Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 72

Resistance to the proposed Russia-Belarus Union is gathering momentum in Minsk, not only in nationalist but also in moderate opposition groups, as well as among establishment figures and in mainstream labor circles. Writing in a Moscow weekly, former Belarusan head of state Stanislau Shushkevich grimly observed that "we have survived occupation and shall survive integration." Shushkevich predicted that the Russian government’s push for unification with Belarus will generate a backlash in his country. Citing indications that President Aleksandr Lukashenko had failed to obtain a majority in last November’s constitutional referendum, Shushkevich called for a return to the 1994 constitution — "or else Belarus will see an Albanian scenario." (Moskovskie novosti, No. 14, April 6-13)

At a news conference in Minsk yesterday, United Civic Party leader Stanislau Bahdankevich dismissed the "equality" stipulated in the Union Charter as "unification of a bear and a hare… It is clear to all who will ultimately dictate terms to whom." Bahdankevich and his deputy, Alyaksandr Dabravolsky, also objected to the charter’s provisions on common Russia-Belarus defense as violating the Belarusan constitution, which enshrines the country’s neutrality. Bahdankevich, a respected former chairman of the National Bank and a leading reformer, warned that the opposition would "defend the country’s sovereignty to the last drop of blood." (Interfax, RTR, April 10)

The official Trade Union Federation’s veteran chairman, Uladzimir Hancharik, has in turn objected to some of the charter’s "sweeping formulations… creating a new bureaucratic system through union organs." Dismissing the charter’s provisions on equalizing living standards, Hancharyk wanted to know whether this would be achieved "by bringing Russian wages to the low Belarusan level or by withholding the payment of wages in Belarus the way it is done in Russia." (Interfax, April 9) Shop floor leaders and members of both official and opposition trade unions attended an unusual joint rally in Minsk on April 9, and demanded a voice in the formulation of government policies on economic and political issues. Alyaksandr Bukhvostav, leader of the Association of Independent Trade Unions which supports the democratic opposition, was one of the main speakers at the rally and observed that mainstream labor is becoming increasingly politicized. (NTV, April 9) Minsk sources told the Monitor that some trade unionists are concerned that a Russia-Belarus union could enable Russian state-backed and mafia capital to take over the Belarusan economy.

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