It is now  12:54 pm  Monday,  June  18, 2001  in Belarus

National Symbols
The National Emblem and National Flag are Symbols of National Sovereignty.

The role and importance of the national emblem may require some explanation, as we have nothing equivalent in the US. It is a stylized, heraldic blazon symbolic of the nation's identity. The national emblem appears on government buildings, and in government seals. The closest American equivalent may be the bald eagle, in all of its myriad forms; but the significance of the national emblem is like that of the bald eagle, the statue of Liberty, and the scales of Justice all combined into one symbol.

The Traditional National Emblem of the Republic of Belarus

The traditional national emblem of Belarus - "Pahonia" ("Chase") - has many centuries of history. It appeared in written documents beginning from the late 13th century. According to some sources this symbol was first used by Grand Lithuanian Duke Trajdzien' (ruled from 1270 to 1284). Some other documents ascribe it to Grand Duke Vicen' (ruled from 1294 to 1316). (The Grand Duchy of Litva and Rus was a Belarusian state of the Middle Ages.)

The Pahonia is shown in the central position on the seal of the Grand Duke Vitaut dating from 1407, and appeared on the covers of the "Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania" published in Old Belarusian in 1529, 1566 and 1588. After the annexation of the GDL in 1772-95 by the Russian Empire, the symbol of "Pahonia" continued to appear together with the Russian imperial double-headed eagle on the state seals and symbols.

During the German occupation of Belarus in World War II, the Pahonia continued to be used by the collaborationist government. It was replaced when Belarus was liberated by Soviet forces, and became the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Pahonia was again adopted as the official national symbol of Belarus when it declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

The Traditional National Flag of the Republic of Belarus

The origins of the traditional white - red - white Belarusian flag are lost in the mists of ancient history. It is possible that the banner was designed simply to distinguish Belyj Rus (White Russian) forces from those of the Princes of Kiev and Muscovy by placing the red favored by the Rus on a background of white.

But the traditional story is that when the united armies of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Litva and Rus defeated the Germans of the Teutonic Order at the great Battle of the Grunewald in 1410, a wounded Belarusian knight tore off his blood-streaked bandage and waved it aloft as a victory banner. That banner has been flown ever since, so the story goes, as a sign that Belarus will always prevail -- no matter how badly wounded it may be!

The Adoption of New Symbols

On May 14, 1995 a national referendum included the question "Do you agree with the adoption of the new National Symbols?" This question was approved by 75.1% of those voting. President Aleksander Lukashenko then issued two decrees, "On Approval of a Pattern for the National Emblem of the Republic of Belarus" and "On Approval of Regulations for the National Flag of the Republic of Belarus", officially adopting the new symbols.

The Official National Emblem of the Republic of Belarus

The National Emblem consists of a green raised-contour outline of Belarus above a globe of the Earth, bathed in golden sunbeams radiating from the sun "rising" from behind the globe. Above the contour is a red five-pointed star. The emblem is framed in a wreath of golden wheat-ears, interlaced with clover flowers on the left and flax flowers on the right. The lower half of the wreath is spiral-wrapped with a red and green ribbon carrying a golden inscription "Respublika Belarus" (Republic of Belarus).

The present National Emblem of the Republic of Belarus symbolizes historical adherence of the Belarussian people to constructive labor, their faith in the triumph of justice and attainment of a worthy place in the world community.

The Official National Flag of the Republic of Belarus

The National Flag of the Republic of Belarus is a rectangular banner, the ratio of height to length is 1:2. The upper two-thirds of the flag is red, and the lower third is green. A vertical red-on-white Belarussian decorative pattern, which occupies one-ninth of the flag's length, is placed against the flagstaff. The flag is fixed on a flagstaff painted golden with ochre.

Red symbolizes Belarus' glorious past. That was the color of the victorious standards of the Belarussian regiments that defeated crusaders at Grunewald, and was the color of the battle flags of the Red Army divisions and Belarussian guerrilla detachments that liberated the country from fascist invaders and their henchmen. Green symbolizes the future. It is the color of hope, spring and revival, the color of forests and fields. The Belarussian decorative pattern symbolizes Belarus' rich cultural heritage, its spiritual continuity, and the unity of its people.

Symbolic Dissension

Adherents of the old symbols claim that the referendum in which they were replaced was unconstitutional, and that the propositions placed on the ballot were worded misleadingly.

The "old" symbols had been adopted only four years previously, on the occassion of Belarus' re-emergence as an independent nation. To most Belarusians those symbols were still new, and many may have believed that by "approving of the new symbols" they were voting to retain them.

Intentionally or not, the new symbols were approved by 75.1% of those voting in the referendum. However, only 64.7% of eligible voters participated. So the new symbols were actually approved by only 48.6% of the Belarusian people. Detractors say that the Belarusian constitution requires approval of 50% or more of the Belarusian people (not just 50% of those voting) for any change to the constitution, including changes to the official national symbols.

Thus, a significant portion of Belarusians consider the new symbols to have been adopted unlawfully, and still recognize the old symbols as being the "real" ones. Still, an equally significant portion of Belarusians truly supported the new symbols.