Two main official holidays are celebrated in Belarus: Victory Day on May 9 and Independence Day on July 3. Both dates are related to World War II. May 9 marks the capitulation of the Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945; it is widely celebrated on the post-Soviet territory as the victory over Nazi Germany. On July 3, 1944, Soviet troops liberated Minsk from the Nazi occupation.
Since the state ideology of Belarusian president Alyaksandar Lukashenka is heavily based on the symbols of WWII, the celebration of Independence Day was moved to July 3 from July 27, the day when the Supreme Council of BSSR announced the independence of Belarus from USSR in 1991.
Most official celebrations feature military parades, fireworks, open-air concerts of retro and pop music and other Soviet-style events. On the day of celebration, Minskers are allowed to gather in crowds in the city center and drink alcohol in the streets. As this is an occasion that many suburban Minskers will never miss, many people living downtown choose to escape from the city for the time of loud celebrations.
Those who oppose the regime of president Lukashenka celebrate Freedom Day on March 25. On this day in 1918, Belarusian People's Republic was announced. It existed for nine months. Every year, a rally is organized under white-red-white flags to mark the anniversary of Belarusian People’s Republic. A white-red-white flag is considered by many in Belarus as historical and national. In fact, it was the official state flag in Belarus in 1991-1995. Now it is regarded by the Belarusian authorities as the symbol of dissent.
There are two more rallies that civic activists organize every year without the spirit of celebration. The first usually takes place on April 26 to mark the anniversary of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and pay tribute to Belarus’ numerous victims of nuclear contamination. The second rally takes place around November 2, on Dziady – the day when Roman Catholics in Belarus mourn their dead. This tradition dates back to the late 1980s when the opposition started to organize a rally to Kurapaty, the site of mass executions of Belarusians by Stalin’s secret police NKVD in 1930s. According to different estimates, between 30,000 and 100,000 Belarusians, Poles, Russians and Jews were executed and buried in mass graves in Kurapaty.
As the authorities do not welcome rallies organized by civic activists, they may ban or constrain them. There are two official Christmas Days in Belarus: December 25 (celebrated by Roman Catholics and Protestants) and January 7 (celebrated by Russian Orthodox Christians). Both are public holidays in Belarus. November 2 is a day off for Catholic mourners, while Orthodox visit the graves of their ancestors on another public holiday, which takes place on Tuesday nine days after the Easter. Since Easter dates change each year, this holiday doesn't have a set date.
Most often, Minskers celebrate the New Year Eve at home with their families. However, it has become increasingly popular in the recent years to go out to Kastryčnickaja square or other public places where officially organized celebrations take place.
Minskers also celebrate Minsk Day every second Saturday of September. On this day, you may often see state-owned and private farms bringing their crops to the main squares of Minsk and selling them right from their trucks. Although Minsk was first mentioned in historical literature on March 3, 1067, the authorities chose to disregard March 3 as a possible celebration date.
The Long Night of Museums that usually takes place in May is a recent addition on the map of Minsk city celebrations. Many museums open their doors late in the night and organize various cultural events.
Photo: Siarhei Hudzilin