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Analysis: Lukashenka Slams Opponents On Independence Day

Belarus on 3 July celebrated the 60th anniversary of the country's liberation from Nazi occupation. The date of 3 July, in line with a relevant result of the controversial 1996 referendum, is also Belarus's Independence Day.

Many independent Belarusian observers have noted that the celebrations were very pompous and intentionally oriented by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka toward evoking nostalgia for the times of the Soviet Union, in which the Soviet victory in World War II was the most cherished topic of general education and political propaganda, responsible to a considerable degree for the overall ideological cohesion of Soviet society. Lukashenka also turned the commemoration of Belarus's liberation from the Nazis into a convenient occasion for giving vent to his impassioned oratory and settling accounts with his political opponents, which traditionally included the Belarusian opposition, NATO, and the European Union.

Lukashenka made his speech on the eve of the anniversary, before a solemn gathering of World War II veterans in Minsk. Viewers of all television channels in Belarus, including Russian ones, were compelled not only to listen to this speech, but also to view live relays of official celebrations of the anniversary on 1 July and a military parade in Minsk on 3 July.

Lukashenka said he is worried by the deployment of NATO infrastructure on the territory of Belarus's neighbors and by Ukraine's decision to seek NATO membership. "We have been reassured and told that all this [NATO enlargement] is not targeted against us," Lukashenka said. "But against whom [is it targeted]? In this regard I would like to say definitely again: Belarus is a state that can defend itself."
"We cannot forget that our people were killed not only by German fascist invaders, but also by their henchmen of various nationalities, including Baltic SS officers who burned down Belarusian villages and cities."

Lukashenka attacked the Belarusian opposition for its alleged calls to forget World War II. He explicitly branded the Belarusian opposition as adherents of fascism. "During the domination of nationalists, the main state holiday of the Belarusians was a different day, connected with the breakup of the Soviet Union," the Belarusian president said. "Thus, the ideological successors of fascist lackeys put on the same level Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union -- the union to which the Belarusian people owe their survival and development into a flourishing nation." In mentioning the "domination of nationalists," Lukashenka apparently referred to the period of 1991-95, when Belarus celebrated Independence Day on 27 July, to commemorate the adoption of the declaration on Belarusian sovereignty on 27 July 1990. The label "fascist lackeys" apparently refers to those Belarusian nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis in Belarus in 1941-44.

Touching upon the role of other European states in World War II, Lukashenka said: "If all Europeans had fought the Nazis the way the Soviet people did, the war would not have been so long and difficult, especially for us.... We cannot forget that our people were killed not only by German fascist invaders, but also by their henchmen of various nationalities, including Baltic SS officers who burned down Belarusian villages and cities. Today, being part of the most democratic European Union, they, SS veterans, stage parades and recall their combat past. While their children and grandchildren are disposed again to dictate what order Belarus should have. They went as far as to say that they are sick of stability in our country."

Lukashenka also expressed his discontent with current European policies in general. "We cannot accept the arrogance of European bureaucrats who, in company with a handful of lured oppositionists, are trying to teach Belarus a lesson for its obstinacy," he said. "Those people, aware of the Belarusians' role in the victory over fascism, aware of our Chornobyl misfortune, are seriously concerned about how to make our life worse, brake our development, limit our international contacts, and impose sanctions."

It is worth remembering here that Lukashenka during the last Single Economic Space summit in Yalta in May publicly invited his Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh counterparts -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- to take part in the commemoration of Belarus's liberation anniversary in Minsk. Nazarbaev ignored the invitation completely, while Putin and Kuchma visited Minsk briefly on 1 July, where they took part along with Lukashenka in a dinner with veterans and a wreath-laying ceremony. There were no talks between the leaders, only a purely ritualistic public appearance.

Some Belarusian observers suggested that Putin's reserved behavior during that brief visit to Minsk was intentional, as Putin, they believe, does not want to make a public impression that he supports or approves of Lukashenka's policies. Which should not be so surprising, given the fact that Lukashenka, in the heat of a gas-delivery conflict in February, accused the Russian president of applying "economic terrorism" to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 2 March 2004). What is more, Putin quite unexpectedly proposed in late May to hold an informal summit of CIS leaders in Moscow on 2-3 July, that is, exactly when he was invited to visit Minsk. Some Belarusian commentators saw that proposal as Putin's additional affront to Lukashenka. The informal CIS summit did take place in Moscow, but without Lukashenka.

Instead, Lukashenka on 3 July presided over a parade in Minsk, which involved some 3,000 troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers, tractors, trucks, and household appliances, including Belarusian-made refrigerators and television sets. Participants in the parade included student athletes clad in World War II-era uniforms, farmers driving harvesting machines, and a military band. The show also involved more than 40 civilian and military helicopters and aircraft, including a recently leased Boeing 737.

Lukashenka -- the supreme commander of the Belarusian armed forces -- made his appearance during the parade in a fanciful uniform, which was reportedly very similar to that of a Soviet marshal of the Brezhnev era. He wore a cap with a golden band and trousers with a general's stripes, and had shoulder straps adorned with national emblems. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service has tried to get information from both the Defense Ministry and the presidential press service about who devised and approved such apparel for the supreme commander but none of the addressed officials has been able to give an answer. However, presidential spokeswoman Natallya Pyatkevich divulged to an RFE/RL correspondent in Minsk that Lukashenka's military rank is not marshal or general, but just lieutenant colonel.

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