January Uprising of 1863

Today on the 22nd of January 2023, Belarusians, Poles, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians commemorate 160 years from the beginning of the January uprising of 1863.

This uprising against the Russian empire was an attempt to free the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The most remarkable fact for Belarusians is that Kastuś Kalinoúski – the leader of the uprising – started to publish the first newspaper in Belarusian – Mużyckaja praúda (Peasants’ Truth). He started it in 1862 to prepare people for the fight against Russia. Moreover, he continued to publish appeals to Belarusians while waiting for his execution – “Letters from under the gallows.” He wrote these texts also in the Belarusian language.

The Russian army oppressed the uprising and executed its leaders. They made everything to make people forget about it. Even the grave of Kastuś Kalinoúski and his comrades was accidentally discovered in Vilnius only in 2017.

But people remembered the names. An interesting fact is that the Soviets made heroes out of the participants of the 1863 uprising. They represented them as fighters against Russian Tsarism. In 1928 they even produced a movie about it. That’s why there is Kalinoúski street in Minsk. In addition, Belarusian authors and artists created many works dedicated to the uprising showing its leader Kastuś Kalinoúski as a pro-Belarusian national hero.

But everything changed during Lukashenka’s regime. His pro-Russian politics doesn’t contain any room for the uprising of 1863 in its ideology.

For example, a part of the street named after Kalinoúski was renamed “All Saint’s” street. The reason is the Russian Ortodhoxal church was built there in the 1990s. The official propaganda claims that the uprising was pro-Polish and provides that everything was organized by Polish nobles and in their interests. The propagandists ignore the Belarusian-centric idea of Kalinoúski’s newspapers and appeals.

But on the contrary, Belarusians could not stand with this status quo. Therefore, they hold the 1863 uprising and Kastuś Kalinoúski as symbols of the struggle against the pro-Russian dictatorship in Belarus.

During the protests after the presidential elections in Belarus in 2006, the protesters renamed the square where the demonstrations took place – Kalinoúski Square.

The Polish government named the program of help to the Belarusian students who suffered from political repression – Kalinoúski Program.

In 2015-2019 Belarusian entrepreneurs opened in Minsk thematical bars “1863” and “Kalinouski Bar.” Tattoos with numbers 1863 and Kastuś Kalinoúski’s portrait are trendy among the anti-Lukashenka, anti-Russian, and pro-national Belarusian youth.

In 2019 thousands of Belarusians came to Vilnius for the funeral ceremony of Kastuś Kalinoúski and other uprising leaders.

On the 25th of March 2022, Belarusians of New York installed and opened monuments to Kastuś Kalinoúski and Tadeusz Kosciuszko in front of the Belarusian church in Brooklyn on Atlantic avenue.

Belarusians fighting against Russian invaders in Ukraine called their regiment – Kalinoúski Regiment.

As we can see today, the legacy of the January uprising of 1863 plays a notable role in the struggle of the Belarusians against Lukashenka’s regime. Russians can’t force people to forget their legendary heroes. Thus the names of the revolutionaries rise from the ashes whenever needed to support the fight for Freedom, Independence, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Marlon Paker

US – Belarus