The Imperiia Project: a spatial history of the Russian Empire

Early 20th Century Minsk

At the beginning of the 20th century, Minsk was becoming a small intellectual hub going through a great period of modernization. In 1898, revolutionaries convened and formed the Social Democratic Party. This event, combined with a failed war against Japan on the empire’s Eastern seaboard, created a great deal of turmoil for Tsar Nicholas II. Strikes at factories in St Petersburg ignited a chain reaction throughout the empire -- even in its far Western reaches. In Minsk, factories temporarily shut down. Following their reopening, there was a great growth stage up until 1910. A few churches and a teaching ministry were built in Minsk during this time period. In 1914, however, World War 1 broke out across Europe, with Germany declaring war against the Russian Empire.


Despite Minsk’s unlucky history with getting roped into wars, Minsk escaped from the Great War relatively unscathed. But there was no peace to be found in Belarus after the war. The reconstruction of the Russian government following the Bolshevik Revolution combined Belarus and Lithuania into one region. This region became the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919. Despite being formally ruled by the Russians, the Poles assumed control of the region. This led to a gruesome civil war in the region deemed the Polish-Soviet War. In January of 1919, Moscow sent Soviet troops via train to take back Minsk, which was partly destroyed during battle. The Soviets were able to assume control of the city easily, but the war with the Poles continued until 1921. At this point, the Soviets signed a treaty to give half of Belarus to Poland and keep the other half. Minsk was officially under control of the Red Army, and was made the capital of the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic. There were still many anti-Bolshevik uprisings in the region after the official war ended, however.


For nearly 20 years, Minsk went through a grace period in which the city started to build culture. There were new buildings, an opera house, and even a medical school. By 1939, the city numbered 300,000 people, but this would change in a few short years. Once again, Minsk was hit hard by warfare. Before World War II, the majority of Minsk was Jewish. German troops occupied the city in 1941, and after killing nearly all of the city’s Jewish population, were driven out by the Red Army in July of 1944. Minsk was almost entirely leveled to the ground by the war, and had to be rebuilt from ashes. The buildings of modern day Minsk retain a very Soviet architectural theme as they are almost all built after 1944.

Sources: Bemporad, E. (2013). Becoming Soviet Jews. Indiana University Press.


This page has paths: