Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 204

The Belarusan Popular Front (BPF), in numbers the strongest opposition force in the country, has removed its veteran leader Zyanon Paznyak after painful internal disputes. At the BPF’s congress on October 30-31 in Minsk, more than two-thirds of the delegates voted in favor of deposing the Warsaw-based Paznyak as BPF chairman after eleven years in that post. Decisionmaking authority on strategy and tactics will henceforth rest with the BPF Soym [Council] and the “home” leaders–preeminently Vintsuk Vyachorka, Vyachaslau Sivchyk, Yury Khadyka and Lyavon Barshcheusky, who are adept at exercising that authority collectively. The congress elected Vyachorka, a 38-year-old philologist, as the new BPF chairman.

Last week’s session constituted the second stage of the congress, which had originally convened on August 1 to resolve the leadership issue. That first stage ended in a tied vote because Paznyak’s faction had influenced the preselection of delegates. Aware of its minority status and anticipating the outcome of the follow-up congress, that faction convened its own congress on September 26 and set up a BPF-Christian Conservative Party, avowedly “right-wing,” with Paznyak as its leader. Its orientation can be described as rightist-conservative in the pre-World War II, Central-East European meaning of those terms: They denote organic nationalism, strong executive leadership, a measure of state control of the economy and close relations between the state and a nationally defined Church.

At the October 30-31 congress, Paznyak’s group did not propose to separate from the BPF outright, but to remain within it pro forma and to divide the BPF in two: a political arm–theirs–and a nonpolitical, “social” arm which would conduct grass-roots activities. The congress rejected any such division and deemed the Paznyak faction to have seceded from the BPF (Belapan, October 30-31).

“Right-wing conservative” ideology is in every sense academic in today’s Belarus, where incipient de-Sovietization has been reversed into re-Sovietization. The real dispute–now apparently settled–within the BPF concerned its strategy and alliances. The mainstream leaders, conclusive winners last week, pursue a coalition strategy with the power holders of the early and mid-1990s who lost out to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, are resisting his policies and promote a European orientation for the country. Paznyak’s group for its part dismisses those former officials as “nomenklatura’s opposition,” suspects them of collusion with Moscow and hardly distinguishes them from Lukashenka–even after some of them have been jailed or been “disappeared.” Paznyak’s faction prefers a narrowly based organization of militants loyal to the leader, undiluted by alliances and seeking fulfillment in its own political ghetto.

Paznyak founded the BPF in 1988 and presided over its heady initial years. After 1991, however, the leader’s sectarianism alienated ordinary voters, precluded alliances and condemned the BPF to marginalization. In 1996, Paznyak received asylum in the United States and continued to lead the BPF from abroad, operating mostly in Poland. His divisive tactics proved a serious liability not only to the BPF but to the opposition as a whole. The mainstream leaders should now be able to broaden the BPF’s appeal beyond its constituency of urban intelligentsia and students (see the Monitor, August 3, September 23).