Stalin and Russification
But the country's misery did not end in the summer of 1944,
when the Red Army "liberated" it from the Nazis. Stalin ordered sweeping purges
and mass deportations of local administrators and members of the CPSU, as well as those
who had collaborated with the Nazis in any way, those who had spent the war in slave labor
and prison camps in Germany and were now "ideologically contaminated" in
Stalin's view, those who were suspected of antiSoviet sentiments, and those who were
accused of "bourgeois nationalism." Only in 1971 did the Belorussian SSR return
to its pre-World War II population level, but without its large Jewish populace.
The wartime devastation of Belorussia--the loss of people,
homes, animals, public buildings, educational and cultural resources, roads,
communications, health care facilities, and the entire industrial base--was complete. To
make up for the industrial loss, Stalin ordered the building of new factories and plants,
more efficient than most of those elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
One of the devices Stalin used to "protect"
Belorussia (and the rest of the Soviet Union) against possible Western influences was a
program of intensive Russification, thus creating a cordon sanitaire for Russia along the
Polish border. Consequently, most key positions in Minsk, as well as in the western
provincial cities of Hrodna (Grodno, in Russian) and Brest, were filled by Russians sent
from elsewhere in the Soviet Union. The Belorussian language was unofficially banned from
official use, educational and cultural institutions, and the mass media, and Belorussian
national culture was suppressed by Moscow. This so-called cultural cleansing intensified
greatly after 1959, when Nikita S. Khrushchev, the CPSU leader at the time, pronounced in
Minsk, "The sooner we all start speaking Russian, the faster we shall build
communism." The resistance of some students, writers, and intellectuals in Minsk
during the 1960s and 1970s was met with harassment by the Committee for State Security (KGB--see Glossary) and
firing from jobs rather than arrests. Among the best-known dissidents were the writer
Vasil' Bykaw, the historian Mykola Prashkovich, and the worker Mikhal Kukabaka, who spent
seventeen years in confinement.