Updated at 11:30,08-12-2016

Culture Ministry Refuses to Give Heritage Item Status to White-Red-White Flag

The culture ministry has rejected a proposal by the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) to include the white-red-white flag in the government’s list of protected historic and cultural heritage items.

The proposal was to have been considered by the ministry's Belarusian National Scientific and Methodological Council on Historic and Cultural Heritage in January, Anton Astapovich, a prominent heritage conservation activist who is a member of the BPF, told BelaPAN.

In its reply, the ministry dismisses the proposal as a mere repetition of the one submitted by Mr. Astapovich as chairman of the Belarusian Voluntary Society for Historic and Cultural Heritage Protection in February 2008 and rejected because of the activist's alleged failure to substantiate his claims with evidence.

In a controversial 1995 national referendum, held on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's initiative, 75 percent voted for the replacement of the white-red-white flag and the Pahonya emblem by Soviet-style state symbols, with 65 percent of those eligible taking part in the vote.

Pressing for replacing the white-red-white flag, Mr. Lukashenka explained that this flag had been used by the Belarusian collaborators of the Nazis.

After the 1995 referendum, the flag became a symbol of opposition to the Lukashenka government and an indispensable attribute of street protests in the country. In this quality, the flag strongly irritates police and government officials. A public display of this combination of colors may entail a sizable fine or several days in jail.

The Pahonya coat of arms (charging knight on horseback), which was the state emblem of the Grand Duchy of Litva (medieval Belarusian state) between 1336 and 1795 and was used on the state seal of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic, was included in the State Non-material Historic and Cultural Heritage List a few years ago.