Flag of Belarus

The national flag of Belarus is a red-and-green flag with a white-and-red ornament pattern placed at the hoist (staff) end. The current design was introduced in 2012 by the State Committee for Standardisation of the Republic of Belarus, and is adapted from a design approved in a May 1995 referendum. It is a modification of the 1951 flag used while the country was a republic of the Soviet Union. Changes made to the Soviet-era flag were the removal of communist symbols – the hammer and sickle and the red star – as well as the reversal of the colours in the ornament pattern. Since the 1995 referendum, several flags used by Belarusian government officials and agencies have been modelled on this national flag.

Flag of the Republic of Belarus
UseNational flag and ensign
Proportion1:2
Adopted7 June 1995 (original design with a thinner ornament pattern)[1]
10 February 2012 (current design with a thicker ornament pattern)[2]
DesignA horizontal bicolour of red over green in a 2:1 ratio, with a red ornamental pattern on a white vertical stripe at the hoist.
Designed byMikhail Husyev

This design replaced the historical white-red-white flag used by the Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918 before Belarus became a Soviet Republic, then by the Belarusian national movement in West Belarus followed by widespread unofficial use during the Nazi occupation of Belarus between 1942 and 1944, and again after it regained its independence in 1991 until the 1995 referendum. Opposition groups have continued to use this flag, though its display in Belarus has been restricted by the government of Belarus, which claims it is linked with Nazi collaboration due to its use by Belarusian collaborators during World War II. The white-red-white flag has been used in protests against the government, most recently the 2020–21 Belarusian protests, and by the Belarusian diaspora.

Design

The basic design of the national flag of Belarus was first described in Presidential Decree No.214 of 7 June 1995. The flag is a rectangular cloth consisting of two horizontal stripes: a red upper stripe covering two-thirds of the flag's height, and green lower stripe covering one-third. A vertical red-on-white traditional Belarusian decorative pattern, which occupies one-ninth of the flag's length, is placed against the flagstaff. The flag's ratio of width to length is 1:2.[1]

The flag does not differ significantly from the flag of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR), other than the removal of the hammer and sickle and the red star, as well as the reversal of red and white in the hoist pattern, from white-on-red to red-on-white.[3][4] While there is no official interpretation for the colours of the flag, an explanation given by President Alexander Lukashenko is that red represents freedom and the sacrifice of the nation's forefathers, while green represents life.[5]

In addition to the 1995 decree, "STB 911–2008: National Flag of the Republic of Belarus" was published by the State Committee for Standardisation of the Republic of Belarus in 2008. It gives the technical specifications of the national flag, such as the details of the colours and the ornament pattern. The red ornament design on the national flag was, until 2012, 112 the width of the flag, and 19 with the white margin. As of 2012, the red pattern has occupied the whole of the white margin (which stayed at 19).[2]

Colours

The colours of the national flag are regulated in "STB 911–2008: National Flag of the Republic of Belarus" and are listed in the CIE Standard illuminant D65.[2]

Standard Colour Sample of the National Flag[2]
Colour Colour coordinate Y10
x10y10
Red 0.553 ± 0.0100.318 ± 0.01014.8 ± 1.0
Green 0.297 ± 0.0100.481 ± 0.01029.6 ± 1.0

2012–present
Green Red
Pantone356 C186 C
CMYK100-0-65-510-92-87-19
HEX #007D2C #CF101A
RGB 0-125-44 207-16-26

Hoist ornament pattern

Decorative pattern on the Flag of Belarus that resembles ruchnik

A decorative pattern, designed in 1917 by Matrona Markevich, is displayed on the hoist of the flag (as it was previously, on the 1951 flag).[6][7] The pattern, derived from local plants and flowers, is a traditional type commonly used in Belarus. These patterns are sometimes used in woven garments, most importantly in the traditional ruchnik, a woven cloth used for ceremonial events like religious services, funerals, and other more minor social functions, such as a host offering guests bread and salt served on a ručnik.[8][9]

The husband of Matrona Markevich was arrested for anti-Soviet propaganda and executed during Soviet repression in Belarus in 1937, after which the family was dekulakised. The original ruchnik has not survived and was either confiscated by the NKVD in 1937 or destroyed during World War II. The brother of Matrona Markevich, Mikhail Katsar, head of the ethnography and folklore department at the Academy of Sciences of Belarus, was included into the commission that was ordered to create a new flag for the Belarusian SSR in 1951.[10][11] A monument to Matrona Markevich was erected in Sianno in 2015.[10]

Flag protocol

(Left) The flag with the Soviet-style star in a diamond finial waving above a government building in Minsk; (right) the colours of the Belarusian flag being interpreted during a flypast of the Belarusian Air Force during the Independence Day Parade in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Belarus.

