The First President

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?

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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.

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