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The Belarusian People's Republic (Belarusian: Белару́ская Наро́дная Рэспу́бліка, transliterated as Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika, BNR), historically referred to as the White Ruthenian Democratic Republic (German: Weißruthenische Volksrepublik; French: République Démocratique de la Ruthénie Blanche) was the first Belarusian state that declared independence in 1918.
It was founded on 25 March 1918 in Minsk. In order to distinguish Belarusian National Republic from similarly named communist republics, it is also known as the "Belarusian Democratic Republic". It was one of several countries occupied by the Soviet Union during World War II. The end of the "Democraic" Republic occurred in 1991 when it renamed itself to Republic of Belarus.
After the 1917 February Revolution in Russia, active discussions started in Belarus about either gaining autonomy within the new democratic Russia or declaring independence. Representatives of most Belarusian regions and of different (mostly left-wing) political powers, including the Belarusian Socialist Assembly, the Christian democratic movement and the General Jewish Labour Bund, formed a Belarusian National Council in late 1917. The Council started working on establishing Belarusian governmental institutions. Both the Bolsheviks and Germans refused to recognize it and interfered in its activity. However, the Germans saw an independent Belarus as part of the implementation of their plan for buffer states within Mitteleuropa. The Bolsheviks had negotiations with the Belarusian Democratic Republic regarding an eventual recognition, but later decided instead to establish a Soviet puppet government of Belarus - the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus.
Parallel with negotiations that started between the Germans and Bolsheviks, the Belarusian Council started actively demanding recognition of an autonomous status for Belarus, with continuing internal discussions on whether it should become an autonomy within Russia or declare national independence.
In its First Constituent Charter, passed on 21 February 1918, the Belarusian Council declared itself the only legitimate power in the territory of Belarus. On 9 March following the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the Germans and Bolsheviks, the Belarusian Council issued a Second Charter where it declared the establishment of the Belarusian People's Republic. The Belarusian Council became the provisional government of Belarus and was renamed the Council of the Belarusian People's Republic.
On 25 March 1918, the Council issued a third charter declaring the independence of Belarus. Following that, local meetings were held within Belarusian cities that issued resolutions supporting the creation of an independent republic.
In February 1921, the delegations of the Central Powers and the BNR signed the Treaty of Riga formally recognizing new nations in Europe, and Belarus in particular. Years of war have left the land neglected and looted, and the endless change of occupying regimes, each worse than the previous have left their mark on the Belarusian people.
An interesting paradox arose in the status of the BNR within the Central Powers' plans for the future. On one hand its small geographic, population and almost negligent economic indicators did not warrant it much political weight on German or Austrian affairs. Moreover the weak national sentiment of the Belarusian people would easily have allowed Belarus to be disbanded and annexed to its neighbors, unlike for example Ukraine.
Meanwhile the politics in Minsk took a different course of events, and eventually the accession of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union saw a new policy adapted to defensive security. In accordance to which, expansionist and irredentist claims were suspended, which instead would focus on making regions economically and strategically viable. Thus on March 1924, by decree of President Vasil Zacharka, the Belarusian National Army would go under rapid organization reform.