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316 MATEJCZUK, Vera (first married name, Maslouskaya; second married name, Karczeuskaya) (1896–1981) Activist of the Belarussian national movement; considered to be one of the founders of the Belarussian women’s movement. Pen-name: ‘Murashka.’ Vera Matejczuk was born on 24 March 1896 in Suprasl (now in Poland, then a Northwestern Province of the Russian Empire), into a poor peasant family—one of twelve children. She spent her childhood in the village of Aharodniczki , near Suprasl, where she attended an elementary school but could not continue her education for economic reasons. Later she wrote: “I read any book I could get my hands on, but I was most fascinated by the lives and struggles of outstanding individuals who had fought for the rights of the poor and the victimized. And while reading these books I would plunge into thought and remain like that until roused by someone—usually my father—who would say that I’d never be able to make a living from those books … Oh, how my soul would ache at such times …” (Kekeleva 1997). Vera Matejczuk began working at a textile factory in Byalystok, but was fired for initiating a strike and was only able to find work as a maid. At the same time, she studied at the teacher-training seminary in Swislacz, from which she received her diploma in 1914. Before she could begin teaching however, World War I broke out. In 1917, she completed short-term courses at the Swislacz Belarussian teaching seminary that had been opened during the German occupation as part of German attempts to invoke and support anti-Russian (i.e. national) sentiments among the peoples living on the fringes of the Russian Empire. She went to the village of Hrabavets (currently in Poland), where she founded one of the first elementary schools to employ Belarussian as the language of instruction. In 1919, Matejczuk lived in Wilno (now Vilnius), then occupied by the Polish army. There, she took part in the first Belarussian teacher-training courses and it was then that she became involved in politics and joined the Belaruskaya partyja satsyjalistau- 317 revalyutsianerau (Belarussian Party of Socialist Revolutionaries), which opposed the Polish government. After completing the teacher-training courses, she worked as a teacher and a school instructor (a ‘teacher of teachers’), and married a Polish officer named Maslouski, who was killed at the front after several months. In the spring of 1920 in Minsk, Vera Maslouskaya set up the Tsentral’ny sayuz Belarusak (Central Union of Belarussian Women), operational until the Red Army (the Bolsheviks) arrived in Minsk in the summer of 1920. No exact information about the activities of this organization exist, but it is likely that they focused on women’s education as part of the national ‘awakening’ of women as Belarussians (since many women considered themselves Polish, Lithuanian or Russian). For a time, Vera Maslouskaya worked as an inspector at the Komissariat (Ministry) of Education of the Belarussian Socialist Republic in Minsk, but in 1920, she returned to Aharodniczki. The government of the Belarussian People’s Republic (both antiSoviet and anti-Polish and promoting the idea of an independent Belarussian state) was at that time working in Kaunas (Lithuania) and the Belaruskaya partyja satsyjalistau -revalyutsianerau entrusted Maslouskaya with setting up an underground organization to fight for Belarussian independence, alongside other partisan and underground groups in Belarus (divided between Poles and Soviets). The organization soon had a developed structure and incorporated a powerful partisan detachment. In September 1921, Vera Maslouskaya went to the Belarussian national and political convention in Prague as a delegate from the Byalystok area. She explained her participation in the following way: “I could not look without indignation at the injustice and humiliation inflicted upon the Belarussian people. And I believed that it was not through evolution, but revolution that we should fight for our rights!” (Kekeleva 1997). The resolutions of the conference cautioned the Belarussian people against bloodshed, but called for them to unite until it was time for revolution—i.e. the fight for independence. The conference denounced The Treaty of Riga of 1921, which had divided Belarus between Poland and Soviet Russia. The resolutions of the Prague conference frightened the Polish government and in 1922, Vera Maslouskaya and a number of underground activists were arrested. At the so-called “Process of the 45,” Maslouskaya was tried as one of the organizers of partisan activities, accused of organizing and participating in the underground resistance, as well as of taking part in the...


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