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.