After some deliberations Western democracies elected to support a moderate trade union leader – Uladzimir Hancharyk – in these elections. The only candidate of oppositiopn who had ever really had a chance – Siamion Domash – was too nationalistic according to the calculations of Western elections experts to be supported by majority of moderate Belarusians. Despite of strong panic and phsychosis which pushed him into numerous violations of election laws Lukashenka had won elections. Opposition argues that elections were rigged. And they probably were rigged to an extent of few percent, but even if they weren’t Lukashenka would have been elected anyway with majority of voices. The campaign of opposition has failed. Wrong timing, lack of clear leader (5 opposition candidates were walking around hand in hand until two months were left to elections), choosing the wrong leader who had teethless program, I can go on and on. One of the reasons of such morbid opposition behaviour was appearance in 2001 of Presidential Death Squad which has executed by some estimates up to 30 political figures, journalists and businessmen in Belarus.
September 11, 2001.
We grieve with Americans on the loss of thousands of lifes in the terrorist attack on WTC and Pentagon. This is the price that Americans paid for their uncompromized support of freedom and democracy around the World. This will not go in vain. Democracy will prevail!
Disappeared in Belarus – Dzmitry Zavadsky and Anatol’ Krasouski (top),
Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka (bottom).
This is a case of a growing scandal with several prominent political figures disappeared in Belarus. Among them Dmitry Zavadski, Anatol’ Krasouski, Viktar Hanchar, Yury Zakharanka, Karpenka, Majsenia. Several witnesses, who defected Belarus, are blaming special death squad “Almaz” of Belarusian regime and the highest governmental figures as the ones, who were involved or directly ordered political assassinations.
- Memorandum Dissapearances in Belarus, January 2004 by Christos Pourgourides
Christos Pourgourides, a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) reporter on high-profile disappearances in Belarus is indignant by the absence of reaction of the Belarusian authorities to the memorandum on the cases of the missing people. He says that this fact only confirms that his memorandum on high-profile disappearances is well-founded. If by the end of January winter session of the PARE assembles, its juridical committee would discuss the final report by Christos Pourgourides. There is strong evidence that the Belarusian authorities are involved to abductions of people and concealment of these cases.
- Amnesty International address to President of Belarus 1/14/04
- Human rights activists arrested in Minsk On Human Rights Day 12/10/2003
The action We remember in defense of human rights and memory of the missing people in Belarus was held in Minsk on December 10, on the 55th anniversary of the Universal Human Rights Declaration. Natallia Kaliada, a journalist, a member of Human Rights Department of the Civil Initiative Charter 97, just standing with Dzmitry Zavadsky’s portrait, was detained… and brought the human rights activist to the Central Department of Internal Affairs.
- We Remember Action Participant to Be Under Trial In Barysaw 09/01/2004
The trial on the participant of the action We remember, Zubr activist Alyaksandar Monich is to take place on January 9 in Barysau
Website of Sviatlana Zavadskaya – the wife of disappeared in Belarus operator of Russian TV station Dmitry Zavadski, who was working at the time on material about Lukashenka regime.
Wives of disappeared in Belarus – Sviatlana Zavadskaya (left) and Iryna Krasouskaia
It gives a very strange impression that until now your government refused to give any cooperation to any investigation into the fate of the men who disappeared. We again urge you to change your attitude and answer the questions we mean, in behalf of the relatives of these men and because justice is so very important, not only for the world outside Belarus.
Based on materials by Syarhey Zaprudski. First published in the book Belarus – the third sector people, culture, language East European Democratic Centre. Warsaw-Minsk 2002
The Republic of Belarus, established in July 1990, partly inherited the language policy pursued by the BSSR in the last year of its existence. To a great extent this policy was determined by “The Law of the BSSR on the Languages in the Byelorussian SSR adopted in January 1990. Article 2 of this law declared the Belarusian language the only official language in Belarus and qualified Russian as the language of international relations among the peoples of the USSR” However, this law did not regulate the use of languages in unofficial communication.
Various articles of the law were going to be gradually introduced during the next three to ten years. The adoption of the law on languages should be considered both as the result of external factors and a significant victory of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF).
The first Belarusian Language Grammar was composed and printed in Vilna (Vilnius), back then the capital of Grand Duchy of Lithuania – in 1596 by Lauryn Zyzani. The second version of Belarusian Grammar – “Grammatiki Slovenskiia” (“Slavic Grammar”) – was published in Vilna by Meleci Smatrycki in 1618. Grammar by Smatrycki underwent multiple reprints in the coming years. Such the fifth and sixth reprints were done in Moscow in 1648 and 1721. It was re-edited by Paula Nenadovich in Rymniki in 1755 and became the basis of Serbian literary language. Hristan Dupchanin has reworked it for Bulgarian language. This Grammar also became the basis of the first Ukrainian grammar of Ivan Mogil’nicki.
