Belarusian referendum, 1995

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A four-question referendum was held in Belarus on 14 May 1995, alongside parliamentary elections.[1] The four issues were the possibility of giving the Russian language equal status with Belarusian, whether new national symbols should be adopted, whether there should be economic integration with Russia and changes to the constitution that would allow early elections if Parliament systematically violated the constitution.[2] According to official results, all four were approved by at least three-quarters of voters, with a turnout of 64.8%.[2]

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly stated that the referendum has violated international standards. Members of the Belarusian democratic opposition underline that the organisation of the referendum has involved several serious violations of the acting legislation, including the Constitution of Belarus.[3]

Background[edit]

President Alexander Lukashenko had tried to hold a similar referendum on state symbols in 1993, but had failed to obtain parliamentary support. Two months before the May 1995 referendum, Lukashenko proposed a flag design that consisted of two small bars of green and one wide bar of red. While it is not known what became of this suggestion, new designs (called "projects" in Belarus) were suggested a few days later, which were then put up to vote.[4]

On 11 April 1995 Parliament considered the questions for the referendum, approved the date, but approved only the question regarding economic integration with Russia. Lukashenko declared that he would not change his decision and would accept personal responsibility for the referendum, and left the Parliament, announcing that it would be his last discussions with Parliament in its current form. Nineteen MPs from the Belarusian Popular Front, including Zenon Paznyak, Piatro Sadoǔski and others, decided to carry out a hunger strike within Parliament, protesting against the president organizing the referendum despite the parliament's decision. They were beaten and forcibly removed by OMON.[5] The parliamentarians sued the special forces for battery but were unsuccessful.

A conciliatory commission was called upon to resolve the conflict between the President and Parliament, which was eventually decided in favour of the President.

Results[edit]

Russian language status[edit]

Do you agree with assigning the Russian language the status equal to that of the Belarusian language?

Choice Votes %
For 4,017,273 86.8
Against 613,516 13.2
Invalid/blank votes 192,693
Total 4,823,482 100
Registered voters/turnout 7,445,820 64.8
Source: Nohlen & Stöver

Integration with Russia[edit]

Do you support the actions of President aimed at economical integration with Russia?

Choice Votes %
For 3,622,851 78.6
Against 988,839 21.4
Invalid/blank votes 211,792
Total 4,823,482 100
Registered voters/turnout 7,445,820 64.8
Source: Nohlen & Stöver

State symbols[edit]

Do you support the suggestion about the introduction of the new State flag and State Coat of Arms of the Republic of Belarus?

Choice Votes %
For 4,020,001 87.0
Against 602,144 13.0
Invalid/blank votes 201,337
Total 4,823,482 100
Registered voters/turnout 7,445,820 64.8
Source: Nohlen & Stöver

Parliament dismissal[edit]

Do you agree with the necessity of the introduction of changes into the acting Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, which provide for early termination of the plenary powers of the Supreme Soviet by President of the Republic of Belarus in the case of systematical or gross violations of the Constitution?

Choice Votes %
For 3,749,266 81.4
Against 857,485 18.6
Invalid/blank votes 216,731
Total 4,823,482 100
Registered voters/turnout 7,445,820 64.8
Source: Nohlen & Stöver

Reaction[edit]

Opposition criticism[edit]

The opposition questions the validity of the 1995 referendum itself. According to Siarhei Navumchyk, former parliament member, the referendum was illegal and thus its results have no legal power:[6]

  • According to the 1995 Law on national referendums (Закон аб усенародным галасаваньні (рэфэрэндуме)), the national symbols and official language were not allowed to be questioned on a referendum at all;
  • Formalities of approval of the referendum by the Parliament have not been carried out;
  • The opposition had limited access to media, observers from the opposition have reported fraud in vote counts.

Besides that, the opposition raised several other issues related to organisation of the referendum:

  • The referendum was preceded by a heavy campaign in the overwhelmingly state-owned media that stressed the fact that the then current emblem was used by Nazi collaborators (Belarusian Central Rada) during the Great Patriotic War. For example, the first leader of the post-Soviet Belarus, Stanislau Shushkevich, in his interview mentioned that Pahonia was called a "fascist symbol".[7]
  • Before the final announcement of the results of the referendum, Lukashenko's Chief of Administration Ivan Titenkov personally hoisted down the old flag from the Palace of Government and shredded it in public.
  • The referendum question was formulated in a vague way: a number of people claimed to have voted in the belief that the "new" symbols were the ones already introduced in 1992
  • The number of voters who approved the symbols, as only 48.6% of the total electorate approved of the new emblem, since over a third of the eligible voters did not express an opinion. Some claim that this failure to win a majority is a violation of the Constitution, but the imperfection and incompleteness of the Belarusian Law did not resolve the issue (in particular, the Constitution does not define the acceptance threshold).
  • Finally, the Partyja BNF and other influential opposition parties state that the referendum, followed by mass closing of Belarusian language schools and minimizing of Belarusian language programmes on national TV and radio, has had a harmful effect on the Belarusian language and culture.[8][9]

International reaction[edit]

The Russian State Duma issued a statement supporting the official results of the referendum that promoted the status of Russian language in Belarus.[10]

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly stated that the referendum has violated international standards and noted concerns over governmental control over the media, interference with the voting process, obstacles to the opposition's activities. The US Department of State also criticized the Belarusian government for this referendum.[11]

Aftermath[edit]

The decrees about the new state flag and new coat of arms were signed by President on 7 July 1995.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p252 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
  2. ^ a b Nohlen & Stöver, pp255-256
  3. ^ http://www.bielarus.net/archives/2009/06/04/1615
  4. ^ The national flag of the Republic of Belarus Vexillographia (Russian)
  5. ^ 10 years agomembers of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, who were holding a hunger strike in Parliament House, were beaten Radio Liberty12 April 2005 (Belarusian)
  6. ^ Analysis by former parliament member Siarhiej Navumchyk
  7. ^ Interview with Shushkevich Zerkalo Nedeli, 27 May 1995 (Russian)
  8. ^ The Referendum of 1995 as an Attack on Belarusian Language and Belarusian HIstorical Memory Partyja BNF
  9. ^ 1995-2005: Decade since the referendum on the status of Russian language Radio Liberty
  10. ^ In connection with the results of a referendum May 14, 1995 in the Republic of Belarus State Duma of the Russian Federation
  11. ^ "Parliamentary elections in Belarus, the U.S. State Department Statement on the elections and referendum in the Republic of Belarus",Belarusian Business Newspaper, 22 May 1995