Michihiro Yasui. The Belarusians and the European Nationalities Congress: 1925-1938

The European Nationalities Congress, which was set up in 1925 and continued till 1938, was a unique experiment in the cooperation of the national minorities in European countries. This article examines the attitudes of the Belarusians toward the European Nationalities Congress. Representatives of the Belarusians in Poland were invited to the Congress from its very beginning. However, they were skeptical about its effectiveness because they considered the situation of the Belarusians in Poland different from that of other minorities. Nevertheless, they recognized the significance of the Congress, which could be the beginning of forming a unification front by minorities. In the first three annual meetings in Geneva, which Fabian Jaremič attended as a delegate in 1925 and 1926, and Vasil Rahula in 1927, the Belarusians emphasized that they are a majority in the territories they inhabit, not a minority and, along with the Ukrainians in Poland, demanded to extend the frame of discussions to the matters of territorial autonomy. As their demands were not accepted, the representatives of the Belarusians and Ukrainians in Poland decided not to participte in the discussions and to remain as observers.

Given the change of constellation in the Congress – notably the withdrawal of the Polish groups – the Belarusians and Ukrainians in Poland officially became Congress members in the 4th Congress (1929), and Jeremicz made a speech but as the speaker himself admitted, it was not enough to present the situation of the Belarusians in Poland. After the Belarusians’ subsequent absence (1929-1932) for often unknown reasons, it was at the 9th Congress in Bern (1933) during which a representative of the Belarusians in Poland presented their problems. Adolf Klimovič, making his first appearance at the Congress, condemned the policies of the Polish governments toward the Belarusians. However, the Belarusians’ participation did not continue. Although their arrival was expected every time, they failed to show up for various reasons, some of which seemed due to the Polish governments’ interference, for example, by means of not issuing passports. The 13th Congress (1937) was exceptional. Although the Belarusian delegate, Father Adam Stankievič, did not come to London where the Congress was being held for the first time, his English report “The Ethical Foundations of the National and Cultural Rights of the National Minorities” was read by a substitute.

Although the activities of the Belarusians in the Congress were not prominent, rather unassuming, they preserved contact with the Congress until the very end and, as often expressed in Belarusian journals, they recognized the meaning of the existence of the Congress. Nevertheless, the fact that Poland’ Belarusians continued to be a Congress member seems to have contributed to the Congress, allowing it to maintain its authority as a “Parliament of national minorities” by gathering as many nationalities as possible.