus. The rest of it became a constituent of the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), founded by Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1922. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the USSR took the opportunity to annex the part it had lost in 1921. These borders were confirmed in a treaty signed by the USSR and Poland at the end of World War II.
The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and Belarus became one of the founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of 12 former republics of the USSR formed to help regulate foreign affairs, as well as military and economic policy among the member states. On March 25, 1993, the anniversary of the proclamation of Belarusian independence was openly celebrated for the first time in Minsk and other cities in the republic.