At a congress in Minsk over the weekend, the Belarusan Popular Front reelected the emigre Zyanon Pazdnyak as its chairman and Lyavon Barshchevsky as acting chairman. Pazdnyak last year received political asylum in the U.S. and has since been politically active in Poland. In a videotaped speech to the congress, Pazdnyak defined the BPF’s main task as defending the country’s independence against "Russian imperialism" and against president Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s "occupation regime." To that end he called for the formation of a government in exile and a political campaign inside Belarus to force Lukashenka’s resignation and to work for an "anti-Russian and pro-NATO policy." In addition, Pazdnyak criticized the leaders of the forcibly dissolved parliament — some of whom were in attendance — for "betrayal" in giving up impeachment proceedings against Lukashenka last November and for attempting to negotiate with the president at that time and since. He also chastised BPF leaders for failing to stop the "betrayal." Yet Pazdnyak suggested that Syamyon Sharetsky, chairman of the forcibly dissolved parliament, can be appointed acting president in place of Lukashenka if Sharetsky "drops the idea of integration with Russia."
Barshchevsky’s co-report and the intervention of BPF vice-chairman Yury Khadyka were less divisive and more oriented toward winning and keeping a broad spectrum of allies. The main programmatic statement adopted by the congress, titled "Belarus into Europe: A Strategy for Defending Independence," describes the choice before the country as either Europe and democracy or Russian hegemony exercised through Lukashenka’s dictatorship. The statement describes the BPF as sharing "Western conservative principles" centered on the nation state and family values, alongside liberal principles centered on human rights. The program envisages a "mass national liberation movement" including rallies and demonstrations, civil disobedience, "street democracy," and cultural and educational activities to promote the native language and civic awareness. The aim is to pressure Lukashenka into resigning peacefully, reinstate the 1994 constitution and the parliamentary form of government, and hold free elections.
The congress also agreed to the continuation of the government-opposition dialogue under European Union aegis (see Monitor, June 20) on condition that the authorities cease arresting and prosecuting participants in opposition rallies. (Monitor interviews, Belapan, Russian and Western agencies, June 20-22)
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