Transition From Communism: Belarus Essay, Research Paper
The Eastern European country chosen for discussion is Belarus. This paper will first discuss the transition from communism based on the experience of living under communist rule. Second, the significant historical factors from 1920-1991 that led to the fall of communism will be given and traced as to how they affected the process of the transition. Finally, the choices made by Belarus during and after the transition period will be traced back to historical and transitional factors that influenced them. Inarguable evidence will be noted throughout the paper to prove the need for transition from communism and the problems with the transition. The country of Belarus is still in transition. How do they compare? Most if not all of the other former Soviet Republics have reached a post-transition status.
The transition from communism is negatively experienced by Belarus due to the recurring problems with Russia in the former Soviet Union. The historical factors that affected transition are the emergence of Belarus nationalism, which is generally credited to the Nasha Niva, a journal published in the 1906-1915 period, and the abandonment of “belorusizatiia”, which was the policy of national language for each individual republic, in the 1930’s (Altshuler 1998). The ethnic-national conflict, which was created roughly over the past 80 years, was not solved with the break-up of the Soviet Union. This was because of Soviet national policy and how it established “independent” states that were solely dependent on the Communist Party Central Committee (Altshuler 1998). The possible unification of Belarus and Russia is also very important because of how it is affecting transition. The unification is slowing transition to a crawl, when looked at from the opposition to Lukashevko. Choices that are being made to day reflect an authoritarian renewal. The country of Belarus elected Aleksandr Lukashevko in 1994 as their first president, this was detrimental to the complete success of a transition to democracy.
Belarus proclaimed independence in March 1918 after the collapse of the Russian Empire following the Polish-Soviet war. The eastern region became part of the Soviet Union and Poland occupied the western region. Belarusian nationalism, which is credited to the Nasha Niva, the journal published in the 1906-1915 period, was of critical importance to the Rebirth Movement for self-determination of the Belarusian people at that time, and the name has strong symbolic value today (Altshuler 1998). Publication of the Nasha Niva wasn’t seen again until 1991. It uses traditional Belarusian orthography which was banned in 1933 as part of the Stalinist anti-nationalism and Russification. So when Belarus declared its independence in 1918 they also began this nationalistic movement only to see it come to an end when the Soviet Union took control prior to World War II. Belarus suffered enormous devastation and lost one-quarter of its population during the war. Belarusian nationalism was frowned upon by the Soviet Union and their national identity stripped. Soviet policy towards language was good up through the 1930’s. The policy of “belorusizatiia” gave clear priority to the language of the Belarusian nationality. The framework of this policy had Soviet authorities encouraging schools who worked with the Belarusian language. This linguistic policy was intended to give this language a prestige status and to encourage the use in private and public life (Altshuler 1998). As said, this policy was abandoned in the 1930’s and encouragement of the use of the Russian language gathered strength in the fifty years following World War II. This really stripped Belarus of a national identity, they were forced to abandon their national language and accept the Russian language as their own. The experience with communism from the beginning didn’t favor Belarus in the sense that once they finally gained independence it was taken from them and the one thing that made Belarusian, their language, was replaced with the language of those who intended to rule them.
When the Bolshevik leadership took power they did not abandon their attitude on the merger of nations and ethnic groups, which in practice meant Russification and absolute enslavement to the central government. On the other hand, they emphasized the need to develop nationalist expression in various fields (Altshuler 1998). This is the ethnic-national conflict. Each Union Republic was regarded as a sovereign state unit and given a form of Soviet government. They had state flags, anthems, and other such emblems that gave expression to their nationality. The more Communist party rule became dominant and laid down the law in all walks of life and down to the last detail, the institutions and emblems designed to reflect sovereignty and/or ethnic autonomy had less and less real meaning (Altshuler 1998). This didn’t solve any of the problems because it supposedly recognized national rights and deprived them at the same time. So as long as the Communist party had power of intervention, the power of individual nations would never take precedence. This conflict would continue even though efforts were made to make people feel as though their nation was run by leaders of it’s own descent. This was the Soviet policy of taking each nation’s managerial elite along with Russians and appointing them to prominent posts within the Republic (Altshuler 1998). These elite groups were completely dependent on central authorities and the problems were not averted. So it can be said that the Communist party would solve ethnic-national conflict by increasing individual nation’s power but diverting it to the central power of the Union.
