Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 21

On January 29-30 parties and groups of the national-democratic Belarusan opposition held a Congress of Democratic Forces in Minsk. The participants discussed both a joint platform and common tactics to defend sovereign statehood and get Belarus back on the path of democratic development, from which it strayed in 1994. Three circumstances imparted a sense of urgency to the deliberations: first, the mid-year expiration of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s lawful term of office (which he has prolonged until 2001); second, the recent Yeltsin-Lukashenka declaration of intent to unify Russia and Belarus in 2000; and third, the accelerating economic collapse in Belarus, which might open the way to an unprecedented alliance between the working class and the nationally minded intelligentsia and economic reformers.

Speakers at the Congress included the former head of state Stanislau Shushkevich; the chairman of the forcibly dissolved parliament, Syamyon Sharetsky; Executive Committee (“shadow government”) chairman Henadz Karpenka; leaders of the Popular Front, the Social-Democrat Party Hromada, the United Civic Party and other opposition groups; and certain prominent writers and artists, some of whom had until now sat on the fence. These speakers spoke indignantly of attempts to deny Belarusan national, cultural and linguistic identity, emphasizing that Belarus is a Slavic nation in its own right. The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Minsk, German diplomat Hans-Georg Wieck, greeted the forum and expressed the OSCE’s support for its goals.

The congress created a coordinating-consultative council of Belarusan democratic forces, and appealed to all democratic countries to support Belarusan sovereignty and democratization. The forum adopted a set of resolutions, including: to hold presidential elections as scheduled in May of this year, under the constitution which Lukashenka has unilaterally rescinded; to boycott the municipal elections scheduled for this coming April; and to resist the Yeltsin-Lukashenka agreement which “basically leads to Belarus being annexed by the Russian Federation.” Other resolutions were not immediately available. Following the congress, some 5,000 supporters–by the authorities’ probably understated count–staged a procession in Minsk behind the congress leaders (Russian Television, Russian agencies, January 29, 30).