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23 April 2024, 12:12

Lukashenko keeps his word. Unique footage from the first Belarusian People’s Congress

On 24-25 April Minsk will host the 7th Belarusian People's Congress. This time the Congress, which played a decisive role in the history of sovereign Belarus, will sit in the new constitutional status.

In a difficult time for the country, at a time of acute political struggle and social and economic turmoil, President Aleksandr Lukashenko appealed to the people for support by convening the first Belarusian People's Congress in October 1996. Almost 5,000 people gathered to listen to the head of state in the Minsk Palace of Sports, the largest venue in the country at that time. Among them were workers and farmers, heads of enterprises and organizations, representatives of government agencies, social welfare and culture institutions, students, entrepreneurs, military personnel, pensioners, representatives of diasporas, and diplomats. Prior to the forum, thousands of meetings were held across the country that were attended by about 2.5 million people.

BelTA journalists revisited the speech of the head of state at the first Congress in 1996 and looked at what Aleksandr Lukashenko said then, what he promised the people and how it relates to what the country is now. Looking ahead, we would like to note one thing: the president's position on major issues has remained the same for three decades, and much of what he said then sounds as relevant and even prophetic today.





The decisions taken at the 1996 Belarusian People's Congress and a month later at the referendum, shaped the political future of Belarus, modernized the structure of power and set clear guidelines for the development of the country. Since ancient times, the most difficult issues have been resolved at popular veches in the Belarusian lands. It was for this purpose that the head of state convened the first Belarusian People's Congress.


At the beginning of his speech, the president addressed the delegates with the following words: "At the first-ever Belarusian People's Congress, we are facing a choice. Either Belarus remains a hostage in the hands of politicians eager for revenge for their defeats. Or we establish a proper legal order and devote all our efforts, the energy of the people, into solving urgent problems. These days, it is not the fate of President Lukashenko or the institution of the presidency is decided, but the future of the entire Belarusian people."

"Serving the people is not an empty word for me, but an everyday practice. Fulfilling the will of the people who elected me, I try to firmly follow it, I do everything possible to save the country. And now, when we need to take a decisive step forward in social and economic development, in reforming the political system, I want to consult with you, the people who represent the entire Belarusian nation in this hall," the president added.

Almost three decades later, in March 2024, at a meeting to mark the 30th anniversary of the Constitution, Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed that the Belarusian authorities are doing everything they promised 30 years ago. "By and large we have fulfilled everything we promised. Because there is someone to hold accountable. The right of everyone to a decent standard of living is enshrined in the Constitution. These are not lofty words but our real policy and real achievements," the Belarusian leader stressed.

THREE PRIORITIES: EXPORTS, HOUSING, FOOD

"No one will be allowed to rob the country"

Out of all the variety of problems facing the state, the president, first of all, singled out economic issues and outlined ways to raise the standard of living of people, prevent mass unemployment, and provide for people in old age. "Those who used to profit from inflation and embezzlement with impunity regard the measures taken by the president to restore order as a disaster," he said.

The head of state noted that by the time he was elected as president, all most valuable assets in Belarus had already been prepared for sale, “with everyone at the top and next to them knowing what they would grab”. “The election of a person from among the people upset their plans. They know that as long as there is a people's president, no one will be allowed to rob the country," the Belarusian leader stressed.

The proposed program of the country’s social and economic development until the year 2000 proclaimed a course towards a welfare market economy.

In the first years of Aleksandr Lukashenko's presidency, despite the ongoing domestic political crisis, the country still managed to stabilize the economic situation and create the basis for subsequent growth. The decline in the manufacturing sector was stopped, agriculture was saved and a good harvest was cropped. "We have our own bread, milk and meat. Today, perhaps, we are the only country in the CIS that is able to feed itself," the Belarusian leader said at the first meeting of the Belarusian People’s Congress.

It is important that Belarus avoided wild market reforms, which always go hand in hand with mass unemployment. "We have not allowed mass layoffs and will not do it. I set a tough task for the government: if reform implies job cuts, people should not be thrown out on the streets. New jobs should be created for them, and preferably at the same enterprise," the Belarusian leader stressed.

