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Russia and Belarus
 

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Russia and Belarus

by Linda DeLaine

The leaders of Russia and Belarus; Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alexander Lukashenko; agreed, on December 25th, 1998, to a merger of their two countries.

Belarus is a former Soviet State whose capital is the city of Minsk. The merger unites the 10 million people of Belarus and the 147 million of Russia.

In 1997, Lukashenko and Yeltsin signed the Treaty on a Union Between Belarus and Russia. Lukashenko, who became president of Belarus on August 10, 1994, is noted for his style of government which includes centralization of authority within the executive and not the legislature branch of national government.

The following are the goals of the union state:

- to ensure the peaceful and democratic development of the fraternal peoples of the participating states, strengthen their friendship, and increase well-being and the standard of living;

- to complete the formation of a customs union and create a unified economic space to ensure socio-economic development on the basis of combining the material and intellectual potentials of the participating states and using market mechanisms of the operation of the economy;

- to constantly observe fundamental human and civil rights and liberties in accordance with generally accepted principles and norms of international law;

- to conduct a coordinated foreign policy and policy in the area of defence;

- to form a single legal system of a democratic state;

- to conduct a coordinated social policy focused on creating conditions to ensure a person's life of dignity and free development;

- to ensure the security of the union state and to fight crime;

- to bolster peace, security and mutually advantageous cooperation in Europe and throughout the world and to develop the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Those in favor of the Union see it as building block for closer relations between the former Soviet republics. The Russia-Belarus merger will create a gradual development of intranational agencies. The merger with Belarus is very important to Russia. Unlike the other Baltic states, Lukashenko a Russian nationalist and strongly in favor of a revival of Russia as a powerful world leader. Anyone who trembles at the idea of a strong Russian empire also fears and dislikes Lukashenko.

Alexander Lukashenko expresses open dislike for the West. The West is not fond of Lukashenko but cannot say too much about his undemocratic approach to governing his nation. Latvia and Estonia, who are being readied for NATO and EU memberships, are not democratic in practice, either. Somewhere between 25 to 40 percent of the people do not have the right to vote because they are Russians.

The Russian - Belarus union focuses on practical issues of quality of life, commerce and trade. Trade with Russia consitutes about 55 percent of Belarus' total foreign trade activities. Belarus is second only to Germany in trade with Russia. In typical form, President Putin will not comment on any of Belarus' internal issues or electoral system. Russia cannot and will not interfere in the internal affairs of Belarus . . . it is up to the people to make a choice, and we shall respect it. (Strana.ru).

Modern Belarus was first settled in the sixth century by Slavic tribal peoples. By the ninth century, several principalities were formed.

One of them was Minsk in ca. 1067 and the city of Minsk became the principality's capital in ca. 1100. These forerunners of contemporary Belarus became a part of Kievan Rus' and embraced Orthodox Christianity. Minsk quickly became, due to its central location, the primary trade center of the region.

In 1326, the Belarusian region was absorbed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. For a time, the Belarusians had considerable influence on the largely pagan Lithuanians. Eventually, Lithuania adopted Roman Catholicism and merged with Poland. As Poland was divided up, Belarus found itself a part of the Russian Empire, in 1793. During the 1800's, Belarusian industry grew as did a sense of national awareness. This was encouraged by the peasant revolt of 1863, led by Konstantin Kalinovsky. During this time, Belarus produced the poets Yakub Kolas and Yanka Kupala.

Belarus declared her independence in 1918, after the fall of the Romanov Dynasty in Russia. The region was to be divided between Poland (west) and the new Soviet Union, in the east (1920). At the onset of WWII (1939), Poland's holdings in Belarus were claimed by the USSR. Belarus served as a major battle field in the European war and suffered greatly. Her capital city of Minsk, saw virtually total destruction, was occupied by the Nazis and was home to the only Jewish Ghetto in the Soviet Union. After WWII, Minsk and Belarus were rebuilt and grew to even greater industrial heights.

Reforms of the 1980's, known as Adradzhenne or rebirth, led to worker unrest and contributed to the eventual fall of the USSR in 1991. Belarus declared its sovereignty on July 27, 1990. Fearful of renewed Soviet domination, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed with its ceremonial headquarters at Minsk. On December 8, 1991, the Slavic republics of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus founded the CIS. Eleven of the twelve remaining former Soviet states joined on December 21st. The last, Georgia, finally joined the alliance in 1993. Modern Belarus is bordered to the west by Russia, Ukraine to the south, Poland (now a NATO member) on the east and Lithuania and Latvia to the north.

The original goal of the CIS was to form a common defense system, currency and a free-trade zone. At the same time, each republic's borders and unique sovereignty were to be acknowledged and upheld. The CIS soon found that it was unable to control conflicts among its membership including the restoration of its numerous displaced people. By the end of 1993, each state had established its own military and most had created its own currency. Belarus passed and enacted its constitution on March 1, 1994.

On March 12, 2002, Russia and Belarus took measures to merge their economies. They agreed to streamline tax and custom laws and energy prices as well as do away with any remaining trade barriers. These new agreements are intended to go into effect on April 1.

This event brings Russia and Belarus another step closer to the realization of the goals set forth by Yeltsin and Lukashenko. President Putin is not as enthusiastic about the project as his predecessor and believes that there is more measures needed to fully integrate the two nations' economies.