On a private visit to the U.S., Belarus Popular Front chairman Zyanon Paznyak and vice-chairman Syarhi Naumchik yesterday applied for political asylum there. The Belarus authorities had issued an arrest warrant against them in connection with the April 26 pro-independence mass rally in Minsk. Paznyak and Naumchik afterward stayed mostly in Poland, planning to set up an independent Belarus information center there. Commenting on their asylum application, U.S. officials renewed criticism of human rights abuses by president Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government. In Minsk, senior Popular Front leaders commented that the PF will be led from within the country, not from abroad, and that the organization has been functioning for months without Paznyak and Naumchik. Another PF vice-chairman, Yuri Khadyka, who was detained April 26 and won his release after a hunger strike and international intercession, expressed disappointment with Paznyak’s decision. (Reuter, UPI, Interfax, July 31)
Paznyak played an historic role during the final years of Soviet power when the PF spearheaded the movement for national revival. In last year’s elections, however, the PF failed to win any parliamentary seats, which tended to substantiate the view that the rhetoric of Paznyak and several other leaders ended up losing more supporters than it attracted. Those leaders’ apparent overestimation of the level of national awareness in Belarus society led to a temporary marginalization of the PF. Its current leadership in Minsk appears to have overcome that problem and has joined forces with six other parties and movements in an anti-Lukashenko alliance including establishment groups and embracing the political spectrum.