Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 74

. The clock is already ticking toward the May 15 deadline for finalizing the Union Charter, the basic document that will define the degree of sovereignty left to Belarus in the planned union with Russia. Although Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Aleksandr Lukashenko reserved five weeks for "public debate" on the draft charter, published on April 9, no public debate is being observed in Belarus. Instead, the regime is monologuing as the opposition is reduced to airing its views through foreign mass media. "I don’t favor debate, this legal nonsense; debating and talking and then what? We Belarusans don’t need any debate," Lukashenko declared on national television. "All this can be resolved faster than the term [set aside] for debate," echoed Assembly of Deputies’ chairman Anatol Malafeyev. "The charter must be signed because it simply can’t be otherwise."

Lukashenko and his officials claim — as the president did in his annual "state of the country" message, published at the weekend — that Belarus would retain its full sovereignty in a union with Russia. But at the same time they urge that the Union’s supranational bodies be empowered to hand down binding decisions and to carry them out directly. They further claim to be preserving Belarusan national citizenship while supporting the introduction of an overriding "union" citizenship. Such inconsistencies prompted former parliament chairman Myacheslau Hryb (Social-Democrat) to comment that "mongrels like ‘union and national citizenship’ or ‘sovereignty inside a union’ do not qualify for a national political debate but rather for an international medical council" — an allusion to the opposition’s view of Lukashenko as a psychotic personality.

The opposition points out that public support for a union with Russia is considerably lower than assumed abroad and that the project can only be carried out through authoritarian methods. Consequently the formation of a Russia-Belarus Union would be legally invalid, according to the legitimate parliament’s chairman, Syamyon Sharetsky. The opposition is planning mass protests in advance of the May 14 closure of the "debate." At a leadership conference over the weekend, the Popular Front set dates for a series of rallies and demonstrations and for a congress of the movement to plan follow-up strategies. The Social-Democratic Party Hramada held a congress over the weekend, reelecting parliamentary deputy Mikalay Statkevich as its leader and defining its priorities as abolition of dictatorship and defense of independent statehood. (Interfax, April 11-14; Belapan, April 11-13; NTV, April 13; Nezavisimaya gazeta, April 11)

Union with Belarus "Unworkable."