The law on languages, adopted in 1990 after the Belarusian language had suffered a long period of decline between the 1930s and 1980s, should be seen as a legislative means aimed at defending a weaker language. At the same time, the law stipulated a much broader use of the Belarusian language, which was supposed to change from a minority to majority language in the future.
Language legislation and related practical measures that were not secret but brought before the public were a novelty for state institutions of post-Soviet Belarus No special bodies existed that could design and pursue a language policy, therefore, in the initial stage of implementation, the executive branch had to rely on the intellectual resources of a non-governmental organization, which had experience in this field, the Belarusian Language Society (BLS) founded in June 1989.
Thus, in May 1990, BLS together with the Ministry of Education of the BSSR held a scientific and practical Conference entitled “The Official Status of the Belarusian Language: Problems and Ways to Implement the Law “In September 1990, the Council of Ministers adopted “The State Programme for the Development of the Belarusian Language and Other National Languages in the BSSR” that stipulated a number of measures for implementing the law over the course of the 1990s. Both in the BSSR and the USSR, the discussion regarding language problems in Belarus was under the control of the party. With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the declaration of independence of the Republic of Belarus and the suspension of the CPSU and CPB, possibilities of free speech increased greatly, The USSR – the regional superpower – was now gone from the World map. An independent Belarusian state emerged and protests arose among the Russian-oriented population, which to a large extent comprised the Belarusian elite. Just yesterday they identified themselves exclusively with the USSR and had no need for contact with the Belarusian language or culture. Finding themselves in this completely new situation, these people argued that the existing legislation is poorly grounded and attempted to discredit both the new linguistic trends and the social and political groups behind them. With Belarus adopting a multiparty system, language issues became an essential element of political discourse. Democraticaly oriented figures fiercely competed for the right to speak on behalf of “the true” democrats and the political environment in Belarus saw many ephemeral pro-democratic associations seeking their own niches.
Can there be a peaceful coexistence between Russian state interests and Belarusian independence?
The dictatorship in Belarus has strengthened its position. On November 24 the Belarusian President Lukashenka held a “public” referendum to replace the country’s constitution by his own constitution which grants him almost unlimited power. Against current law, the constitution, Parliament and the Constitutional Court, the President passed several decrees to ensure his victory in the struggle for power. Special decrees required local leaders to make sure that at least 50% of the votes were cast before the actual referendum day. “Preliminary voting” started two weeks before the referendum. In addition, “sample” ballot papers showing how to vote “correctly” were distributed wherever possible.
A week prior to the referendum, the President sacked V. Hancar, head of the Electoral Commission – which, according to the constitution, he has no right to do. Hancar had declared that the referendum was illegal due to the infringements of law that had occurred. International observers refused to monitor the referendum because of its unlawfulness. Part of the democratic opposition called upon their supporters to boycott the referendum, since every vote cast increased the potential for ballot rigging. The final results of the referendum were according to the President’s plans. In a country with such massive political censorship as Belarus a different result was impossible. And those who still believe in the legitimacy of the referendum or put the blame on the political naivety or lack of education of the Belarusian electorate should have a look at the answers to questions 6 and 7 proposed by parliament: 6.) Do you favor direct elections of the leaders of local executive bodies by the population of the respective administrative-territorial entity? 7.) Do you agree that financing of all branches of power should be public and only come from the state budget? The answer to both question was no – only 29.9 % vs. in favor for question 6, 32.1 % vs. respectively for question 7.Everything seems to have been in vain: the efforts on part of Parliament and the Constitutional Court to protect the constitution and democracy, the thousands of people who, over the last weeks before the referendum, had demonstrated and held vigils on Independence Square in Minsk in support of Parliament’s position.
