Archive for the ‘Russia-Belarus Union’ Category

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. Lukasenka

Lukashenka’s “victory”

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. Chernomyrdin

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.


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

Zianon Pazniak – the leader of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF)

Photo Christoph P´┐Żschner, 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

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.