1995 Referendum and Coup d’état
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.