Wishing Belarus a happy “Freedom Day” on Thursday, the US Embassy expressed support for the “Belarusians’ struggle for freedom and democracy” and said that many in the country “pay a heavy price as the regime resorts to intimidation, violence, and lethal force to maintain its grip on power.”
U.S. Embassy Statement
March 25, 2021
“The Embassy of the United States of America congratulates all Belarusians on the 103rd anniversary of the declaration of the Belarusian People’s Republic of 1918.”https://t.co/RfRF7Wzu6h
— U.S. Embassy Minsk (@USEmbBy) March 25, 2021
The catch? The country proclaimed on March 25, 1918 amounted to a puppet regime of Imperial Germany and ceased to exist the following year, after the Kaiser’s capitulation, its territory partitioned between Poland and the newly established Soviet Union.
A “government in exile” has existed ever since – currently residing in Canada – while the flag used by the BPR was adopted last year by activists opposed to President Alexander Lukashenko.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Minsk responded to US well-wishes on Friday, with a statement that could only charitably be described as dripping with sarcasm.
It began with an apology for the “lack of congratulations on the recent 160th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, whose flag is still dear to many Americans,” referring to the defeated faction in the American civil war that is outright reviled by the modern political establishment.
Minsk then expressed support for Black Lives Matter and “aspirations of the American people for a better future,” proceeding to throw words from President Joe Biden’s inauguration speech about unity into Washington’s face.
The ministry said it admires the “courage and determination of American heroes,” including WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, “who sacrificed almost everything for the sake of true freedom and harmony in American society.”
They even referenced the recent military lockdown of the US Capitol:
“Belarus, together with the American people, is looking forward to the day when an ordinary American will be able to walk near the Capitol without let or hindrance.”
Furthermore, the ministry expressed gratitude to Ambassador Julie Fisher for her “invaluable advice” on when and how Belarus needs to hold elections, offering her citizenship so she could register to vote herself, while praising “achievements” of the US electoral system such as “voting by mail and the electoral college.”
Washington has accused Minsk of “rigging” the August 2020 presidential elections and imposed sanctions against the government of Belarus even as its own vote in November became subject of acrimonious political debate.
The Foreign Ministry wrapped up the statement by offering Washington “joint management” of Alaska and wishing for “the moment when we can happily meet the US Sixth Fleet at the maritime borders of Belarus” – a reference to a 2014 meme mocking the Obama administration over a (fake) Jen Psaki quote that made the State Department seem ignorant that the Eastern European country was landlocked.
There was even a parting shot to US president Joe Biden’s recent fall on the steps of Air Force one:
“We sincerely wish the American people unity, and to climb the stairs of the American Dream without stumbling.”
This isn’t the first time a foreign government has pushed back on pronouncements from Washington; earlier on Friday, China called out the US for its COVID-19 death toll and deaths from “gun violence” in response to Biden’s comments about President Xi Jinping, and gave US diplomats a fierce tongue-lashing during the recent summit in Alaska, for example.
However, while the Chinese rhetoric remained – however barely – within the confines of diplomatic discourse, the missive from Minsk resembled the famous Cossack letter to the Ottoman sultan, the composition of which was immortalized in a painting by Ilya Repin.
Ilya Repin. ‘Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks’ pic.twitter.com/A8Nn8ekoWm
— Sidharth Chaturvedi (@schaturvedi) August 26, 2020
According to the (unsubstantiated) story, the Zaporozhian Cossacks (from “beyond the rapids”, Ukrainian: za porohamy), inhabiting the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine) had defeated Ottoman Empire forces in battle.
However, Mehmed demanded that the Cossacks submit to Ottoman rule.
The Cossacks, led by Ivan Sirko, replied in a characteristic manner: they wrote a letter, replete with insults and profanities. The painting exhibits the Cossacks’ pleasure at striving to come up with ever more base vulgarities.
“Sultan Mehmed IV to the Zaporozhian Cossacks:”
“As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians – I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.”
- Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV
The Cossacks’ reply came as a stream of invective and vulgar rhymes:
“Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan!”
“O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil’s kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight are thou, that canst not slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits, and your army eats. Thou shalt not, thou son of a whore, make subjects of Christian sons. We have no fear of your army; by land and by sea we will battle with thee. Fuck thy mother.
Thou Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig’s snout, mare’s arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow. Screw thine own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won’t even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we’ll conclude, for we don’t know the date and don’t own a calendar; the moon’s in the sky, the year with the Lord. The day’s the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!”
- Koshovyi otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host
Header: Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto – Ilya Repin (1880-1891). State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg