From Perestroika to independence

In 1986, Gorbachev’s moves to liberalize the Soviet system opened the floodgates of public protest in Belarus. Demonstrators demanded higher status for the Belarusian language and protested against the policies that caused the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in April 1986. Chernobyl is on the Ukrainian side of the Belarus-Ukraine border, but radioactivity affected Belarus the most because of the direction of the wind following the accident.

Belarusian Popular Front

In 1988 the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) was established, and became the main organization behind the protest movement. In the March 1990 elections, many BPF candidates won seats in the Supreme Soviet of the Belarusian SSR and entered into a power-sharing arrangement with representatives of the old establishment.

In July 1990, the Supreme Soviet adopted a Declaration of State Sovereignty that proclaimed the Belarusian SSR a neutral state and a nuclear-free zone. Belarusian was declared the state language.

Belarusian independence

After the collapse in August 1991 of the hard-line coup in Moscow, Belarus declared full independence. The Belarusian SSR was renamed the Republic of Belarus. The scientist Stanislav Shushkevich, who was close to the BPF, was appointed chairman of the Supreme Soviet, which made him head of state (there being no presidency in Belarus at that time). In December 1991, Shushkevich met with President Yeltsin of Russia and President Kravchuk of Ukraine at a hunting lodge near Minsk to formalize the dissolution of the Soviet Union.