Aleksandr Lukashenko proposed a well-crafted economic policy that will pull the economy out of the crisis within a short time.

Increasing exports of goods and services, housing construction and developing the agricultural industry were identified as priority areas in the program proposed by the head of state.

It should be noted that all these and other tasks had to be solved against the background of the Chernobyl disaster mitigation efforts. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country was left one-on-one with the Chernobyl aftermath, and the head of state made the revival of the affected territories his personal task.

Export and quality: "Everyone should get involved"

The topic of expanding exports, searching for new markets, improving the quality and competitiveness of domestic products is still relevant today. Aleksandr Lukashenko has repeatedly said that the country has not squandered or abandoned the Soviet legacy in the form of large enterprises that once catered for the needs of the entire Soviet Union. On the contrary, Belarus has preserved these competencies and developed them further setting up new knowledge-intensive industries.

In the mid-1990s, these issues were especially pressing for the young state. "The main markets for Belarusian goods have always been outside our country. In the days of the Soviet Union selling them was not a problem. Today we have the opposite picture. It is easier to produce goods than to sell them," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. "In these conditions, we must attach special importance to increasing the competitiveness of goods. To this end, we will provide support for science, transition to resource-saving technologies and develop high-tech industries, improve the quality and reduce the cost of production. We need not only to keep our foothold in traditional markets in Russia and other CIS countries, but also to carve out our niches in the new ones. This is a goal for everyone."

Agriculture: "The land needs a prudent owner"

Many people still remember the empty store shelves in the late Soviet era and the phrase "Bush's legs", a nickname for the drumsticks. All this mess and shortage, sometimes even artificially created by the authorities themselves, could not but affect agricultural producers. The words "kolkhoz", "village" and "rural" began to acquire a certain pejorative meaning, as something backward and outdated.

Naturally, Aleksandr Lukashenko could not put up with this state of affairs. Later on the country launched state programs for rural revival, built agro-towns and became one of the world top exporters of a number of food products. But that came later. At first the country had to decide on the main issue – land ownership. After all, in the "wild 1990s" there were many people who wanted to quickly enrich themselves by selling out this national asset. You don't have to look far for negative examples. We see what this led to in the neighboring countries.

That is why the land issue was among the key items on the agenda of the first Belarusian People’s Congress. A month later, in November 1996, the majority of the country's citizens voted in a referendum against unrestricted purchase and sale of land.

"Agricultural export is an important contributor to our foreign exchange earnings. As for the strategy of reforming agriculture, it should embrace all the good things that proved well in the past and gradually introduce new methods of management,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Work on the land does not tolerate adventurism. The land needs a prudent owner. We should be such an owner. Of fundamental importance is the issue of private ownership of land, in other words purchase and sale of our land."

The head of state, having experience of working in agriculture, warned against the proposals put forward by reformers who offered extreme solutions. The land could simply become an object of speculative purchase and sale, and villagers working on it could find themselves in the position of outcasts and slaves.

"Let's take into account the experience of our neighbors. The descendants of those who owned the land before 1917 can come and claim their rights to a share of our land. What will our farmers, who watered this land with their sweat, be left with? Nothing. Please bear in mind, comrades, that we may face a ‘black redistribution’, with people going at each other with pitchforks," the head of state noted. “Won't the rulers of those countries whose citizens buy up land declare Belarus a zone of their interests? This is how ordinary people put the question, and with good reason. Neither the president nor the Supreme Council has the right to decide the land issue nu themselves. This is the future of our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Only the people themselves can do this. They know the value of our land and bread. Apart from Mother Earth, we have nothing else. By and large, this is our only wealth."

Housing construction: "One of the locomotives for bringing the economy out of the crisis"

Aleksandr Lukashenko clearly understood that the construction sector is like a mirror of the economy. Moreover, we already had our own construction resources and organizations. These are jobs. Tenants of new apartments also need to make repairs and buy furniture and household appliances. This means that there is a need for a huge list of domestic goods.

"Housing construction is not only about taking care of those in need. This is a powerful sector of the national economy, which itself can become one of the main locomotives for bringing the economy out of the crisis. On the one hand, it will revive the entire construction industry. On the other hand, it will solve the most important social problem, namely housing. This right is guaranteed by the Constitutional," the president said at the first Belarusian People’s Congress.