V.Chernomyrdin congratulated Lukasenka on his victory in the referendum
But there was another important factor – the so-called compromise between Parliament and Lukashenka which was negotiated by Moscow. A visit of the Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and the leading deputies J.Stroev and G.Seleznev to Minsk three days before the referendum finally resulted in the signing of an agreement by the chairman of the Belarusian Constitutional Court, V. Cichinia, and the chairman of Parliament, S. Sarecki. This agreement enabled Lukasenka to hold his referendum. This “compromise” eliminated the last possibility of impeachment, for which the necessary number of parliamentarians’ signatures – 75 – had already been collected. In contrast to other Russian politicians, such as the nationalist Zhirinovsky, the mayor of Moscow Luzhkov and Alexander Lebed, who had openly expressed their support for Lukashenka, the democratic government in Moscow had thus “silently” abandoned their partners in Minsk, as it were, under the fig leaf of the compromise they had initiated. This is a lesson to all Belarusian politicians who had placed their hopes in Yeltsin’s reelection and continued to hope for the support of “democratic Russia”. They hoped that Russia needed a stable partner in the CIS, but it turned out that Russia is more interested in total control of the pipelines to Europe, in a colony governed by an admittedly unpredictable supporter of the USSR, but devoted ally of Russia – the dictator Lukashenka. Unfortunately this was only understood when it was too late – when Lukashenka had already finally and officially eliminated the Constitution which he had already ignored for the two previous years and according to which he could have been called to account. It has thus turned out that Lukashenka has not gone to prison, but Belarus has turned into a prison instead. Now we have to face what the majority of Belarusian politicians failed to see over the past few years – “Russia’s imperial interests in Belarus”. Nobody wanted to speak about it in order not to impair the friendly relations between the Belarusian and Russian people. Too late it was grasped that the leaders in Moscow (not the Russian people!) wanted to keep Lukashenka in power. The Russian government’s policy with regard to parts of what had once been the “one and indivisible” has not changed very much over the centuries.
It is possible that the Russian leaders will now try to convince the West of the legitimacy of Lukasenka’s policies. Nevertheless it would not be right if we forgot to express our gratitude to all foreign journalists, politicians and others, particularly from Russia, whose courageous work supported the attempts to save democracy in Belarus. The main losers are the Belarusian people. For the West, it is probably hard to understand why – if there had really been ballot rigging – there was no major public protest with thousands of people taking to the streets as in Serbia. But do not draw any rash conclusions. You probably have to be born in Belarus to understand the character and behavior of the Belarusian people – this strange submissiveness and passivity. The best part of the people did stand up and mobilized all their forces to resist Lukashenka’s dictatorial policies over the past two years. But now this dictatorship has become the law of the land… Maybe there is one last body which can at least put up some resistance: the Citizens’ Committee for the Protection of the Constitution, which was recently created by the most important political parties in Belarus. Its membership includes about 50 members of the former Parliament, the Supreme Soviet, who have refused to recognize Lukashenka’s “new parliament”. The former chairman of Parliament, S. Sharecki, was elected chairman of the Citizens’ Committee.
In August 1996 Lukashenka declares he intends to hold another referendum on November 7 – the day of the October Revolution 1917. Through this referendum – which is expected to cost millions of dollars – the president plans to introduce his own constitution which will give him almost unlimited powers, such as appointment of the head of the Constitutional Court and part of the parliamentary deputies (For more information please refer to Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (Draft) from President of the Republic of Belarus ) – in spite of the fact that the constitution (which was only passed in 1994) may not legally be altered during its first five years in force.
At the same time seven leading political parties from the whole of the political spectrum from BPF to the communists hold a series of round table talks during which they harshly condemn the president’s unconstitutional actions, which, under the guise of a referendum, seek to lead the country into dictatorship. The president is repeatedly invited to take part in the discussions, but refuses.
The tension heightens when on September 11 the chairman of parliament, Siamion Sharecki, in the independent newspaper “Narodnaja Volia” accuses the president of “preparing the ground for a fascist state.” He starts his article with the words “Our country is on the brink of a fascist dictatorship.”
Siamion Sharecki – Belarus parliament chairman since 1996
The struggle between president and parliament intensifies. Against the plans of Lukasenka, parliament sets November 24 as date for the referendum and parliamentary by-elections. It also decides to add three of its own questions, proposing its own version of the constitution (draft worked out by the Communist and Agrarian party group). The parliament’s version abolishes the presidency altogether.
Lukashenka, however, chooses to ignore this decision. Uladzimir Zamiatalin, deputy chief of the president’s administration, speaks of an attempted coupe d’etat. In spite of repeated appeals by the Central Electoral Committee, the ministry of finances refuses to make funds available for the by-elections and the referendum planned by parliament.
Lukashenka declares that his referendum will not be financed with taxpayers’ money, but with private donations from a special “referendum fund.” Given the fact that the country’s industry and banking sector are all nationalized, it is not hard to imagine where those funds come from. At Lukashenka’s orders, even 100 million German marks made available by the German government for the victims of World War II in Belarus and transferred on a special account at a private bank in Minsk, were transferred on an account at the state bank.
To gather support for his referendum Lukashenka holds a “Congress of the people of Belarus” in Minsk on October 19. The five thousand participants of this congress are carefully picked by the representatives of the local presidential organs. Lukashenka hopes that the support of “his” Congress will legitimise his referendum and his disregard of parliament. However, criticism of Lukashenka’s behaviour from abroad has grown over the first half of October. The US state department and several European ambassadors condemn the President’s actions. The Russian side also calls upon both sides – the President and parliament – to respect the constitution.
