Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 70

The liberal Russian press has strongly criticized the proposed union between Russia and Belarus. Most of the criticism has targeted not the concept of union itself but the way in which it is proposed to carry it out. A common complaint has been that the union treaty was negotiated before any public discussion had taken place. The media in Tatarstan are typical on this score, Monitor’s correspondent in the Volga region reports. There, the popular newspaper Vechernyaya Kazan published an emotional column by regular commentator Tanzil Izmailova. She expressed sympathy for the Belarusan people, "forced to defend their independence under a hail of blows." Like other viewers, Izmailova was appalled by footage on Russia’s NTV that showed Minsk police beating up demonstrators. She expressed solidarity with the demonstrators, because "nobody asked me, either, whether I want to rush into some kind of union with anybody. Just as nobody bothered to ask my opinion before sending troops to Chechnya. And, with my silent consent, old people and children died under the bombs while fresh young recruits burned alive inside the tanks. I am not going to keep silent any longer." Izmailova called on the government of Tatarstan to speak up against what she called "the alliance of a democratic state with an openly dictatorial regime." (Vechernyaya Kazan, April 4)

The next day, Vechernyaya Kazan followed up with an article dismissing the nationwide discussion of the union treaty promised by Yeltsin as "in the best traditions of the Soviet Communist party." The newspaper said it supposed Yeltsin did not dare to call a referendum "because it might produce the wrong response." The newspaper also expressed alarm at the fact that the Russia-Belarus treaty is open for signature by other states, seeing this as an attempt to build a new Soviet Union. The five years of the existence of the CIS, the paper wrote, show that the twelve former Soviet republics are growing inexorably further apart, not closer together. "And if, by some miracle, the twelve did decide to form a new union, it would be a union of rivals fighting for hegemony." There are no Bohdan Khmelnytskys to be found in today’s Ukraine, the newspaper concluded, referring to the Cossack leader who united Ukraine with Russia in 1654, and "there is no surgeon capable of stitching the pieces [of the USSR] together again." (Vechernyaya Kazan, April 5)

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