In the same vein, the head of state spoke about the development of the real sector of the economy: “Increasing the production efficiency and developing the real sector of the economy is not a goal in itself. When we resolve these problems using the instruments of the constitutional reform, we will make the life of Belarusian people better.”

The head of state paid special attention to the underdeveloped service sector, and pledged direct and significant investments and tax benefits for this industry.

PRIVATIZATION, BANKS AND PRICES

“We stopped the reckless grabfest”

Aleksandr Lukashenko urged to approach denationalization very cautiously, especially that of quite successful enterprises. Unfortunately, it was quite common in many former Soviet republics when enterprising business people and criminals got their hands on nearly entire industries virtually overnight in the 1990s. In Belarus this scenario was thwarted.

The president did not deny the importance of promoting private ownership and entrepreneurship, but he realized already in 1996 that the decisions made by former Soviet republics were quite controversial. “Therefore, it is surprising that my critics in the West and the East evaluate the progress of Belarus'reforms by the percentage of enterprises that went into private hands. They believe that the higher it is, the better the reforms are going. They do not care whether denationalization is done fairly or whether state assets are simply plundered, whether privatized enterprises improve their performance or simply go down and their workers are thrown onto the street. We stopped the predatory “grab-it-ization” that helped many people line their pockets,” said Aleksandr Lukashenko.

At the same time, Belarus has not dismissed the idea of civilized privatization. According to the head of state, it should meet two main criteria. First of all, privatization should increase the efficiency of an enterprise. Secondly, denationalization and privatization should benefit people, and not thieves and crooks.

“Privatization should not be undertaken without the consent of labor collectives. They should retain the right to make decisions in matters of employment and other social issues. We have supported and will support healthy entrepreneurship, but we have resisted and will resist attempts to illegally seize the most lucrative state-owned assets,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.

Task for banks: “Invest in production, not speculate in loans”

Speaking about plans to reinstate order in the monetary and banking sector at the first Belarusian People's Congress, Aleksandr Lukashenko said that a number one task for banks was investing in production instead of speculating in loans. The most important task for the government and the National Bank was to establish the exchange rate of the ruble against foreign currencies, which was crucial for exporters and households.

Pricing: “Price rise should be tied to the rise in real household income”

Aleksandr Lukashenko promised people that the pricing policy would combine the flexible use of market mechanisms and reasonable regulation of prices and tariffs for products and services of monopolists. In fact, the country has not abandoned this approach ever since. The president, as before, holds the government accountable for any unjustified price rises; the increase in tariffs and prices for services is exclusively predictable and does not hit households hard.

“Increases in prices and tariffs, especially for housing and utility services, will be tied to the rise in real incomes of people. We will not follow the path of those countries where housing and utility bills are bigger than pensions and salaries of most of the population,” said the head of state in 1996.

SOCIAL SECURITY AND SPIRITUAL REVIVAL

“The task of the state is to make sure that people do not struggle, but feel confident about their future.”

Belarus is a welfare state. This principle is at the core of all aspects of public life, from pricing to pensions, child benefits, and family capital. The achievements and benefits that many take for granted now were not available in the early 1990s. For example, even pensions were often not paid on time, not to mention their size and purchasing power. When people were too busy thinking how to put food on the table, they had no time to think about spiritual things.

One of the key messages voiced by Aleksandr Lukashenko at the first Belarusian People's Congress was as follows: “The task of the state is to make sure that people do not struggle, but feel confident about their future and the safety of their children, have food on the table, enough money for a vacation, for new clothes for themselves and their children.”

"I believe that our families will have a good life again,” the head of state emphasized.

State support: “Not indiscriminate, but targeted”

Aleksandr Lukashenko assured that protection of rights and interests of people will remain at the heart of his policy: “Every person, every social group can count on the support of the government, but this support will not be indiscriminate, but targeted, differentiated, taking into account the capabilities of the government and households.”

“We will definitely support those who, due to age or health conditions, cannot provide for themselves. Those who are able to work will have an opportunity to work and make money,” the president said.