Belarusian law requires that the flag be flown daily, weather permitting, from the following locations:[12]

  • The residence of the President of Belarus
  • The buildings of the National Assembly of Belarus (House of Representatives and Council of the Republic)
  • The building of the Council of Ministers of Belarus
  • Courts of Belarus
  • Offices of local executive and administrative bodies
  • Above buildings in which sessions of local Councils of deputies take place (during the meetings)
  • Military bases or military ships
  • Belarusian embassies and consulates
  • At checks points and posts at the borders of Belarus

The Belarusian flag is also officially flown on the sites of special occasions:[12]

  • Sessions of local executive and administrative bodies
  • Voting/polling places
  • Sports arenas during competitions (although the IOC has its own rules on flag display[13])

Belarusian diplomats and various government officials (such as the President and the Prime Minister) display the flag on vehicles.[12] On special occasions, such as memorial services and family holidays, and it can be used at ceremonies and events hosted by public organisations, companies, and NGOs. The regulations were issued in the same decree that defined the Belarusian flag.[12] The national flag has been incorporated into the badge of the guard units in the Belarusian armed forces.[14] The pole should be three times longer than the width of the flag.[15]

According to the 1995 presidential decree, the national flag is to be used on a staff that is coloured gold (ochre).[1] Other parts of the protocol specify the finial (the metal ornament on a flag pole) as diamond-shaped and coloured in a yellow metal. In this diamond there is a five-pointed star (similar to that used in the national emblem).[16] The diamond pattern represents another continuation of Soviet flag traditions.[17] The Day of the National Emblem and Flag of Belarus[lower-alpha 1] is 15 May.[18]

Historical flags

White-red-white flag

The white-red-white flag of the Belarusian People's Republic (1918), the Byelorussian SSR (1990–1991) and the Republic of Belarus (1991–1995)

The design of the flag used between 19 September 1991 and 5 June 1995 had originally been devised by the Belarusian Democratic Republic (March to December 1918).[19] The original person behind the design of the flag is believed to have been Klaudzi Duzh-Dusheuski before 1917 and this design is known in Belarusian as the byel-chyrvona-byely s'tsyah (Бел-чырвона-белы сьцяг; literally "white-red-white flag").[20] Red and white have traditionally been used in state heraldry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The colours are also based on those of the Pahonia coat of arms that was a traditional coat of arms of Belarusian lands and had a white horseman on a red background.[21] There are several other theories explaining the flag's origin. One theory speaks of an allusion to the name of the country, White Ruthenia.[7][22]

In 1918, the Belarusian People's Republic (BNR) was proclaimed, the symbols of which became the coat of arms "Pahonia" and the white-red-white flag. On 11 August, the newspaper Svobodnaya Belarus published the first official description of the flag and coat of arms. In 1919–1920, the white-red-white flag was used by Belarusian military formations as part of the armies of Poland and Lithuania. In 1920, the flag was used by participants in the Slutsk uprising.[7]

Between 1921 and 1939 the white-red-white flag was used by the Belarusian national movement in West Belarus (part of the Second Polish Republic), both by political organisations like the Belarusian Peasants' and Workers' Union or the Belarusian Christian Democracy, and non-political organisations like the Belarusian Schools Society.[23] The flag was also used by the Belarusian Special Battalion in the army of the Republic of Lithuania. After the Soviet invasion of Poland and the annexation of modern-day West Belarus in 1939, the flag was forbidden by the Soviet administration in the newly acquired territories as well.[7][22]


During World War II the flag was used by Belarusian collaborators with Nazi Germany, being used by the Belarusian Central Rada and appearing on arm patches and other insignia worn by the Belarusian Auxiliary Police, Belarusian Home Defence, and later the Waffen-SS. Duž-Dušeŭski, the creator of the flag, however refused to cooperate with the Nazi occupation forces and hid a Jewish family in his house, for which he was sent to the Pravieniškės death camp.[7][24][25]

After World War II, the flag was used by the Belarusian diaspora in the West and by few groups opposing the Soviet government in Belarus itself. In the late 1980s the flag began to be used as a symbol of national revival and democratic changes in Soviet Belarus. Following a proposal of the Belarusian Popular Front, the flag became the new flag of Belarus when it became an independent country in 1991.[22]

The former flag of Belarus has been used widely during the 2020–21 Belarusian protests.

After 1995 the white-red-white flag has been used as a symbol of the opposition to the regime of Lukashenko, most notably during protests after the 2006, 2010, 2015, and the 2020 presidential elections and at mass rallies on Freedom Day celebrations as well as Dziady memorial marches. The flag is not officially banned from public usage, but is treated by the authorities as an unregistered symbol which means that demonstration of it by political activists or sports fans can lead to arrests and confiscation of the flags.[26][27] In early 2010, political activist Siarhei Kavalenka was arrested for placing a white-red-white flag atop a Christmas tree on the central square of Vitebsk. The court gave Kavalenka three years of suspended sentence which was followed by a second arrest and Kavalenka's several weeks long hunger strike. The hunger strike was interrupted by force-feeding on 16 January 2012.[28]

The flag has been widely used by opposition supporters during the 2020–21 Belarusian protests in rallies in support of presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and later after the disputed elections, in which, according to the official statement of the Central Election Commission, the current president of the country, Alexander Lukashenko, won the majority of votes. A popular variant used by protesters is the white-red-white flag with the historic Pahonia coat of arms. Initially though, there are reports that some opposition supporters have also used the current flag.[29][30] As of 7 December 2020, Belarusian authorities are drafting a law that could ban the white-red-white flag.[31]

The white-red-white flag is almost identical to the flag of Wyszków in Poland, the flag of Berlare in Belgium, flags of Brielle and Enschede in the Netherlands, and the flag of the Atlántico Department in Colombia. The unrelated flag of Austria has the colours reversed.

