Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 209

On November 6-7 in Vilnius, representatives of Baltic, Polish, Czech and Ukrainian political groups and the Belarusan opposition sponsored an international conference on the situation in Belarus. Under the motto, “Belarus and Central Europe,” the forum discussed the means to support the development of civil society in Belarus. Drawing on the experience of de-sovietization in Baltic and Central European countries, the conference focused on the political strategies of opposition forces in Belarus and their need to develop independent media for communicating with society at large.

A resolution adopted at the conference notes that “Belarus faces the threat of a merger with Russia, the civil society is treated by the authorities as an enemy, and the Belarusan language is being marginalized. The dictatorship in Belarus, based on totalitarian ideas and anti-Western rhetoric, poses a threat of potential destabilization in East-Central Europe.” The document appeals to that region’s new democracies as well as to Western countries to support the coalition of Belarusan democratic forces, assist their efforts to develop independent media and an informed public opinion in Belarus, and express full support on the international level for Belarusan independent statehood.

Meanwhile, in Minsk, the authorities have seized the printing equipment of the Magic independent publishing house, which prints the opposition’s periodicals and leaflets. The Soros Foundation had leased that equipment to Magic before the Foundation had been forced out from Belarus by the authorities. The seizure of Magic was cited by the United States at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in a statement clarifying Washington’s policy toward Belarus following the parliamentary elections staged by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The United States continues to recognize the legitimacy of the parliament forcibly dissolved by Lukashenka in 1996 and chaired by Syamyon Sharetsky from his place of exile in Vilnius.

The OSCE, the European Union and the Council of Europe have also declared the recent elections to the House of Representatives of Belarus invalid. But Lukashenka seems confident that Russia’s political support to his rule can offset the international ostracism. Replying to critics at the OSCE Permanent Council’s session in Vienna, Lukashenka’s delegate cited “the positive Russian assessments, which testify to the free and democratic character of the parliamentary elections in Belarus.” The Belarusan delegate cited also Russian official statements calling on international organizations to accept the new Belarusan parliament as legitimate and to end the “isolation” of the Belarusan government.

The chairman of the House of Representatives, Anatol Malafeyev, proposed in the wake of the elections a time-table for the election of a parliament of the Russia-Belarus union state. Malafeyev, an long-time confidant to Lukashenka, approved of the Kremlin’s and the Duma’s recent move to draw up legislation for the holding of that election on Russia’s territory. The Belarusan parliament will enact such legislation as a follow-up step, Malafeyev stated. Belarus will then hold presidential elections in mid-2001. And “after a short interval,” before the end of next year, the elections to a parliament of the Union State should be held concurrently in Russia and Belarus, Malafeyev announced. (Belapan, November 1, 4, 7-8; Itar-Tass, November 3-4; see the Monitor, September 6, 27, October 17, November 1).