Belarus is thus threatened by international isolation. Lukashenka is forced to agree to postpone the referendum from November 7 to November 24, which he announces at the “Congress of the people of Belarus”. He also concedes to make certain corrections to “his” constitution. The Communist and Agrarian party groups also agree to make several changes to their draft: the position of president is maintained, but the president has to be elected by parliament.
According to a presidential decree, however, voting starts on November 9 already. Order is given to all local leaders to provide a fixed number of votes (and a certain “result”) before November 24, the official referendum date. A week prior to the referendum, the President sacked V. Hanchar, head of the Electoral Commission – which, according to the constitution, he has no right to do. Hancar had declared that the referendum was illegal due to the infringements of law that had occurred.
Parliament reacts by collecting votes for impeaching Lukashenka and succeeds in collecting the necessary number of votes. But before starting an impeachment procedure, Parliament decided to wait for the visit of Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, who came to Minsk to mediate the conflict. Moscow urged both parties fo agree on a compromise. This waiting for a solution resulted in a loss of time, so that it was too late to start an impeachment procedure before the referendum. Lukashenka successfully carried out his referendum, the result of which was entirely foreseeable, given Lukashenka’s total control of the media and even of the Electoral Commission …
Three days after the referendum, in the presence of 110 members of the old Parliament, who had sided with Lukasenka, the new constitution was solemnly adopted and consecrated by the Metropolitan of Belarus. The 110 deputies now made up the lower chamber of the new parliament. The senators (members of the upper chamber) were partly appointed by the President (8 senators), partly by the regional authorities (8 senators from each of the 7 regions, including Minsk). (The regional candidates had to be approved by both the regional parliaments and the President’s representatives in the regions.)
At the same time, the results of the by-elections carried out together with the referendum in 61 of the country’s 260 constituencies (which had no members of parliament yet) were ignored. Most of these were large cities.
A group of about 60 members of the old parliament refused to recognize the new parliament and decided to try and continue the work of the old parliament. They founded the Citizens’ Committee for the Protection of the Constitution. The former chairman of Parliament, S. Sharecki, was elected chairman of the Citizens’ Committee. These deputies are now subject to all kinds of pressure. Some of them have lost their jobs, and the Belarusian border guard have been ordered to confiscate their passports should they try to cross the border. The former Speaker S. Sharecki and S. Shushkievich, first Belarusian head of state from 1991-1994, already lost their passports, when they tried to leave for an international conference..
Amnesty International is gravely concerned at reports that about 100 demonstrators have been detained in Belarus, and some of them allegedly ill-treated by the police following a peaceful protest on 10 March 1997 against President Lukashenko’s policies aimed at forging closer ties with the Russian Federation.
On April 2, 1996 Yeltsin and Lukashenka meet in Moscow and agree to sign a Russo-Belarusian Union treaty entitled “On deepening integration and comprehensive drawing together.” The treaty provides for the creation of an Interparliamentary Congress with 50 parliamentarians from each side, an executive body called the Integration Committee and a Union Court. According to president Lukashenka, a common parliament and constitution could follow later. The name of the new union (SSR in Russian) bears a striking resemblance with the name of the old USSR (SSSR).
Lukashenka, Yeltsin and the Patriarch of Moscow Alexij II after the signing of the Union treaty
For Lukashenka the treaty is a major success; he hopes for remission of the Belarusian debt for oil and gas and for the creation of a common economic area with equal prices. This is another example of how Lukashenka tries to solve the problems caused by his own economic policies at Russia’s expense.
Lukashenka’s argumentation comparing the new Russo-Belarusian union with the European Union is not seen as very convincing, since neither the economic potential nor the territory concerned can be compared. This union – according to the opposition – looks more like one country surrendering its sovereignty to another one, voluntarily giving up its own independence.
The spring of 1996 is marked by a number of rallies and demonstrations in protest against the president’s policies. On March 24, April 2, 26 and May 31 tens of thousands of people take to the streets of Minsk to voice their protest against the president and defend their country’s independence. The largest rally is the one on April 26, entitled “Carnobyl’ski sliach” (“The Chernobyl path”) and held in remembrance of the Chernobyl disaster ten years ago. It is the largest meeting in Belarus since the country became independent in 1991. The main organiser of the rally was the BNF, supported by the other democratic parties, among others by the Civic Action Party.
The authorities dissolve the peaceful meeting by force. Riot police forces use truncheons and tear gas. Several hundred demonstrators are arrested and beaten by the police and members of the presidential security troops. However, not only demonstrators are arrested and beaten, but also passers-by, especially young people. Harsh measures are also taken against journalists and photographers of independent or foreign papers. Eye witnesses describe the behaviour of the police as very brutal. The official media and Belarusian state television cover the events in a very biased way: the Belarusian TV correspondent refers to the demonstrators as “drunken students, idle pensioners and other loafers” and compares them to “wild animals” who had forgotten they were human beings.
