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The May 14, 1995 Belarus Referendum required the population of Belarusmarker to vote on four issues:
  1. The state status of the Russian language
  2. Economic integration with Russia
  3. The introduction of new national symbols
  4. The President's right to dismiss the Parliament, if the latter violates the Constitution


The first three issues were described as "posted by President of Belarus for the obligatory referendum"; the fourth was described as "posted by President of Belarus for the purposes of a consultative decision."

The date of the referendum coincided with the date of the elections to the Parliament. On April 11, 1995, the Parliament considered the questions for the referendum, approved the date, but approved only the question regarding economic integration with Russia.

Alexander 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 talk to that composition of the Parliament. 19 members of the Parliament from the Belarusian Popular Front, including Zianon Pazniak, Piatro Sadoǔski and others, decided to carry out a hunger strike within the Parliament building, protesting against the president organizing the referendum despite the parliament's decision. They were beaten and forcibly removed by OMON. The parliamentarians sued the special forces for battery but weren't successful.

A conciliatory commission was called upon to resolve the conflict of President vs. Parliament about the referendum, which was eventually decided in the President's favor.

The voter turnout was 4,823,482 citizens or 64.8% of the total electorate (7,445,820). All four proposals were announced as passed. Of three questions, the one relating to national symbols turned out to be the most controversial.

Questions and vote results

Russian language status

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

83.3% voted for, 12.7 voted against, the remaining ballots were declared invalid.

Integration with Russia

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

83.3% voted for, 12.5 voted against, the remaining ballots were declared invalid.

State symbols

Question: "Do you support the suggestion about the introduction of the new State flag and State Coat of Arms of the Republic of Belarusmarker?"

The new symbols were approved by a ratio of three to one (75.1% for, 9.93% against, the rest declared invalid) of the participants.

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

Alexander Lukashenko had tried to hold a similar referendum before, in 1993, but failed to get 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 in the 1995 referendum.File:Coat of Arms of Belarus (1991).svg|The old coat of arms (Pahonia)File:Flag of Belarus (1991-1995).svg|The old flag

File:Coat of arms of Belarus.svg|The new coat of armsFile:Flag of Belarus.svg|The new flag

Parliament dismissal

This question was described as "aimed at the obtaining of the consultative decision":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?

77.7% voted for, 17.8 voted against, the remaining ballots were declared invalid.

Critics of the referendum

Opposition raised a number of concerns regarding the referendum.

  • The referendum was preceded by a heavy campaign in media (which is overwhelmingly state-owned) 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 "fascist symbolics" What is more, even 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.[257770]
  • The referendum question was formulated in a vague way: a number of people claimed to vote in the belief that "new" are the new ones introduced in 1992, i.e., Pahonya and white-red-white flag.
  • Still another cause for concern has been the number of voters who approved the symbols. In reality, 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 cannot 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


Legal invalidity of the referendum

According to many opposition experts, the 1995 referendum was illegal and thus its results have no legal power:

  • 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.


International reaction

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

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly stated that the referendum in Belarus has violated international standards of elections. The organization noted governmental control over the media, the government's interference into the voting process, obstacles to the opposition's activities etc. US Department of State also criticized the Belarusian government for this referendum

References




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