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Belarus: Lukashenka Stands Condemned But Also Unmoved

Prague, 4 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is back home in Minsk today after having braved a chorus of criticism at the European security conference in Lisbon.

In some ways, Lukashenka may have felt himself satisfied with his performance there. He shrugged off criticism of his autocratic method of government by telling the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit that "it would be counterproductive to try to exert pressure on us or try to interfere in our internal affairs."

Lukashenka rebuked the United States, which, he said, "is a great power, but this does not give it the right to interfere in the affairs of another state." He dismissed Poland's, Lithuania's and Ukraine's worries about the deterioration of the "human rights situation" in Belarus by saying that those countries have "plenty of problems of their own." And he told an inquisitive Norwegian reporter that Belarus is more democratic than Norway.

And he vetoed any mention of the Belarus problems in the summit's final declaration. He did this with Russia's support.

But can he assume that this self-asserted toughness makes him respectable in the eyes of the international community?

His policies have been roundly condemned by many world and European leaders. He was openly ostracized at the summit as fellow presidents and other leaders had gone to great lengths to avoid even meeting him (Portugal's president canceled a scheduled meeting).

U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Britain's Prime Minister John Major, Irish Premier John Brutton, Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski were among those who publicly condemned Lukashenka's methods.

OSCE current chairman Flavio Cotti, who is Swiss Foreign Minister, yesterday summoned Lukashenka to tell him that most members of the international community regard the recent referendum extending Lukashenka's powers as illegal and should be regarded as null and void.

Subsequently, Cotti's office issued a public statement of the OSCE leadership, which currently consists of Switzerland as well as Denmark and Hungary, confirming "the widely shared conviction that the referendum...was conducted in contradiction with the constitutional procedures and cannot be considered as legitimate." The statement urged Lukashenka to respect civic and human rights in his country.

There has been no indication that Lukashenka responded to that, but neither was there any sign that he was affected in any significant way. In any case, the Belarusian public seems to have been left unaware of Lukashenka's problems in Lisbon. He tightly controls the media.

Meanwhile, three judges of Belarus' Constitutional Court, including its chairman, resigned yesterday in protest against Lukashenka's methods.

The court's chairman Valery Tikhinya and judges Mikhail Pastukhov and Alyaksandr Vashkevich submitted their resignations to Semyon Sharetsky, head of the legitimate parliament. The legislative chamber has recently been illegally supplanted by a new house assembled by Lukashenka after he claimed the right to do so following a victory in the referendum.

Judge Pastukhov told Western reporters that he and his colleagues viewed the referendum and the changes imposed by Lukashenka as "illegitimate." He also said that they could not serve in the court, which is certain to be fully controlled by the president.

The court has been long critical of Lukashenka's methods, finding 19 of the president's decrees illegal. Lukashenka has consistently ignored the court's rulings.

There is almost no likelihood that the president will change either the methods or the style of his rule any time in the future. But there is also little doubts that Belarus' political problems will not go away. They may, if fact, only grow and intensify.