Zianon Pazniak – the leader of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF)
Photo Christoph P�schner, LAIF
At the same time official sources more and more often mention the possibility of outlawing the BNF, especially after a speech held by BNF leader Zianon Pazniak on Ukrainian TV. Pazniak and BNF press speaker Siarhiej Naumcyk are forced to leave the country. Pazniak flees to Prague and later to Warsaw, London and eventually to the USA. Two other BNF members, Prof. Jury Chadyka and Viachyslau Siuchyk, who were arrested at the “Charnobyl’ski sliach” demonstration, go on a hunger strike in prison to protest against their arrest. Seventeen Ukrainians from the Ukrainian nationalist parties “Rukh” and “UNA-UNSO”, including one deputy, are also arrested at the same demonstration. Despite all protest they are kept in prison for several weeks, seven of them have still not been released. You can read all current speeches of Z. Pazniak in his webpage http://www.zianonpazniak.de/
The events in Minsk do not pass without attention, even sources from Moscow comment on the brutality of the measures taken by Lukashenka. During his election campaign President Yeltsin criticises Lukashenka’s methods. Lukashenka, by the way, remained the only president of a CIS country who did not openly support Yeltsin’s reelection. Rumours say that the campaign of the communist candidate Zyuganov was financed with the help of Belarusian money.
On July 1996 Zianon Pazniak and Siarhiej Naumcyk, who have been in exile since March, apply for political asylum in the USA. This is the first case of dissenters from CIS states seeking asylum in the West.
On May 14, 1995 the planned referendum and the first parliamentary elections in Belarus since the dissolution of the USSR are held. The elections are a failure. Only 120 of the 260 seats (majority vote) are assigned, because the required turnout of 50% is not reached in most constituencies (among them – Minsk). It has to be added that a few months before the elections, the president had prevented a planned amendment of the electoral law (which would have introduced a mixed system – 50% of parliamentary seats assigned by majority voting, 50% by proportional representation). So the old majority system remained unchanged, which leaves smaller parties practically without any chance to get into parliament. The press and TV had done their best to convince the people to take part in the referendum initiated by the president. The authorities’ attitude towards the elections, however, is clearly described by Lukashenka’s comment that “no matter what deputies you elect, they all lie anyway.”
The outcome of the referendum was the following: 77.6% voted for the president to be able to dissolve parliament, if parliament violates the constitution. 82.4% voted for an economic union with Russia, 83.1% voted for Russian as second official language. The re-introduction of the old flag and national crest was supported by 75%. These figures have shown that the majority of Belarusians have given in to the president’s influence and propaganda. A few days prior to the elections Belarusian state TV had broadcast a “documentary” called “Nianavis’c” (“Hate”) which openly compared members of the opposition to the Nazis. Extracts from speeches held by leading politicians of the opposition were shown together with library pictures of Belarusian Nazi collaborators during the period of occupation by the Germans. This smear campaign against dissidents calls back to mind the times of the worst Soviet propaganda, when the people were manipulated through false information or lack of information. In this light the outcome of the 1995 elections becomes comprehensible…
SWAT team beats up Belarusian Parliament members
At this time an original Parliament has realized that the country is undergoing presidentiial coup d’etat. The vote of inconfidence was passed to president and opposition parliament locked themselves in Parliament building refusing to leave it. Lukashenka’s fate was hanging by the threat. Several big Russian politicians including Chernomyrdin arrived to Minsk. They talked some of the opposition to back down. For the rest of the opposition locked in Parliament building Lukashenka sent a SWAT special forces team (apparently of non-Belarusian origin). The special forces has beaten severely and dragged opposition Parliament members out of the Parliament. This was an official announcement of Lukashenka absolute power rein. to Minsk to diffuse the confrontation.
The new state flag based on old Soviet Byelorussian SSR flag
As far as foreign policy is concerned, Lukashenka’s main goal is to bring Belarus closer to Russia. The official media increasingly propagate slogans about a revival of the old USSR and about the “unity of the Slavic peoples”. All military bases of strategic significance have been let to the Russian army for 25 years. Belarus’s Western border, the border with Poland, is now guarded by Belarusian and Russian border guards together. More and more leading positions in the Belarusian army are given to Russians. Many important Belarusian firms are taken over by Russian companies, such as the oil-processing factories situated along the pipelines from Russia to Europe. In return for such favors, Lukashenka is granted deferment of part of the Belarusian debt in Moscow.
Criticism and political dissidents are not accepted by the president. He expects the media to “work constructively” “Unconstructive” newspapers he closes down for “twisting facts.” His opponents he condemns as enemies who try to sabotage his work. In August 1995, for example, a strike by the workers of the Minsk metro is crushed by the authorities, dozens of workers are fired. The independent trade unions are outlawed at the same time.