The state has deliberately taken upon itself the heavy burden of keeping a number of industry giants afloat. This was done to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from ending up on the street.

Demography: “By supporting families, we are building a better future for our people”

Another promise that was fulfilled by the government is support for families, mothers and children. In 1996, this promise seemed undeliverable, but nearly three decades later everyone saw that the president and the government really walked the talk.

Here are the problems the president raised at the first Belarusian People's Congress: “A drop in births and marriages, an increase in divorces and children without parental care - this is the heavy price that we have to pay for neglecting this most important institution of society over the past 10 years. By supporting families, we are building a better future for our people.The government should invest a lot in women's empowerment in order to keep families strong. Economic problems hit women particularly hard, because an economic downturn means fewer kindergartens and fewer jobs for women. Plus, they have to put a lot of efforts to take care of their households.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko assured that the country will continue to support low-income families with children and large families.

Youth: “We will use all legal instruments to go after those who ravage young souls”

People whose youth fell on the mid-1990s are now mature adults who have achieved professional success and raised their children. And most importantly, they have life experience that helps them build a better understanding of how young people are  sometimes dragged in dirty political games. Both then and in 2020, the authors of color revolution projects threw their lot with young people.

“While the president and the government try to help young people, political crooks try to exploit the youth using the principle “the worse, the better”. Knowing how naïve and receptive young people can be, they involve them in extremist activities. Instigators most often get away with it while the deceived youth face bitter consequences,” said the head of state.

He believes that the government should always be there for young people to support and help them if they go through a spiritual crisis. At the same time, Aleksandr Lukashenko called on young people to be active and take responsibility for their life and the country.

“Using this bully pulpit, I want to urge my political opponents to stay away from the youth, if they have a conscience. Do not ruin their lives. And I warn you: We will use all legal instruments to go after those who ravage young souls,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.

Education: “No matter how difficult it is, we will keep funding it”

There is no future without quality education. And where we are now was our future in 1996. Despite all the challenges, the government kept investing in education, and these investments have paid off handsomely.

Suffice it to say that the number of universities has grown from 33 to 50, and students from a hundred countries come to Belarus to study. And just have a look at the beautiful Student Village in Minsk!

“We will fill the constitutional right to education with substance. No matter how difficult it may be, we have allocated and will allocate funds to upgrade infrastructure, to introduce new technology, to improve training, and to financially support school and university students, postgraduate students, and teaching staff,” Aleksandr Lukashenko promised. “We will find a way to bankroll new construction projects, to renovate classrooms and dormitories.”

The head of state also spoke about the importance of scaling up internship programs, improving the financial situation of teachers and increasing the prestige of the profession.

Moving to science, Aleksandr Lukashenko reproached the scientific community: despite the money invested, research outputs, especially in applied research, left much to be desired. “We need to reduce the inflated bureaucracy. This will save us funds that can be used to support scientific schools and talented young scientists,” he said.

Healthcare: “The state is aware of problems and is looking for their solution”

Speaking at the first Belarusian People's Congress, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that the overall health of the nation sharply deteriorated, although the healthcare system tried to maintain the scope of free medical care.

“Only the state-run public health system will be able to provide essential medical services to the population. The government acknowledges the problems in this field and is looking for ways to resolve them. They include the debt burden of healthcare institutions, low wages of healthcare workers, and the outflow of highly qualified personnel,” the president said.

He announced the reinstatement of the national immunization system and other national disease prevention programs. All this, back in the 1990s, made it possible to achieve a sharp drop in diseases, such as diphtheria and measles, primarily in children. The domestic healthcare system handled the recent pandemic much more efficiently than many richer Western countries.

Sport: “A funeral parlor cannot operate from a gym”

Aleksandr Lukashenko is an outspoken advocate of sports and healthy lifestyle. Football, ice hockey, tennis, and skiing are far from being a complete list of the Belarusian leader’s sport hobbies. The president was sometimes criticized for his excessive enthusiasm about the construction of ice arenas and other sports facilities. However, none of the critics will ever be able to calculate how many children, especially those from regions, have got a start in life thanks to these sports facilities, which have become a real alternative in certain complex circumstances.

