The Proclamation of the Byelorussian Socialist Soviet Republic
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Upon the basis of the Treaty of Brest (March 1918) the majority of Byelorussian territory found itself under German rule. The Russian side treated this state of things as transitory, but the leaders of the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic (RSFSR) were not clear about the further status of the Byelorussian terrains. On the one hand, already on 31 January 1918 a Byelorussian department (Belnatskom) had been established in the People's Commissariat on National Issues of the RSFSR, and Byelorussian sections, created out of existing leftist Byelorussian groups, soon became part of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and were active in assorted Russian towns inhabited by Byelorussian refugees. On the other hand, significant organs of the Western District (which encompassed also Byelorussian territory) were dominated by activists who questioned not only all attempts at distinguishing Byelorussia but even the existence of the Byelorussian nation or language. One of the chief premises for the establishment of Byelnatskom was the wish to neutralise among the Byelorussian refugees all impact exerted by pro-independence and anti-Bolshevik organizations. The refugees started to formulate a conception of turning Byelorussia into a Soviet republic and a part of the RSFSR. This was also the spirit of the declaration issued by the All-Russian Convention of Refugees from Byelorussia, held in Moscow in July 1918. Not until the last days of 1918, several weeks after the German occupation of Byelorussian territories came to an end, did the leaders of the RSFSR agree to the above outlined proposal. The North-Western District Conference of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), soon renamed the First Convention of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Byelorussia, was inaugurated on 30 December in Smolensk. The convention announced the establishment of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia, composed of the former Minsk, Grodno, Vitebsk, Smolensk and Mohylev gubernias. Formally, the new republic was not part of the RSFSR. Already on 16 January 1919 leaders of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided to exclude the gubernias of Vitebsk, Mohylev and Smolensk from the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorussia, and to once again incorporate them into the RSFSR. The remaining part of the Republic of Byelorussia was to be annexed by the Lithuanian Soviet Republic. Despite initial protests voiced by the Byelorussian leadership, the First All-Byelorussian Convention of Soviets, held on 2-3 February 1919, accepted these decisions. The capital of the new Lithuanian-Byelorussian Soviet Republic (Lit-Byel) was Wilno/Vilnius. Already on 21 April the town was captured by Polish armed forces. The capital was then transferred to Minsk, which on 8 August also found itself in Polish hands. Lit-Byel ceased functioning a year later, when the RSFSR officially recognised the Republic of Lithuania (12 July 1920); in the remaining six counties of the gubernia of Minsk the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia was proclaimed once again. .
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