As the parliamentary by-elections (in those constituencies where the turnout had been lower than 50%) move closer, the president and his supporters step up their criticism of the Constitutional Court, which had declared several presidential decrees unconstitutional (such as the decree banning the metro workers union and lifting deputies’ parliamentary immunity). Lukasenka had ignored these Supreme Court decisions. He declares that the Constitutional Court is not entitled to defy the President’s decrees, since the President is elected by the people, whereas the Constitution Court judges a appointed by parliament. He even questions the Constitutional Court as an institution.
Again, the elections are neglected by the official media. Lukashenka declares that if participation turns out too low again and if the necessary number of deputies are again not elected, he intends to introduce direct presidential rule.
These comments fit in very well with the sensational interview which Lukashenka gives the German newspaper “Handelsblatt” in December 1995 and in which he expresses his view of Adolph Hitler’s policies in the 30s. He says, for example:
“…At the time Germany was raised from the ruins thanks to a firm hand. Not everything that was connected to a certain Adolph Hitler in Germany was bad. Remember his rule in Germany. The German order had grown over centuries. Under Hitler this process reached its culmination. This is perfectly in line with our understanding of a presidential republic and of the role of its president. I want to emphasize that one man cannot be all black or all white. There are positive sides as well. Germany was once built up out of the ruins with the help of a strong presidential force. Germany was raised thanks to this strong force, thanks to the fact that the whole nation united around its leader. Today we are going through a similar period, when we have to unite around one person or group of people in order to survive, hold out and get back on our feet again…”
The following day Lukasenka’s spokesman Zamiatalin tries to deny what the president has said.
Despite everything, the elections take place…
… Not a single candidate of the Belarusian Popular Front makes it into parliament. In those constituencies where they had a chance of being elected, “strange” things happen: either participation is one or two hundred votes too low for the result to be recognised as valid, or a huge number of ballots turn up with all candidates crossed out.
In January 1996 the first session of the new parliament (consisting of 199 instead of 250 deputies) take place. The leader of the Agrarian Party, Siamion Sharecki (Sharetsky), is elected speaker of parliament. The parliament is made up of the following party groups: the pro-presidential “Zhoda” (“Consensus”), the communist party, the Agrarian Party, the Civil Action Party (“Hramadzianskaje dziejannie”) of former National Bank chairman Stanislau Bahdankievic and the Social Democratic group. The remaining deputies are independent.
The first free presidential elections, which marked the most important moment in the recent political history of Belarus, took place in June and July 1994. Prime Minister Viacheslau Kiebich, who could rely on the support of the Supreme Soviet and large parts of the media, was seen as the most likely winner. But things took a different turn. The result of the elections was a major surprise not only for the West: the second ballot on July 10, 1994 showed the populist Aliaksandr Lukashenka as the clear winner with an overwhelming majority of 81.7% of the vote. Kiebich resigned his office as prime minister. The leader of the Belarusian Popular Front BNF, Zianon Pazniak, and former President of Parliament Stanislau Shushkievich were both defeated at the first ballot with 12.9% and 9.9% respectively.
Who is Aliaksandr Lukashenka?
|Aliaksandr Lukashenka was born on August 30, 1954 in Kopys, a small village in the Viciebsk (Vitebsk) district. He studied at the Pedagogical College in Mahiliou and at the Belarusian Agricultural Academy. From 1975 to 1977 he was a political instructor for the KGB border troops in Brest. After that he worked as leading official in various collective farms, since 1987 as director of the “Horodiec” farm in the Mahiliow district.Lukashenka likes to boast that he was the only member of parliament who in December 1991 voted against the creation of the CIS and dissolution of the Soviet Union. In reality, however, he did not take part in that vote.Shortly before he became president, speaking to the Russian Duma in Moscow, he called on Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to reunite and form a new Slavic union. For anyone who knows the way Lukashenka has been fighting and oppressing the national culture and the history of Belarusians, ignoring the Belarusian language and defending a position which is rather a Russian imperialist one, persecuting human rights advocates and journalists, is not difficult to believe that – should the opportunity arise to revive a sort of USSR (or Russian Empire, …) – this man would try to become the leader of such a state.While he kissed a lot of political figures during his career (shown here kissing Eltsin, Patriarch of Moscow Alexi II and Slobodan Miloshevic), it seems that Putin has avoided kissing Lukashenka.
Lukashenka’s popularity is partly due to his reputation as a fighter against corruption. As chairman of the parliamentary committee investigating corruption he was the key figure behind the doubtful accusations which led to the fall of President of Parliament Shushkievich.
In his election campaign Lukashenka also emphasized his struggle against corruption and made numerous populist promises. The independent Russian newspaper “Moskovskie novosti” (“Moscow news”) compared Lukashenka with the Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.
