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Post-Soviet Belarus: A Timeline

RFE/RL presents an annotated timeline of major events in the post-Soviet experience of Belarus up to the 19 March presidential ballot.

19 March 2006: Presidential election. (See, More Simulated Democracy For Belarus.)

21 February 2006: The Belarusian KGB stages a series of "preemptive" raids against opposition targets in the run-up to the March vote.

19 February 2006: The month-long official election campaign period begins.

1 February 2006: Uta Zapf , head of the Belarusian working group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), tells a news conference in Minsk that it is "extremely important for the election to be fair, for results to be transparent." Zapf says the OSCE will send 400 observers to monitor the 19 March vote.

30 January 2006: Opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich tells RFE/RL:'"It is the first time during Belarus's independence that all healthy democratic forces, despite their [different] political views, have united to change the situation in Belarus for the better, to build a state that will respect its citizens and will be respected in the world. Everybody understands that squabbles between [democratic] parties and organizations play today only into the hands of the ruling regime."

27 January 2006: Four candidates -- incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, united opposition candidate Milinkevich, Liberal Democratic Party leader Syarhey Haydukevich, and Social Democratic leader Alyaksandr Kozulin submit the necessary 100,000 signatures to qualify for the 19 March ballot. The four are officially registered on 17 February.

10 January 2006: The European Union announces it will fund radio broadcasts into Belarus in an effort to provide independent inforation about the election campaign.

November 2005: The state postal service refuses to deliver three leading opposition publications in what is widely viewed as an effort to restrict information in the run-up to the March election.

6 November 2005: A meeting of EU foreign ministers adopts a declaration saying that sanctions could be imposed if the Belarusian election fails to meet international standards.

4 November 2005: During a nationally televised visit to a small town in southeastern Belarus, Lukashenka tells voters what will happen in the March vote:  "What can you do? You'll elect me."

1-2 October 2005: A congress of democratic-opposition forces in Minsk selects Milinkevich, a doctor in physics and mathematics and a civil-society activist, as their candidate to challenge Lukashenka in the 19 March 2006 presidential election.

7 May 2005: U.S. President George W. Bush describes Belarus as the last dictatorship in Europe.

19 April 2005: Lukashenka tells the National Assembly that he will seek another term as president. "We categorically oppose scenarios for a democratic change of political elites that are displeasing to the West," he said.

11 March 2005: The OSCE's special commissioner for the media, Miklos Haraszti, says restrictions in Belarus have effectively shut down many non-state media outlets.

3 December 2004: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announces it is closing its Minsk office after Lukashenka said earlier in the year that the country does not want any assistance from the international lender.

17 October 2004: Lukashenka holds a referendum requesting Belarusians to lift the constitutional two-limit term on the presidency and allow him to run for the third consecutive term. According to the official results, 86 percent of voters taking part in the plebiscite (77 percent of all eligible voters) approved the initiative. International organizations condemn the referendum.  The same day Belarusians elected deputies to the Chamber of Representatives. An OSCE monitoring mission, which observed only the parliamentary elections, said they fell "significantly short" of democratic standards. The opposition did not win a single seat in the lower house.

4 October 2005: The U.S. Congress passes the Belarus Democracy Act, which Lukashenka denounces as "step of foolish pressure on our country."

7 September 2005: Lukashenka announces he will hold a national referendum that would allow him to run for a third term of office.

23 February 2003: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly accepts the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house established after the controversial 1996 constitutional referendum, as a full member.

14 August 2002: Russian President Vladimir Putin proposes  "ultimate unification" to Lukashenka -- the absorption of Belarus by the Russian Federation as an additional federation subject, following simultaneous referendums on the issue in both countries. Lukashenka rejects the proposal. "Even Lenin and Stalin did not go so far as to try to dissolve Belarus and make it a part of Russia or even of the Soviet Union," he comments.

9 September 2001: Lukashenka is reelected to a second term with 76 percent of the vote. His rival from the opposition, Uladzimir Hancharyk, officially polls 15 percent . An OSCE monitoring mission concludes the election was neither fair nor democratic.

June 2001: Two Belarusian investigators who fled to the United States accuse top Belarusian officials of running a death squad that kidnapped and killed former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, former Central Election Commission head Viktar Hanchar and his friend Anatol Krasouski, and ORT television camera operator Dzmitry Zavadzki. According to the investigators, the four were killed by the squad under the command of Interior Ministry officer Dzmitry Paulichenka, following orders from Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman and Interior Minister Yury Sivakou. The investigators' allegations were endorsed in 2003 by Christos Pourgourides, a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur on high-profile disappearances in Belarus.

7 July 2000: ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadzki disappears in Minsk.

8 December 1999: Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin sign a treaty on the creation of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. The treaty, which calls for the creation of joint power bodies and a common currency, has so far remained mostly on paper.

16 September 1999: Former Central Election Commission head Hanchar and his friend, Anatol Krasouski, disappear in Minsk.

7 May 1999: Former Interior Minister Zakharanka, who switched to the opposition, disappears in Minsk.

May 1999: The opposition marks the end of Lukashenka's presidency under the 1994 constitution by conducting an alternative presidential election. The election -- supervised by former Central Election Commission head Viktar Hanchar whom Lukashenka fired after the 1996 referendum -- involves exiled Belarusian Popular Front leader Zyanon Paznyak and former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir as candidates and tens of thousands of opposition activists of different parties. However, it ends disastrously for the opposition, causing deep and lasting divisions.

August 1998: Financial turmoil in Russia severely hits the Belarusian currency. Inflation in Belarus in 1998 exceeds 180 percent.