During the transition stages the choice to seek unification with Russia would mean complete loss of independence and incorporation into Russia, Belarus will disappear from the map of modern Europe (Pastukhov 1997). The Declaration adopted on July 27, 1990 says that any forcible actions against the national state order of Belarus on the part of political parties; public associations and individuals shall be prosecuted by law. The idea of Belarus’ state sovereignty formed a basis of the country’s Constitution (Pastakhov 1997). So then unification would be unconstitutional and the only way for it to happen is for Belarus to vote the surrender of Belarusian sovereignty and statehood. This would seem extremely unlikely but it turns out that the president alone can surrender the whole country. Having signed agreements with the neighboring state he actually gives it a free path for invasion (Pastukhov 1997). President Aleksandr Lukashevko was democratically elected to office in 1994 becoming the first president of Belarus. In June 1996, the new Belarusian National Assembly, which was not the result of general elections, unanimously approved changes to the Law On the Presidency, giving the president almost unlimited powers and control over the legislature and the courts of law (IHFHR 1998). Since a referendum proposed by Lukashevko in 1996 was adopted the separation of powers laid out in the 1994 constitution have ceased to exist in Belarus. It is also due to Lukashevko that the unification with Russia is being sought. These happenings reflect an authoritarian renewal, a transitional problem. The short period of democratic transition has been overburdened by too many political transformations going on at the same time, partly strengthening, and partly weakening each other (Agh 1998). The activities of Lukashevko only aggravate the political and economic crisis in Belarus. It seems that democracy is the only way to overcome these problems but it is uncertain if it will prevail in this dictatorial like government. There are groups in Belarus who oppose Lukashevko such as the BPF. The Belarusian Popular Front is a broad political movement who’s objective is the attainment if democracy and independence through national rebirth and rebirth of civil society, which was destroyed by communism and foreign occupation (Belarus Now 1998). The BPF is against “special ties” with gigantic Russia and the strengthening of the semi-colonial status advocated by the communist rulers of Belarus. Lawlessness continues in Belarus today with thousands of reports of human rights infringements. The most interesting are the cases of opposition party officials. Law enforcement and internal security responsibilities are shared by the Committee for State Security (KGB) and Ministry if Internal Affairs (MVD), both of which answer directly to the president. Lukashevko has almost complete control over all aspects of law enforcement and the judicial system. Examples of this gross power include but are definitely not limited to an occurrence on May 7, 1999. On this date former Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Zakharenko disappeared shortly after he told his family over the phone that he was on his way home. Zakharenko, a close associate of the then-detained former Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir, disappeared after voting began in an opposition presidential election initiative, in which Chigir was one of the principal candidates. Witnesses reported seeing Zakharenko on the evening of his disappearance being pushed by several men into an unmarked car. According to Zakharenko’s family, government security officials did little to look for him or inquire into the details of his disappearance (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000). These are not the choices that need to be made in the transition from communism; these are choices that are made in the transition to communism.
In conclusion, there is an obvious lack of transition in the country of Belarus. After the break-up of the Soviet Union the Belarusians were on their way up until 1994 when the elected Lukashevko. With him in office there is no possible way for the people of Belarus to avoid what is happening in their country. Because Belarus is in such a significant geographical location, almost a gateway from Western Europe and Russia, they will probably see help from western countries, especially those involved with NATO, in the fight against communism. As far as the status of Belarus, it is hard to wrap-up the transition when you have failed to transcend.
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