As time passes, Lukashenka’s rule becomes increasingly dictatorial. In November 94 he creates what he calls the “presidential vertical line” – the heads of six regions and 118 districts of the republic who are directly subordinate to the president. The presidential representatives are delegated virtually all the powers of the local authorities. The elected bodies – the local soviets – are thus practically deprived of power and replaced by the president.
From December 25 – 30, 1994 numerous newspapers have to be issued with “blank areas”. These blanks replace a speech given in parliament by the deputy Antoncyk on the topic of corruption within the president’s team. At the time this speech is debated in parliament. Independent newspapers which dare to publish the text of the speech are banned from using the state printing works.
In the first months of his presidency Lukasenka repeatedly proves his negative attitude towards Belarusian history, culture and language and towards a nationally oriented policy. He declares, for example, that Belarusian is a “poor” language unable to express any “great things” and that there are only two “great” languages in the world: Russian and English. With such statements he puts the nationally oriented intelligentsia against himself.
On April 11, 1995 Lukashenka speaks in parliament, proposing to call a referendum in order to replace the national symbols – the white-red-white flag and the national crest “Pahonia” – by the old, Soviet symbols (without hammer and sickle), to give Russian the status of official language (along with Belarusian), to pursue economic integration with Russia and to give the president the power to dissolve parliament. The democratic opposition accuses Lukashenka of violating the constitution, 18 deputies – members of the BNF party and other parties of the democratic opposition – declare a hunger strike and remain in the parliament building overnight in protest against the president’s plans. During the night of April 11th to 12th these 18 deputies are attacked, beaten up and driven out of the building by about 200 masked men belonging to the presidential bodyguard.
However, it was only after the failed putsch in Moscow on August 19, 1991 that the Belarusian leadership finally took steps to break away from the central government in Moscow. On August 25, 1991 Belarus declared its independence. The speaker of the Supreme Soviet, Mikalaj Dzemianciej , a supporter of the putschists, stepped down, and even the KGB was temporarily abolished. However, no referendum was called to decide on the issue of independence, as was done in Ukraine.
Stanislau Shushkevich, the deputy speaker of the Supreme Soviet – a former member of the communist party, but not a member of the nomenclature – was elected president of parliament and thus became the first head of state of the new “Respublika Belarus”.
Stanislau Shushkevich – Belarus parliament chairman (1991-94)
On December 8, 1991 the Commonwealth of Independent States was founded and soon afterwards the Soviet Union was dissolved. Belarus, whose fate had long been decided by other powers, now had a chance to build its own future.
In the beginning both the government and the opposition sought to build on the great history of the Belarusian people which had been interrupted by its annexation by Tsarist Russia and later the Soviet Union. But in contrast to the other new republics, the population in Belarus showed very little reaction to such policies. The country had been dominated by Russia for so long that most people had got used to it and had even stopped considering themselves a nation in its own right. Apart from these psychological problems, the population was suffering from very practical, economic problems, so that the government’s attempts to create a feeling of national consciousness appeared grotesque to many people.
Shushkevich took a moderate stance. His father, a writer, had spent seventeen years of his life in punishment camps during the Stalin era. Shushkevich himself, a nuclear physicist whom the Chernobyl disaster had induced to go into politics, was opposed to Moscow’s continual interference into Belarusian affairs and had always emphasised the country’s historical roots – particularly the “Golden Age” of Belarusian history between the 16th and late 18th century (For more details about this part of Belarusian history, see History of Belarus . On his first visit to the United Nations Organisation in New York, Shushkevich even brought a copy of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Litva (1529) with him as a present.
But even though Belarus was now an independent country, there had been no elections and the Supreme Soviet was still the “old” one which had been elected under Soviet law. In early 1992 the opposition therefore started to collect signatures for a referendum on the issue of new elections. The opposition argued that the old communist parliament would not carry out the necessary reforms and would not establish democracy. The campaign was extremely successful. For the first time, the democratic opposition had managed to shake the population up out of its traditional passivity – not only the population of the capital, but of the whole country -and make them take part in the discussion about the future of the country. On April 13 the democrats had collected 383 000 valid signatures, 33 000 more than required by law. However, the Supreme Soviet declared the campaign illegal due to “severe violation of the law” and refused to hold a referendum. Instead, it was agreed to hold elections in March 1994, a year earlier than planned (a promise which was not kept). In an interview with Radio Free Europe Shushkevich justified this decision, arguing that the deputies should be given the chance to do their duty and pass a new electoral law and a new constitution.