“We need to restore our good traditions of mass sport movement and organized leisure, to develop individual, family and other types of tourism. People should take care of their health through physical activity and sport,” the Belarusian leader said at the Belarusian People’s Congress. He promised to increase financing of both elite sports and physical education.

Another phrase allows us to compare the way of life then and now. “Starting from 1997 all sports and tourism facilities will be used only for their intended purpose. It is not okay when a funeral parlor operates from a gym in Gomel or when a dealership sells cars from the swimming pool premises in Minsk,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said.

Culture: “We will not allow literature and art to fall victim to wild market ”

Aleksandr Lukashenko spoke little about culture at the first Belarusian People’s Congress. Apparently. There were a lot of other problems to worry about then. The president, however, mentioned the main things, including the importance of preserving the cultural legacy, resources to support the best creative teams, and plans to raise wages in the cultural sector.

"Belarus will continue to host the Slavianski Bazaar festival and other major international forums,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said. “Of course, culture has to learn to live in market conditions. But we will not allow literature and art to fall victim to wild market.”

Spiritual revival: “The nation’s spiritual revival is as important as the economic one”

In his speech, the president also dwelt on the topic of religion and the spiritual health of the nation.

“For many decades we lived in a country where atheism was part of the state ideology. When all of this fell apart, there came a time of de-spiritualization, confusion and vacillation. Many sensitive souls see it as a great tragedy,” the president said. “The nation’s spiritual revival is as important as economic and political ones. Only by setting on the path towards spiritual revival will our people be able to get rid of the grave vices such as crime, drunkenness, drug addiction, the demons of profiteering and debauchery.”

“This is a task not only for our people, but for the entire Slavic world, which today is experiencing difficult times, a hard period of trials. We all need unifying ideas aimed at strengthening the people's cohesion, promoting common creative growth,” the Belarusian leader added.

The president could not have known at that time that a couple of decades later Belarus’ two largest and closest nations would clash on the battlefield. Back then, however, he actually pointed to the root causes of the conflict - the lack of unity and spirituality.

As for Belarus, the head of state has always spoken about Christian values, which should be the basis of the state ideology. “I am convinced that it is Christian values that will be able to unite the Belarusian people and become the basis of its spiritual revival, and, if necessary, become its national idea,” the head of state said in 1996.

WAR ON CRIME

“Organized crime has failed to become a political force in Belarus.”

The USSR collapse, political turbulence and economic turmoil brought about the rise of the criminal world, starting from ordinary pickpockets to large organized criminal groups.

Theft, robbery, drugs, pimping, racketeering, bribing officials and cronies in law enforcement agencies were commonplace then. Driving on the highway was dangerous as you could be robbed and killed. You could easily get mugged while walking at night. Selling goods on a food market entailed sharing your profits with racketeers. This was the Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko took over in 1994.

When speaking at the Belarusian People’s Congress two years later the president emphasized that crime remained the main enemy of the Belarusian society even at that time, while the war on it was one of the priority tasks of the president: “Two years of hard work brought results. The main one was that unlike many other newly independent states, organized crime has failed to become a political force in our country. Unlike a number of other states, our government is not ruled by criminal clans and the country is led by a corruption-free president, forgive my lack of modesty. But we still have a lot of problems.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko pointed to the imperfection of the state mechanism as the main reason why the backbone of crime could not be broken at that time. Many cases simply fell apart in courts, while the prosecutor's office was subordinated not to the president, but to the Supreme Council - the parliament.

“The prosecutor's office has to pay heed to the MPs, many of who made their fortunes in dubious ways. These people would not pass laws which can help put a large embezzler in jail,” the Belarusian leader said.

ARMED FORCES AND SECURITY

“Those who think that the army is not important are nothing but fools”

From the very first days of assuming the president’s office, Aleksandr Lukashenko faced another difficult problem, which was the need to save the system of government bodies that ensured the security of the country and its citizens.

“Mindless downsizing, insultingly low salaries, bullying and slander in the media have brought the army, state security and internal affairs bodies to the brink of total destruction,” the president said. “Under incredibly difficult conditions we managed not only to save but also to strengthen these government structures. Today they are organized, strong and capable of defending their country and people. Politicians eager for revenge will not be allowed to smear them and play political games.”

