Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 35

The International Parliamentary Association in Support of Democracy in Belarus was founded at a conference in Vilnius on February 12-13. With Belarusan opposition leaders participating, and Western diplomats in attendance, the conference resolved to multiply efforts in the international arena to isolate the Belarusan authorities, support the opposition alliance, strive for the holding of free elections in the country and preserve its independence against a merger with Russia.

The keynote address by Syamyon Sharetsky, chairman of the forcibly dissolved Belarusan parliament, noted that the authorities seem determined to exclude the opposition from the parliamentary elections which are due in autumn 2000. Consequently, the forty-strong legitimate parliament–a rump of the one dissolved in 1996–will continue functioning past those elections as an internationally recognized body. Sharetsky also underscored the fact that most Belarusans oppose unification with Russia and that neither president Alyaksandr Lukashenka–whose legal term of office expired in July 1999–nor his parliament has the democratic legitimacy required for signing and ratifying unification treaties with another country.

Lithuanian Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis described the conference as proof of international concern about Belarus, but also warned against a tendency on the part of “some complacent West Europeans to give up Belarus as lost.” Landsbergis observed in his address that the “source of the antidemocratic processes in Belarus is to be sought in Russia,” whose successive governments helped Lukashenka consolidate his power. “The games with Belarus are being played in Moscow, not in Minsk,” he said. “The situation in Belarus is unlikely to change for the better until democratic Europe and the world clearly point to Russia as responsible for [creating] that situation.”

Emanuelis Zingeris, chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, who is a leader of the Jewish community of Lithuania, addressed the conference to underscore the international stake in the democratization of Belarus. The intervention of Zingeris can also be seen as a stand taken with regard to the political overtures, which Lukashenka recently attempted to extend to the international Jewish community and to Israel. The main organizer of the Vilnius conference, parliamentary deputy Saulius Peceliunas, is also a moving spirit behind efforts to organize independent radio broadcasting in Lithuania for Belarusan audiences across the border.

Sharetsky and his predecessor as chairman of parliament, Stanislau Shushkevich, had been received by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in Washington shortly before the Vilnius conference. Talbott declared that the Russia-Belarus Union State Treaty, signed last December, “can not be regarded as an expression of the Belarusan nation’s will…inasmuch as any merger among countries should be a result of democratic processes.” On February 14, more than 1,000 members of the Young Front–a component of the Belarusan popular front–made the same point at a rally and procession in Minsk under the motto, “Belarus to Europe.” The rally’s resolution, handed over to the diplomatic missions as a Valentine Day’s card to the outside world, appealed for “solidarity with those striving for an independent, democratic and authentically European Belarus” (BNS, Vilnius Radio, Belapan, February 12-15).