President Heimer Explains Belarus Flags for HRT

Croatian national broadcasting company HRT published on its news portal on August 23, 2020 an article about flags that appear in connection with recent events in Belarus, which we transfer here translated

Why are Belarusian protesters using a white-red-white flag instead of the official one?

A frequent sight in the current protests in Belarus against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko are the white-red-white flags – quite different from the official one, red-green with a characteristic ornament on the left.

It is a kind of alternative Belarusian flag that has been in official use throughout history, for the last time in the first half of the 1990s, before it was rejected in favor of the current official flag in a referendum held after Lukashenko came to power. However, the opposition continues to use it, as it did during the 20th century.

Croatian vexillologist (vexillology is a science that studies the origin and use of flags throughout history) Željko Heimer, president of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV) and the Croatian Coat of Arms and Flag Society, explained the history, background and difference between the two Belarusian flags.

– The modern Republic of Belarus, as Belarus is officially called, is located in the area occupied by the Lithuanian Grand Duchy in the Middle Ages, which in the 15th century entered into a personal union with the Kingdom of Poland in the so-called. The Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1569. From the heraldic symbols of that Union – the Polish white eagle and the Lithuanian white horseman on red – follow the national colors of both Poland (white-red) and Lithuania (red-white-red), and when the short-lived Belarusian National was created on the remnants of the disintegrating Russian Empire in 1918 The Republic has chosen for its coat of arms a horseman similar to the Lithuanian coat of arms, who, unlike the Lithuanian blue, wears a white shield with a cross, and a flag of the same color but changed layout – white-red-white, explains Heimer.

After the proclamation of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Belarus in 1919, the white-red-white flag remained in use by the diaspora in the West, even within Poland, to which most of the former western Belarus was added. The Belarusian SSR uses a revolutionary red flag, in accordance with the customs of the Soviet Union, which it entered in 1922, with yellow initials Cyrillic SSRB, or since 1927 BSSR, to which in 1937 was added a yellow-bordered red star above yellow sickles and hammers. After World War II, the flags of the Soviet republics underwent significant changes, gaining recognizable graphic elements, Heimer continued, and in 1951 a new flag of Soviet Belarus was adopted, red with a green stripe in the lower third and a red and white folk embroidery ornament.

– That red-and-white embroidery was a shy reflection of the Belarusian national colors, adds Heimer.

The white-red-white flag used in eastern Poland since 1939 was banned after the Soviet occupation of the area, and when German forces entered Soviet territory in 1941, they revived that flag among Belarusian volunteers in SS units and in the established anti-Soviet government 1943-1944 years.

– It is precisely this episode of the (mis) use of the white-red-white flag that her opponents accuse her of at the end of the 20th century, and even today, Heimer points out.

The white-red-white flag continued to be used in the diaspora in the West and became particularly popular in the late 1980s, when changes began to be discerned in the USSR.

– The Republic of Belarus declared independence from the USSR on August 25, 1991 and adopted its historic white-red-white flag on September 9, 1991. After the current president of Belarus came to power in 1994, the return of earlier Soviet symbols began, and on May 14, 1995, a national referendum was held to adopt a flag similar to that of 1951 – with the omission of a star, sickle and hammer. the national ornament is depicted on it in replaced colors – now in red details on a white background. Lukashenko’s opposition in Belarus and abroad has continued to use the white-red-white flag, which has recently been seen very often in anti-government demonstrations, Heimer said.

If all this reminded you of the controversy over Croatian symbols, such as the red or white first field on the chessboard, you are not wrong. Heimer says that it is not difficult to draw a parallel with ideological oppositions to the historical Croatian flag and checkered coat of arms, which, like Belarusian symbols, have a great historical foundation and a long history before their use by the Axis Powers in World War II.

– The Croatian flag and coat of arms, regardless of the “first field” variant, were discredited in the 1990s, and are still being discredited today for their use in World War II, despite many relevant scientific studies that clearly indicate that this is only one episodes in the centuries-long use of these symbols. On the trail is the same pattern of defamation, known in rhetoric as “reductio ad Hitlerum,” as a special kind of logical error “reductio ad absurdum” and attack “ad hominem,” which attempts to devalue opposing views by linking opponents ’views to the Nazi regime. Although this is often successful for populists, such an argument is completely unacceptable scientifically, Heimer concludes.