Aleksandr Lukashenko emphasized that the presence of effective armed forces and law enforcement agencies is a condition of external security, which Belarus should take care of on its own after gaining independence. “Those who think that the world is so safe that the army should be dismantled are nothing but fools, pardon my rudeness. There is an old truth, which has been proved right many times: those who are reluctant to feed their own army shall feed a foreign one,” the head of state said.

Today Belarus has an effective functioning system of national security, which is based on the Armed Forces. The army is equipped with modern weapons and hardware. The troops receive new models of aviation, missile-artillery, armored vehicles, motor vehicles and communication equipment, including domestically produced ones.

FOREIGN POLICY

“The main goal in foreign policy is to please neither the West nor the East, but to serve the interests of citizens of my Belarus”

In the first half of the 1990s, some figures tried to push Belarus to the nationalistic path of development, but this idea failed to garner people’s support. People were waiting for more balanced steps from the authorities, and Aleksandr Lukashenko proposed such a plan: “I am convinced that the country’s foreign policy should not be a hostage of national-extremist, or right-wing, left-wing, or any other extreme ideas. National and any other extremism tramples on the interests of ordinary people, inevitably leads to confrontation, conflicts and victims. One does not need to go far for examples. Look at the bloodshed and loss of life in various regions of the former Soviet Union. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions are growing in many countries.

“For me, the main goal in foreign policy is not an abstract idea, not the environment, not the desire to please the West or the East, but to serve the interests of the citizens of my Belarus, regardless of what language they speak and what god they pray to,” the Belarusian leader emphasized.

Aleksandr Lukashenko proclaimed the course towards building a multi-pronged, balanced foreign policy, which implied, first of all, maintaining good relations with neighboring countries.

The country did not give up on its traditional cooperation with the post-Soviet countries either. Even then, Belarus was an active participant of the CIS, as well as other integration formats, which became the prototypes of the current Union State and the Eurasian Economic Union.

“Distinguished delegates, in today’s world we should not believe anyone's word. We must choose our friends and allies wisely and, most importantly, live by our own wits, think about the interests of the Belarusian people, do not try to please anyone,” the president emphasized.

Friendship with Russia: “This is a guarantee of our country’s sovereignty”

Since gaining independence Belarus-Russia relations have had their ups and downs. There were trade disputes and wars of words at the top political level. No one however can reproach Aleksandr Lukashenko for rejecting the idea of equal and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia. On the contrary, he has been actively promoting it throughout the years of his presidency.

The head of state likes to repeat that the relations between the two countries were once saved by contacts at the regional level. We should say for our part that a lot of credit for this goes to Aleksandr Lukashenko.

A lot has been done in the Union State for the past 25 years. The most important thing is that citizens of Belarus and Russia do not feel like foreigners when visiting each other. These are the achievements that have long become commonplace for the people of the two states. Their importance can hardly be overestimated.

“You know very well that our eastern policy is not about energy resources and sales markets. This is an extremely important thing of course. There are however others, even more important things. Friendship with Russia is a guarantee of the sovereign existence of our state. To say otherwise means either to acknowledge your ignorance or actually indifference to the fate of your own country and its people under the guise of the struggle for national independence,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the first Belarusian People’s Congress.

The president has never closed the door to cooperation with other countries, emphasizing that he is against the dilemma “either with Russia against the West, or we with the West against Russia”. I am in favor of being friends with both the East and the West. As in all other things I advocate honesty and fairness in foreign policy,” the president said.

NATO expansion: “New division of the continent and a new confrontation are imminent”

The Belarusian head of state made a genuinely prophetic statement in 1996. Back then he already saw double standards in the approaches practiced by Western politicians. “For instance, consider the expansion of NATO. The protection of Western democracies from the so-called Soviet military threat was the main reason behind creating this bloc. It has been more than five years since the USSR and the Warsaw Pact collapsed. Everyone admits that Europe faces no threat of an armed aggression. Nevertheless, NATO military structures have not been disbanded. They are advancing to the east and are about to reach Belarus’ borders. The threat of a new division of the continent and a new confrontation is imminent,” the president said.

