1995 Belarusian referendum Information

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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 violated international standards. Members of the opposition claimed that the organisation of the referendum involved several serious violations of legislation, including the constitution. [3]

Background

Before becoming president in 1994, Alexander Lukashenko had tried to hold a similar referendum on state symbols in 1993 while still an MP, 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]

Symbol Existing Proposed
Coat of arms Coat of Arms of Belarus (1991).svg Coat of arms of Belarus.svg
Flag Flag of Belarus (1918, 1991-1995).svg Flag of Belarus (1995-2012).svg

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 Zianon Pazniak, Piatro Sadoŭski 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, and decided in favour of President Lukashenko.

Questions

Voters were asked four questions:

  1. Do you agree with assigning the Russian language the status equal to that of the Belarusian language?
  2. Do you support the actions of the President aimed at economic integration with Russia?
  3. Do you support the suggestion about the introduction of the new State flag and State Coat of Arms of the Republic of Belarus?
  4. 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?

Results

Question For Against Invalid/
blank
Total
votes
Registered
voters
Turnout Result
Votes % Votes %
Giving Russian language equal status 4,017,273 86.8 613,516 13.2 192,693 4,823,482 7,445,820 64.8 Approved
Economic integration with Russia 4,020,001 87.0 602,144 13.0 201,337 Approved
New flag and coat of arms 3,622,851 78.6 988,839 21.4 211,792 Approved
President can dismiss parliament 3,749,266 81.4 857,485 18.6 216,731 Approved
Source: Nohlen & Stöver

Reactions

Domestic

The opposition questioned 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 галасаванні (рэферэндуме)), 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.

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 Council) during the Great Patriotic War. For example, the first leader of the post-Soviet Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich, in an interview mentioned that Pahonia was portrayed by the state-owned media then as 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 1991
  • 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 BPF Party 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]

According to Mikhail Pastukhov, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of Belarus, the referendum are "invalid from the legal point of view and should be abolished". [10] He agrees with the point that numerous issues related to national history, traditions, culture and language were put to the referendum in violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. [11] According to Pastukhov, Pahonia and the white-red-white flag remain the state symbols of Belarus de jure. [12]

International

The Russian State Duma issued a statement supporting the official results of the referendum. [13]

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly stated that the referendum violated international standards and noted concerns over governmental control over the media, interference with the voting process, and obstacles to the opposition's activities. [14] The US Department of State also criticized the Belarusian government over the referendum. [15]

Aftermath

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

References

  1. ^ Dieter Nohlen & Philip Stöver (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p252 ISBN  978-3-8329-5609-7
  2. ^ a b Nohlen & Stöver, pp255-256
  3. ^ "› Беларуская Салідарнасьць » Сяргей Навумчык: Парушэньні ў часе рэфэрэндуму - 1995". Bielarus.net. Retrieved 2017-01-10.
  4. ^ The national flag of the Republic of Belarus Vexillographia (in 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 (in Belarusian)
  6. ^ Analysis by former parliament member Siarhei Navumchyk
  7. ^ Interview with Shushkevich Archived 2005-03-30 at the Wayback Machine Zerkalo Nedeli, 27 May 1995 (in Russian)
  8. ^ The Referendum of 1995 as an Attack on Belarusian Language and Belarusian Historical Memory BPF Party
  9. ^ 1995-2005: Decade since the referendum on the status of Russian language Radio Liberty
  10. ^ Piletski, Ales. "The day Belarus lost its language, white-red-white flag and Pahonia coat of arms". Euroradio.fm. Retrieved 3 July 2021.
  11. ^ Прафэсар Пастухоў: «Рэфэрэндум 1995 году юрыдычна нікчэмны» [Professor Pastukhou: “The referendum of 1995 is legally invalid” - Radio Svaboda, 14 May 2014. Quote: Міхаіл Пастухоў кажа: пытаньні на рэфэрэндум выносіліся з парушэньнем Канстытуцыі Рэспублікі Беларусь, Дэклярацыі аб сувэрэнітэце, законаў аб народным галасаваньні (рэфэрэндуме), аб выбарах дэпутатаў Вярхоўнага Савету Рэспублікі Беларусь і шэрагу іншых заканадаўчых актаў: «Для прыкладу возьмем моўнае пытаньне. Беларуская мова была адзінай дзяржаўнай, пра што запісана ў артыкуле 17 Канстытуцыі. Гэта пацьвярджалася і ў Законе аб мовах, які прынялі яшчэ ў 1990 годзе. І была прынятая доўгатэрміновая праграма паступовага ўвядзеньня беларускай мовы ва ўсе сфэры жыцьця. Да таго ж у законе аб народным галасаваньні (рэфэрэндуме) было прапісана, што нельга выносіць на рэфэрэндум пытаньні, зьвязаныя з нацыянальнай гісторыяй, традыцыямі, культурай, мовай. То бок гэтыя пытаньні наагул не павінны былі стаць прадметам нейкіх сумненьняў і абмеркаваньняў. І тым ня менш гэтыя пытаньні былі пастаўленыя на галасаваньне». Спадар Пастухоў падсумоўвае: «Гэтыя пытаньні не павінны былі выносіцца на рэфэрэндум. У выніку тое, што адбылося, супярэчыла і Канстытуцыі, і дзейнаму тады заканадаўству. І таму вынікі рэфэрэндуму ня могуць мець легітымнасьці і юрыдычнай моцы з моманту вынясеньня гэтых пытаньняў на разгляд».” ["Mikhail Pastukhou says: the questions were put to the referendum in violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, the Declaration of Sovereignty, the Laws on Popular Voting (Referendum), the Election of Members to the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus and a number of other legislative acts: Take the language issue as an example. The Belarusian language was the only state language, as written in Article 17 of the Constitution. This was confirmed in the Law on Languages, which was adopted in 1990. And a long-term program of gradual introduction of the Belarusian language in all spheres of life was adopted. In addition, the law on popular voting (referendum) stipulated that issues related to national history, traditions, culture and language could not be put to a referendum. That is, these issues should not have been the subject of any doubts and discussions. Nevertheless, these issues were put to the vote. Mr. Pastukhou summarises: “[All] these issues should not have been put to a referendum. As a result, what happened contradicted both the Constitution and the current legislation. That is why the results of the referendum cannot have legitimacy and legal force from the moment these issues are submitted for consideration."
  12. ^ Mikhail Pastukhou: Pahonia And White-Red-White Flag Remain State Symbols Of Belarus - Charter'97, 14.05.2019. Quote: "All these factors suggest that the vote was held under duress, most likely with serious fraud. There is evidence (for the most part – from the BPF observers) that, especially in rural areas, there were violations of the law, stuffing. The “referendum” of 1995 and its outcome cannot be recognized as legitimate. This means that the symbols that acted according to the laws of 1991, remains legal and legitimate, which is also true about the status of the Belarusian language,” – ex-judge of the Constitutional Court of Belarus Mikhail Pastukhou concluded."
  13. ^ In connection with the results of a referendum May 14, 1995 in the Republic of Belarus State Duma of the Russian Federation Archived September 9, 2012, at archive.today
  14. ^ "Report on parliamentary elections in Belarus - 14 and 28 may 1995". OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
  15. ^ "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