1919–1951

Before 1951, several different flags had been in use since the Revolution. The earliest flag was plain red, and was used in 1919 during the existence of the Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. After the formation of the Byelorussian SSR, the lettering ССРБ (SSRB) was added in gold to the top hoist. This design was established with the passage of the first Constitution of the Byelorussian SSR.[32] It was later modified in the 1927 Constitution where the letters were changed to БССР (BSSR) but kept the overall design the same.[33] This design was changed in 1937, when a hammer and sickle and red star were placed above the letters. The flag dimensions were also formally established as 1:2 for the first time.[34] This flag remained in use until the adoption of the 1951 flag, which did away with the letters.[7]

1951–1991

Flag of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1951 to 1991

The flag of the Byelorussian SSR was adopted by decree on 25 December 1951.[35] The flag was slightly modified in 1956 when construction details were added for the red star and the golden hammer and sickle. The final specifications of the flag was set in Article 120 of the Constitution of the Byelorussian SSR and are very similar to the current Belarusian flag. The flag had a length-to-width ratio of one to two (1:2), just like the flag of the Soviet Union (and the other fourteen union republics).[36] The main portion of the flag was red (representing the Revolution), with the rest being green (representing the Belarusian forests). A pattern of white drawn on red decorated the hoist portion of the flag; this design is often used on Belarusian traditional costumes. In the upper corner of the flag, in the red portion, a gold hammer and sickle was added, with a red star outlined in gold above it. The hammer represented the worker, and the sickle the peasant; according to Soviet ideology, these two symbols crossed together symbolised co-operation between the two classes. The red star, a symbol commonly used by Communist parties, was said to stand either for the five social groups (workers, youth, peasants, military, and academics), the five known continents, or the five fingers of the worker's hand. The hammer, sickle and star were sometimes not displayed on the reverse of the flag. The purpose for this design was that the Byelorussian SSR, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR, were admitted to the United Nations in 1945 as founding members and needed distinct flags for each other. The designer of the flag was Mikhail Gusyev.[6]

1995 referendum

(Left) Flag adopted in 1995, slightly modified in 2012; (right) Flag proposed by Lukashenko in 1995

The referendum that was held to adopt the state symbols took place on 14 May 1995. With a voter turnout of 64.7%, the new flag was approved by a majority in the ratio of three to one (75.1% to 24.9%). The other three questions were also passed by the voters.[37] The way of carrying out the referendum as well as the legality of questioning the national symbols on a referendum was heavily criticised by the opposition.[38][39] Opposition parties claimed that only 48.7% of the entire voting population (75.1% of the 64.7% who showed at the polling stations) supported the adoption of the new flag, but Belarusian law (as in many other countries) states that only a majority of voters is needed to decide on a referendum issue.[40][41] Upon the results going in favor of President Lukashenko, he proclaimed that the return of the Soviet-style flag brought a sense of youth and pleasant memories to the nation.[42]

Lukashenko had tried to hold a similar referendum before, in 1993, but failed to get parliamentary support. Two months before the May 1995 referendum, Lukashenko proposed a flag design that consisted of two small bars of green and one wide bar of red. While it is not known what became of this suggestion, new designs (called "projects" in Belarus) were suggested a few days later, which were then put up to vote in the 1995 referendum.[43]

Presidential standard (left) and flag of the January Uprising (right)

Since the introduction of the 1995 flag, several other flags adopted by government agencies or bodies have been modelled on it.

The presidential standard, which has been in use since 1997, was adopted by a decree called "Concerning the Standard of the President of Republic of Belarus". The standard's design is an exact copy of the national flag, with the addition of the Belarusian national emblem in gold and red. The standard's ratio of 5:6 differs from that of the national flag, making the standard almost square. It is used at buildings and on vehicles to denote the presence of the president.[44]

In 2001, President Lukashenko issued a decree granting a flag to the Armed Forces of Belarus. The flag, which has a ratio of 1:1.7, has the national ornamental pattern along the length of the hoist side of the flag. On the front of the flag is the Belarusian coat of arms, with the wording УЗБРОЕНЫЯ СІЛЫ ("Armed Forces") arched over it, and РЭСПУБЛІКІ БЕЛАРУСЬ ("of Republic of Belarus") written below; the text of both is in gold. On the reverse of the flag, the centre contains the symbol of the armed forces, which is a red star surrounded by a wreath of oak and laurel. Above the symbol is the phrase ЗА НАШУ РАДЗІМУ ("For our Motherland"), while below is the full name of the military unit.[45][46]

Notes

  1. Belarusian: Дзень дзяржаўнага гербу і дзяржаўнага сцягу Рэспублікі Беларусь, Russian: День Государственного герба и Государственного флага Республики Беларусь

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