At that moment Aleksandr Lukashenko did not experience strong pressure from domestic opponents and from the West in response to embracing the policy in favor of advancing cooperation with Russia. “If tomorrow the president of Belarus turned towards the West instead of the union with Russia, it is unlikely that ambassadors of Western countries would lodge protests. It turns out that NATO’s expansion is a good thing but an attempt to mount at least small resistance to this expansion of the military bloc is a very bad thing. And the person, who shows such an initiative, is a dictator and an enemy of democracy,” the Belarusian leader remarked.

The West stance on nuclear arms: “Blatant mockery of common sense”

Another prediction made by the president mentioned nuclear weapons and has come true exactly as he said it would. The Republic of Belarus was the first country to voluntarily surrender without any preliminary terms and provisos the possession of the nuclear weapons the republic had inherited after the USSR collapse. The withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the country’s territory was completed in November 1996.

It is unlikely the head of state could have acted differently back then: both the West and Russia insisted on it. Later on Aleksandr Lukashenko plainly stated it had been a mistake because in exchange for “an expensive product” the country received only some security guarantees, which did not prevent Belarus from experiencing the pressure of sanctions for years. Nevertheless, by the president’s will Belarus retained the infrastructure fit for deploying ground-based nuclear complexes. According to an agreement with Russia the country once again has a nuclear arsenal.

If we have to recall Aleksandr Lukashenko’s statements during the first Belarusian People’s Congress, it is worth noting that back then he openly mentioned double standards of the West with regard to the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Belarus. The Belarusian head of state suggested taking an extra step and making space free from nuclear weapons in the center of Europe. “Some NATO states say: we welcome the fact that Belarusians reject nuclear weapons but we cannot undertake the commitment not to deploy such weapons in the countries Belarus borders on. What is it if not blatant mockery of common sense?” he wondered.

Moreover, in that period some countries in the region, candidates for joining NATO openly stated they were ready to deploy nuclear weapons in their territory. “And nobody condemns them for it, including the states that condemn our state,” the Belarusian leader remarked.

A CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

“A country always needs a conductor whether someone may like it or not”

Without going into details of political shenanigans of that period, let us remind you that a referendum took place in Belarus in November 1996. Amendments and addenda to the Constitution were put up for the referendum. One updated Constitution was suggested by the president. Another one was prepared by members of the Supreme Council in opposition to the head of state.

It was necessary to promptly resolve the political crisis. During the Belarusian People’s Congress Aleksandr Lukashenko explained in detail what his proposals were based on.



“Let’s be objective. The Constitution, which was adopted on 15 March 1994, was a step forward without a doubt. It offered the legal foundation for starting the development of a multi-structural economy, for developing democratic institutions, and for ensuring rights and freedoms of citizens. On the whole, the Constitution has proved its viability. This is why we don’t suggest adopting a new Basic Law. And Constitution Day will still be celebrated on 15 March because we are talking only about amending and expanding the Basic Law. The suggested changes are necessary because after two years of working and living under the Constitution we have detected a number of flaws that are fraught with dangerous consequences,” the president said.

The amendments suggested by the head of state contained a number of innovations in the sphere of social protection of people and youth policy. But interaction between branches of power, the renewal of the government structure in the country, and the enhancement of the president’s powers were the most hotly debated parts. “It is obvious that keeping the existing Constitution unchanged or accepting the proposal made by the parliament’s top and by the Communists to abolish the presidency is a direct way towards chaos, towards plundering the nation’s riches, and essentially towards surrendering the country to political opportunists,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

Aleksandr Lukashenko stated that the president, the Supreme Council (the parliament), and the Constitutional Court could not interact smoothly through no fault of the president. While the parliament was responsible for the state of affairs in the country and was dealing with practical problems, members of the parliament and Constitutional Court judges were bent on trying to make him resign. It could not continue forever and the head of state saw a constitutional reform as the only way out of the situation.