The Belarusian state symbols at the Government building in Minsk (until 14 May 1995)
Since he had not been elected by the people, Shushkevich was in a weak position, dependent on a parliament which was the most conservative one of the three Slavic CIS states. So the moderate politician Shushkevich was increasingly pressurized by conservative forces in parliament and in the government of Prime Minister Viacheslau Kiebich. These conservative forces held Shushkevich partly responsible for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and for the country’s economic crisis which had begun afterwards.
In July 1993 a vote of no confidence against the Shushkevich failed, but on January 26, only a few days after Bill Clinton had visited Belarus and praised Shushkevich for his merits, the Supreme Soviet voted him out of office (209 to 36 votes). The minister of the interior and several leading KGB figures were dismissed at the same time. The formal cause for this was the President’s approval of the extradition of two former leaders of the Lithuanian KGB who had attempted to carry out a putsch in Vilnius (Vilnia) in January 1991 and had been hiding in Belarus since. Two days after Shushkevich’s removal from office the Lieutenant General of the militia and chairman of the parliamentary committee for national security, Miechyslau Hryb, was elected President of Parliament and Head of State.
On March 15, 1994, after endless discussions and debate, parliament passed the new Belarusian constitution. The constitution defines Belarus as a democratic and constitutional unitary state which guarantees its citizens all basic liberties, such as the right to private property, health care and education. The right to participation in the political process is guaranteed by free and direct elections of national and local politicians. The legislative power is exercised by the Supreme Soviet, which is elected for a period of five years. It consists of 260 seats and has a number of permanent committees which draw up bills and monitor the work of the government. The new constitution was also the last one of all those passed in other former Soviet republics to introduce the office of president. The Belarusian president, who is elected directly by the people every five years, has extensive powers similar to the Russian president. International treaties and national laws can only become effective with the approval of the president. He is the head of the executive, he institutes the government and is commander-in-chief of the army.
The first major event that led large parts of the Belarusian population to put up resistance against the central Soviet government in Moscow was the Chernobyl tragedy on April 26, 1986. Although Chernobyl is in Ukraine, close to the Belarusian border, the consequences of the nuclear accident were even more disastrous for Belarus than for Ukraine itself. They brought contamination to 20 per cent of the country’s cultivable soil and radiation disease to tens of thousands of people. It is estimated that more than 400 000 people have died from cancer since the disaster. The Soviet government, however, plaid the matter down and failed to inform the population about the dangers of radiation. The first comprehensive steps to decontaminate the soil and evacuate part of the population were taken as late as in 1989 – three years after the accident! This irresponsible policy was severely criticised in Minsk, both by the opposition and by parts of the communist leadership.
On June 25, 1989 the Belarusian Popular Front, which became the main opposition party, was founded. It was given the name of “Adradzennie”, meaning “rebirth”. Due to resistance by the authorities, the founding convention had to take part in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius (Vilnia). Among the founding fathers of the new party were well-known personalities, such as the writers Vasil’ Bykau and Alies’ Adamovich. As its main objectives, the new party sought to achieve a revival of Belarusian national consciousness and to reveal the truth about the atrocities committed by the Stalinist regime in Belarus. Zianon Pazniak, a key figure within the movement and its leader today, was instrumental in investigating the mass executions carried out in Kurapaty near Minsk in 1937 – 1941 (see also Kurapaty Homepage). In 1988 he discovered what was left of the mass graves where the victims of the mass executions had been buried. This discovery – the final proof of deliberate genocide – made another major impact on the Belarusian population.
Nevertheless the Belarusian opposition remained of little influence. It was subject to permanent repression and smear campaigns on the part of the communist party. Unlike the Russian communist party, the Belarusian communists remained a united and powerful body up to the summer of 1991. As a consequence they still obtained about 86% of the vote in the parliamentary elections on March 13, 1990, whereas the “Adradzennie” candidates and other democratic candidates only won 32 out of 360 seats.
On July 27, 1990 – following endless debate in the Belarusian Supreme Soviet – Belarus declared its sovereignty. But even after that Minsk failed to take advantage of the weak position the central Soviet government was in. In reality the Belarusian leadership still sought to revive the Soviet Union. Later, when the treaty establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States was negotiated, Belarus was the only one of the former Soviet republics which did not propose any amendments. In contrast to Russia and Ukraine, the Belarusian declaration of independence did not mention the principle of equality for all parties and political movements. In Belarus the communist party continued to play the dominant role in the state and was ready to defend its position.
Demonstration in support of Belarusian independence, Minsk, 1989 – End of Soviet Era
Only months later, in April 1991, the situation began to change. The Soviet government had raised the prices for food, which led to large-scale protest among the population. The independent trade unions called several strikes, so that public life in Minsk virtually came to a standstill for several days. More than a hundred thousand people took to the streets, demanding not only a higher standard of life but also the resignation of the Belarusian government, an end to Soviet rule, free elections and Belarusian independence.