Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Aleksandr Lukashenko signed yesterday in the Kremlin a treaty creating a Community of Sovereign Republics — Russian abbreviation SSR — comprised of Russia and Belarus and open to other ex-Soviet republics. Patriarch of all Russias Aleksy II blessed the act in a ceremony combining Soviet-type and Russian nationalist rhetoric and symbols. Yeltsin, his Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and other Russian officials described the treaty and the political decisions behind it as a model of voluntary integration and expressed confidence that other CIS countries would join the SSR.
Yeltsin and Lukashenko declared April 2 a public holiday as the "Day of Peoples’ Unity" and resolved that countries joining the SSR in the future would also institute this national holiday. Denying any electoral expediency, top Russian officials and Lukashenko said that they had negotiated the treaty confidentially since last year. Russia’s Communist leaders praised the treaty as conforming to the spirit of the Duma’s March 15 resolution invalidating the dissolution of the USSR and promised prompt ratification. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, Russian TV, Western agencies, April 2)
In Belarus’s capital Minsk yesterday, an estimated 30,000 participated in a pro-independence march organized by the Popular Front and other national and reformist opposition groups, despite police measures to block access to the city center. Slogans denounced the SSR treaty, Communist restoration, and Lukashenko’s policies and upheld Belarus statehood. (Interfax, AFP, April 2)