Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 146

Syamyon Sharetsky, chairman of the legitimate Belarusan parliament–disbanded by the autocratic president but recognized internationally–has been in neighboring Lithuania since July 22 and plans to continue his role in Belarus from there. His political ally, and predecessor as pro-democracy parliamentary chairman, Stanislau Shushkevich accompanied him to Lithuania, but has since returned to Belarus. In Minsk, the press service of the legitimate parliament and some opposition figures underscored that Sharetsky was not applying for asylum in Lithuania and would continue discharging his constitutional duties under the internationally recognized 1994 fundamental law of Belarus. Sharetsky is the Belarusan opposition’s most authoritative leader. He becomes the second major figure of the opposition to move abroad. Popular Front leader Zyanon Paznyak did so in 1996, receiving asylum in the United States and remaining active in Belarusan politics by operating mostly out of neighboring Poland.

Interviewed in the Vilnius newspaper “Respublika,” Sharetsky explained that he had received a series of warnings from within the Belarusan security apparatus that violence against him was being planned. Adding plausibility to those warnings was the “disappearance” of Yuri Zakharenka, a former minister of internal affairs who joined the national-democratic opposition. Zakharenka had received similar warnings before vanishing in April; he has not been heard from since and is considered by many–including his family–as a victim of the authorities’ vengeance. Sharetsky will stay in Lithuania “until further notice” and “as long as circumstances require.”

Sharetsky reaffirmed in his interview the Belarusan opposition’s adherence to nonconfrontational, open and legal methods of action and its two-pronged agenda: political democracy and national independence. He urged president Alyaksandr Lukashenka to enter into a political dialogue with the opposition, as urged by the European Union, the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. And he forcefully expressed the Belarusan nation’s European (rather than Eastern-Slavic) identity: “We are a European country entitled to our room in the European home. We don’t want to go to Russia. If Lukashenka wants that, let him take his possessions and go there.”

Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry, confirming the country’s decision to host Sharetsky, cited the situation of dual power developing in Belarus: a parliamentary institution enjoying international recognition de jure and an executive branch whose powers expired on July 20, but which retains control de facto and must as such be taken into account. Lithuania’s Internal Affairs Ministry has provided Sharetsky with a security escort and an official car.

Parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis has received Sharetsky officially and described him as a counterpart. Noting that the single international supporter of Lukashenka’s regime is Russia, Landsbergis advised Moscow–in its own interest–to begin reducing, instead of further deepening, the chasm between its position and that of the democratic West regarding Belarus. Landsbergis recalled his own experience as leader of the national movement in steering Lithuania toward independence through legal methods and painstaking dialogue with Moscow; he predicted that the Belarusan opposition would follow an analogous path (Respublika, July 26; Belapan, ELTA, BNS, Radio Vilnius, July 26-28).

In Minsk, meanwhile, for the second time in the space of a week, some 5,000 supporters of the opposition staged a procession on July 27–this time to mark Independence Day, a national holiday instituted in 1990 and abolished by Lukashenka in 1996. OMON police (a special-purpose detachment) stopped the march, but the participants proceeded to hold a rally–according to reporters at the scene–“literally under the OMON’s shields,” urging the authorities to negotiate with the opposition for a peaceful transition to democratic rule (AP, NTV, July 27; see the Monitor, July 21, 23).