Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 152

Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko told an audience in Hrodna that a presidentially-sponsored commission has drafted constitutional amendments which he proposed in the first place, and that he plans to call a "first Belarus national congress" September 14 to endorse the amendments and a national referendum to officially adopt them. Lukashenko implied that he would dissolve the parliament if the referendum goes his way; and he vowed to block the legislative by-elections planned for November, which are meant to fill some 60 vacant parliamentary seats. Describing the current constitution as "forced upon" Belarus, Lukashenko reaffirmed his support for restoration of the type of state that the Soviet Union was; and he offered to host Russian military installations in Belarus free of charge. "Our friendship with Russia is not for sale," he commented. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, NTV, August 16 and 17)

The September 14 date is clearly meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Red Army’s 1939 invasion of what is now western Belarus. The constitutional amendments reportedly seek to substantially reduce the powers of parliament and the constitutional court in favor of the president, enable Lukashenko to extend his rule well into the next century, and legitimize a transfer of prerogatives of Belarus state bodies to joint Russia-Belarus bodies. A majority of parliamentary deputies appears prepared to resist the proposed changes. Beyond democracy in Belarus itself, the stakes of this constitutional conflict involve the international balance of power in central Europe and the Baltic region. Moscow’s response to Lukashenko’s initiatives will test the Russian government’s own commitment to reforms and its policy intentions toward countries in the Western region of the former Soviet Union.

Tajik Government Forces at Bay.