The legacy of Kastus Kalinouski

In every people’s history, there is an event when everything starts to roll away when a new story in the country’s history book begins. The United States of America started its new chapter during the Revolution. Japan opened its borders after hundreds of years of self-isolation and accepted all the latest technologies and achievements the Western civilization could offer. France turned over many chapters and is now living in its 5th Republic, which is different from the previous ones in its philosophy and ideology.

Some countries pass quickly through the pages, while others need time to learn the lessons and prepare themselves for new openings.

Belarus is like any other country, steadily going through its books and persistent in learning something new, keeping in mind old lessons and achievements. Sometimes Belarusians fail the tests and have to return. In 1991 Belarus gained its freedom and became independent.

Still, for some reason, people forgot the words of their famous and heroic ancestor Kastuś Kalinoŭski (Касту́сь Каліно́ўскі, Wincenty Konstanty Kalinowski, Вінцэ́нт Канстанці́н Каліно́ўскі, Konstantinas Kalinauskas): “This is why, my People, as soon as you learn that your brothers from near Warsaw are fighting for truth and freedom, don’t you stay behind either, but, grabbing whatever you can – a scythe or an ax – go as an entire nation to fight for your human and national rights, for your faith, for your native country. For I say to you from beneath the gallows, my People, that only you will live happily when no Muscovite remains over you.”

In other words, the main lesson is if Belarusians can finally live without Moscow’s influence. And almost every generation of Belarusians regularly returns their tutor Kastus Kalinouski and his wisdom to their historical moment.

In the middle of the 19th century, Russian authorities decided to send to oblivion any mentions of the lands where the Belarusians were living other than the North-Western Province. But in his clandestine newspaper Muzyckaja Prauda (Peasants’ truth), Kalinouski addressed the people as Belarusians. He wrote about the Belarusian language and the Belarusian religion. In many ways, he is considered the founding father of Belarusian nationalism. That’s why his legacy returned to life at the end of the 19th century – the beginning of the 20th century.

At that time, new modern nations have begun to appear. Belarusians also decided to identify themselves among the other nations. In 1884 in Minsk, Belarusians started to print a newspaper, Homan. The authors promoted the idea of the autonomy of Belarus there.

And many more printed editions in the Belarusian language saw the light in the following years: Dudka Belarusakaya, Nasha Dolya, Nasha Niva, etc.

The Bolsheviks decided to use the legendary hero in their way. They saw him as a liberator of the peasants from the Tsarist regime. And it played a positive role in preserving the name of Kastus Kalinouski in people’s memory.

  • Thus for the first time in 1926th, they named one of the streets in Minsk in his honor; 
  • The movie Kastus Kalinouski was filmed in 1928, and the story was about the uprising of 1863-1864;
  • During the Second World War, one of the Belarusian partisan brigades had the name of Kastus Kalinouski;
  • In 1963 for the second time in Minsk appeared, Kastus Kalinouski street
  • Soviet Belarusian poets and writers created several poems and novels dedicated to the uprising of 1863-1864 and Kastus Kalinouski. The most famous are Ears under your sickle, a novel by Uladzimir Karatkevich, Kalinouski, a poem by Maksim Tank. Kastus Kalinouski, an opera by Klimlkovich and Lukas, and many others;
  • In the 1990s, one of the central Belarusian newspapers Respublica (Republic), included as an epigraph Kastus Kalinouski’s statement, “Not the people for the government, but the government for the people”
  • Decree of the President of Belarus dated January 15, 1996, No. 26 approved the Order of Kastus Kalinouski, the provision of which was adopted back in 1995. It’s also true that later in 2004, Lukashenka abolished this Order following his antinational pro-Russian policies. But in early March 2008, the Congress of the new diaspora and representatives of the democratic forces of Belarus in Tallinn established the Order of Freedom named after Kastus Kalinouski;
  • In 2006 the protesters disputed the 2006 Belarusian presidential election, symbolically renamed October Square in Minsk Kalinouski Square;
  • In 2019, thousand of Belarusians came to Vilnius for the burial ceremony of Kastus Kalinouski and his comrades. They even outnumbered Polish and Lithuanian representatives. Belarusian national white-red-white flags were everywhere in the former capital of the Grand Duchess of Lithuania;
  • In 2022 in Brooklyn, New York, the local Belarusian diaspora erected a monument to Kastus Kalinouski (created by Belarusian sculptor Henik Loika) in front of their church.

All these events helped Belarusians remember the legend about the insurrection of 1863-1864 and Kastus Kalinouski. That’s why in the most crucial moment in modern Eastern European history – the Russian invasion of Ukraine – Belarusians fighting on the Ukrainian side formed a battalion named Kastus Kalinouski. Now it’s a regiment as more and more Belarusians feel their vocation to fight against Muscovites to free Ukraine and Belarus.

Russian ideologists are not happy about the idea that Belarusians still raise the banner of their national hero Kastus Kalinouski every time they start their fight for Freedom against Russia and its puppet Lukashenka’s regime in Minsk. That could be one of the reasons why there is no but one monument to Kalinouski in Belarus. Famous Belarusian sculptor Zair Azgur created the monument, and later in 1958, it was erected in Swislotch, Belarus. In this town, Kalinosuki graduated from the Swislotch gymnasium.

Belarusians still remember their teachers and, on every occasion, try to follow their wise advice. But sometimes, the Belarusian national school is occupied by ideologists from Russia who substitutes knowledge with false beliefs and kill any trace of initiative in their students. Belarusians know it and resist. One day they will jump to another chapter in their history book – the chapter of a prosperous and free democratic country among the family of European nations.

Marlon Parker
US – Belarus