Several thousand people have gathered in the Belarusian city of Hrodno to mark the founding of the short-lived first independent Belarusian republic 101 years ago.
People gathered in a local park on March 23 for the event that was approved by local authorities, singing patriotic songs and waving flags of the Belarusian People’s Republic.
The republic was proclaimed on March 25, 1918, but lasted less than two years before Soviet forces deposed it. Its leaders were briefly headquartered in Hrodno, near the border with Poland, after being driven out of Minsk.
Activists had used social media to organize the event after authorities in Minsk refused to allow them to hold the event there.
The commemoration comes amid growing pressure from Moscow for Belarus to further integrate with Russia.
The Russian ambassador to Minsk, Mikhail Babich, said on March 15 that billions of dollars in Russian subsidies to Belarus would continue only if Minsk agrees to more closely integrate with Russia. Babich's statement echoed Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent warning to Minsk.
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Hlaz fired back, chiding Babich for failing to respect Belarus and talking "like an aspiring bookkeeper."
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has recently criticized increases in the price of Russian energy as part of Moscow's efforts to persuade his country to abandon its independence.