Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Night Stalin Tried to Destroy the Belarusian Nation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 29 – Seventy-five years ago, on the night of October 29-30, 1937, Stalin’s NKVD executed more than 130 Belarusian writers, scholars, politicians and political leaders, the first stage in a purge unprecedented even in Soviet times that destroyed more than 90 percent of the Belarusian intellectual elite.

            Among those who were killed and then placed in unmarked graves were Platon Holovach, Mikhas Charot, Ales Dudar, Vasily Koval, Mikhail Kamy and “many more,” Yevgeny Afnagel of Khartiya 97 writes in a commentary on this tragic anniversary (

            Afnagel notes that Moscow sent a list of 103 “enemies of the people” to be executed, and the Belarusian communist leadership added several dozen more. He suggests that “in modern history, it is impossible to find examples of such a mass destruction of literary figures” on a single day.

            Of course, he continues, “repressions in Belarus began long before this, from the very first years of the establishment of Soviet power.”  But it was on October 29-30 that this effort “assumed a systematic character with the obvious goal of the final assimilation of the people and the liquidation of the Belarusians as a nation.”

            In the days and weeks that followed, Afnagel points out, the NKVD “liquidated” Belarusian teachers, doctors and scholars, and in the years before the outbreak of World War II, it killed or sent to the GULAG “more than 2,000 Orthodox and Catholic priests.”

            This ended “the relatively brief period of Belarusianization in the 1920s,” a time when many residents of the republic “began to recognize themselves as a nation with their own history, traditions and culture.”  That wasn’t what Moscow wanted: it simply wanted to use them as an advertisement to Belarusians living abroad in Poland and elsewhere.

            But the policy had consequences which exceeded and in fact violated their expectations: “Belarusian language schools were opened, textbooks, newspapers and journals were published in the native language,” and many Belarusians rose to positions of authority in the Red Army and the government.

            “’Belarusianness’ became mainstream” and as a result it was “difficult to control.”  According to Afnagel, “its result could become at a minimum an autonomous policy of the leadership of the Belarusian SSR and at a maximum, the genuine independence of the republic” from Moscow. To block that, the Soviet authorities dispensed with Belarusianization.

            But that policy had done its work, and one of the consequences is that today Belarusians still, “after two or three generations” remember what was done to them on the night of October 29-30 and afterwards.  Indeed, the memory of this action became “a catalyst for street protests” at the end of Soviet times and the successful drive for independence.

            Belarusian historian Igor Kuznetsov has devoted his life to researching the destruction of the leadership of the Belarusian nation by Stalin and is certain that “sooner or later, a real court over Stalinist crimes will be convened in Belarus” (

                Over the last decade, he says, “we have prepared and brought forward documented charges” about these crimes, “and although the situation in [Belarus] is most unfavorable from the side of the state … all the same we have completed this first stage,” working on it since 2006.  He hopes that a real “Nuremberg” on the crimes of Stalin will eventually occur.

            This evening, Belarusian activists plan to mark this anniversary on the Day of Memory of the Victims of Stalinist Repressions with a demonstration on Mensk’s Independence Avenue in front of the KGB headquarters.

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