June-July 1998: The Lukashenka administration wages the so-called "sewage war" against the U.S. and EU ambassadors, seeking to evict them from their residences at a government compound near Minsk under the pretext that a local sewage system required an overhaul. The EU and the United States retaliate by prohibiting some 30 ministers and senior official in Lukashenka's government from entering their countries, thus inaugurating a longer series of travel ban on Belarusian officials in subsequent years.

2 April 1997: At a Moscow summit, Belarus and Russia sign an accord on transforming the Community of Belarus and Russia into the Union of Belarus and Russia.

24 November 1996: Lukashenka stages a referendum on a radically rewritten constitution that increases and consolidates presidential powers. The referendum also includes questions on moving a national holiday from 27 July (the day of the declaration of Belarus's sovereignty in 1990) to 3 July (the day of the liberation of Minsk from the Nazis in 1944); on the sale of land, and on the death penalty. The Supreme Soviet, following a Constitutional Court decision invalidating the referendum, begins the procedure to impeach Lukashenka. However, it is not able to conclude the process before the referendum is held because of a lack of a quorum. According to official results, more than 70 percent of voters support the constitutional amendments, and more than 80 percent agree with Lukashenka's proposals to change the date of the holiday, prohibit the free sale of land, and retain the death penalty. The opposition claims the plebiscite was heavily rigged. Lukashenka formally implements the referendum decisions by decree immediately after the vote. A majority of Supreme Soviet deputies join a bicameral National Assembly created by Lukashenka in accordance with the amended constitution, while some 80 of them remain loyal to the Supreme Soviet, which was recognized as the official Belarusian legislature at European parliamentary forums until 2001. The amended constitution restarts anew Lukashenka's presidency, thus prolonging his first term in office by two years, from 1999 to 2001.

2 April 1996: Meeting in Moscow, Lukashenka and Yeltsin sign an accord on the creation of the Community of Belarus and Russia. The same day a mass demonstration in front of the presidential office in Minsk protests Lukashenka's policy of integration with Russia. Another mass antigovernment rally takes place on 26 April, the 10th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Shortly before this rally, Belarusian Popular Front leader Paznyak leaves the country, fearing he might be arrested. Paznyak subsequently obtains political asylum in the United States.

14 May 1995: Simultaneously with elections to the Supreme Soviet, Lukashenka organizes a referendum asking Belarusians to approve his policy of close integration with Russia, to give Russian the status of a state language along with Belarusian, to replace the state symbols of independent Belarus with new ones resembling those of the Soviet era, and to give him the right to dissolve the parliament if it is deemed to have violated the constitution. Some 75 percent of voters vote "yes" on all four questions, according to official results. Meanwhile, a new Supreme Soviet becomes operational only after two additional rounds of voting in November and December. The Belarusian Popular Front did not win a single legislative mandate. Lukashenka, who in 1995 called on Belarusians to ignore elections to the Supreme Soviet, gradually begins to run the country by presidential decrees.

10 July 1994: Lukashenka beats Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich in the second round of the country's presidential election, garnering 80 percent of the vote.

19 June 1994: Belarus holds its first presidential election. Lukashenka receives 45 percent of the vote, qualifying for a second round against Kebich, who polled 17 percent in the first round. Democratic candidates Zyanon Paznyak and Stanislau Shushkevich got 13 percent and 10 percent of the vote, respectively.

15 March 1994: The Supreme Soviet adopts a new constitution that introduces the post of president with extensive powers.

14 December 1993: Supreme Soviet Deputy Alyaksandr Lukashenka, chairman of an ad hoc parliamentary commission, delivers a report on corruption in the government that is broadcast live and makes him suddenly extremely popular.

4 February 1993: The Supreme Soviet ratifies the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and approves adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

23 May 1992: Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine agree to destroy or turn over to Russia all strategic nuclear warheads.

8 December 1991: In the Belavezha Forest in Belarus, Belarusian Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, and Russian President Yeltsin sign an agreement on the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, effectively dissolving the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

17-19 September 1991: The Supreme Soviet elects Shushkevich as speaker, replaces the Soviet flag and coat of arms with national symbols (the white-red-white flag and the Knight-in-Pursuit emblem), and changes the name of the state to the Republic of Belarus.

25 August 1991: Following the failed putsch attempt against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a week earlier, the Supreme Soviet declares the independence of Belarus.

27 July 1990: The Supreme Soviet adopts a declaration of the state sovereignty of the Belarusian SSR.

3 March 1990: Belarus holds its first competitive elections to the Supreme Soviet, and the Communists win a majority of seats. The Belarusian Popular Front gains 27 mandates and, with seven other democratic deputies, formalizes itself as the Democratic Opposition faction. The faction becomes a champion of political and economic reforms within the Supreme Soviet.

26 January 1990: The Supreme Soviet passes a law on the languages in the Belarusian SSR, making Belarusian the official language of the republic.

24-25 June 1989: The Belarusian Popular Front Revival is formally established with Paznyak as chairman.

30 October 1988: Riot police in Minsk violently disperse a mass demonstration to commemorate the victims of Stalinism at Kurapaty.

19 October 1988: A gathering of intelligentsia in Minsk establishes the Martyrology of Belarus to commemorate the victims of communism, and an organizational committee for the creation of the Belarusian Popular Front, which subsequently becomes an ardent advocate of Belarus's independence from the Soviet Union.

3 June 1988: The Minsk-based weekly "Litaratura i mastatstva" ("Literature And Art") publishes an article by archeologists Paznyak and Yauhen Shmyhalyou about the unearthing of 500 mass graves of victims of Stalinist repression at Kurapaty, on the outskirts of the Belarusian capital. The article was the first publication in Belarus about crimes of the Soviet-era authorities.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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