The Idea of Russia-Belarus Union
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.