Another option was sliding into a very strong confrontation. The president did his best to prevent that. “You have to know that I am interested in accord and civil peace more than anyone else. It is impossible to solve any economic or social problem without them,” he said. “Tell me what will happen if the country is in a confrontation and chaos? The situation will worsen. The opposition always needs a confrontation because things are worse then. And when things are worse, then it is possible to topple the government and the existing authorities.”

The president also drew attention to the source of the contradictions: “The leadership of the Supreme Council do not need a compromise. They want power, revenge for the loss of the presidential election. I am unlucky because all the alternative candidates for the presidency are in the Supreme Council today.”

The opposition resorted to abusive language and intimidation among other things. For instance, the leadership of the Supreme Council said they were in favor of democracy but resorted to an unprecedented step – the National Television and Radio Company was stripped of accreditation for a story about the excessive privileges members of the parliament wanted to legislate for themselves.

Meanwhile, Aleksandr Lukashenko always underlined his readiness for a compromise on a fundamental basis instead of a quid pro quo with political extremists.

The president referred to concrete examples to demonstrate that it was impossible to work under previous conditions.

The head of state compared the Constitutional Court to “a cat that walks by itself”: “They create an unprecedented legal situation out of every private issue and threaten the president, who has been elected by the entire nation, with impeachment.”

Oversight functions in the country needed consolidation. Many executives complained about getting tired of inspections, which were primarily driven by political considerations.

Another example from the president: “Why do you blame me for the ruble’s exchange rate? The exchange rate of the national currency is freely determined at the currency exchange according to laws of our state. These are the laws. And the process is controlled by the National Bank, which no longer reports to the head of state.”

A similar situation with wages at industrial enterprises arose. The head of state was responsible only for the public sector according to the laws back then.

“I have no right to interfere in these processes but I interfere all the time. In spring I force the payment of wages by some deadline. In autumn I force the payment of wages by some deadline. I violate the Constitution by doing that. I am telling you this in front of the entire country. But the Constitutional Court has never condemned me for it because it became a political organ a long time ago and is afraid of condemning the head of state when he violates the law but acts in the interests of the nation,” the Belarusian leader pointed out.

The prosecution service did not report to the head of state either. Due to legislation as well as various corruption schemes the entire law enforcement system was in disarray. It could not fight crime efficiently. Primarily thefts of billions that belonged to the people.

“I am faced with a choice. Do nothing and explain to you that I don’t have the authority or break the law and act. Okay. I will break the law as long as you support me,” the president said. “If you want the president to fight crimes, add it to his functions. And I will know that the nation has identified the rights for me. I am surprised when some oppose the idea of giving me these functions. Well, if you don’t approve of it, fine. I will not be held responsible for it then.”

In his speech Aleksandr Lukashenko mentioned words by a delegate of the first Belarusian People’s Congress: “She spoke in the morning. An art worker. A conductor. It was not really pleasant for me to hear some parts but she is right. She said that she had had a bunch of excellent musicians but they had been nothing without her.”

“This is why a country always needs a conductor whether some may like it not. A small family needs the head of the family to take care of these problems. And you want millions of people to live in this state without this conductor, without this head,” the president said. “Equilibrium, checks and balances… Branches of power should be balanced. But there should always be one leader, who has the authority that you will give him. But he will be held accountable only for the functions that you will give him.”

THE KEY PROMISE TO THE NATION

“If necessary, I will hazard my health to safeguard peace in our common home – kind and holy White Russia”

In conclusion of his speech Aleksandr Lukashenko said the following to the people: “I’d like to assure you as representatives of the Belarusian nation that at the expense of my mind and my capabilities and, if need be, at the expense of my health I will safeguard peace in our common home – kind and holy White Russia. I will do my best so that parents could provide for their families, so that eyes of children would radiate joy, so that the elderly would not feel lonely and hopeless, so that young people would marry each other and enjoy life and have kids.”

“As a token of gratitude for my work I ask only one thing from you: don’t leave me alone after entrusting your destinies to me! Particularly in these complicated times. Stand with me and we will be unshakeable. You have to understand that I have no one else to rely on but you. I have no mafia clans, no political parties. I have no money that anonymous letters say I do. The country’s fate is in your hands! Help me save it for your children and grandchildren! May God protect all of you! May luck attend you!” the Belarusian leader added.
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