Sergei Kalyakin: The sooner we'll return a parliamentary republic, the faster we'll get back to a normal life
On the night of 21/22 November 1996 in Minsk, the notorious "night meeting" of the president and the Supreme Council in the presence of Russian politicians has happened. Before morning the agreement on socio-political situation and constitutional reform in the Republic of Belarus was signed. Dawn of November 22 gave a hope, that the constitutional crisis in Belarus will go towards a sunset, as newspapers wrote 15 years ago. About why everything went differently, a reporter of UDF.BY talked with participant of the "night of negotiations," a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of 13th convocation Sergei Kalyakin.
- Sergei, whether those "night negotiations" played a key role in the events of November 1996?
- No, they didn't play any special role. Besides, there were several meetings. First there was a preliminary meeting in Smolensk. Lukashenka didn't go there, Chernomyrdin also didn't come, as soon as he knew, Lukashenka won't be there. Sad experience of the parliament's shooting in 1993 was discussed, and we wanted to prevent the development of events by the Russian scenario. Therefore, the Russian side quickly agreed to a proposal of the chairman of the Supreme Council Semyon Sharetsky - the so-called "zero" option. Everyone supported the idea of returning to a normal legal course and continuing to solve problems. This was settled in the night meeting on 22 November 1996. The agreement was some kind of compromise, because all parties understood that no one has an exceptional opportunity to resolve the situation in one's favor.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Council lacked a few votes to approve this agreement. If it was approved, Belarus would develop in an entirely different direction. MPs would gain time, Lukashenko would lose the advantages he had at that time. Most likely, the president would violate the agreement later anyway, but he managed to accuse the Supreme Council.
- What was the cause of the conflict between the Supreme Council and President Lukashenko? Why two versions of the Constitution were submitted for a referendum?
- Our party (the Communist Party of Belarus - udf.by) since 1994, when the presidency was introduced, has been saying that it would be an apple of discord. Lukashenka was not going to obey neither the Constitution nor the law. Therefore, he considered such government bodies as a full-fledged parliament and the Constitutional Court as superfluous and unnecessary. Lukashenka's unwillingness to work within the democratic state has led to a conflict.
The appearance of an alternative project of the Constitution was an attempt to give people a choice. The presence of one variant of Lukashenka made the situation absolutely predictable. People certainly would have voted for what the president proposed.
The project was developed by members of the Communist Party of Belarus with a help of eminent jurists of that time. Agrarians joined us afterwards. The main difference from the president's project was in the fact, that the supremacy of a legislative power still had to be owned by the Supreme Council, the executive power could not publish any laws and had to act within a framework of a basic law. The president's project of the Constitution, in fact, looked as follows: the president is always right and he holds the state power. And the second point: if the president is not right - read the first point.
Communist group proposed the separation of powers into legislative, executive and judicial branches, as it have to be in a normal state.
- How did it happen, that the young president was able to "beat" the Supreme Council, and even contrary to all democratic procedures?
- Lukashenko was just stronger. He acted without looking back to the Constitution. In fact, it was a classic coup d'etat, even according to the Constitution adopted by the referendum in 1996. At that time the president was popular among people, and people's love was on his side. People didn't vote for any Constitution. The question was: are you for Lukashenka or against Lukashenka. And everyone who was against him, were presented in a public mind as enemies of Belarusian people. Exactly in this light the Supreme Council was presented. I must say, that by that time Lukashenka had managed to monopolize the media. And the Supreme Council - the state body - was prevented to explain to people its position via the state media.
- How do you think, what could MPs do in this situation? Do you regret missed opportunities?
- There is a regret, that we used our powers poorly. We slowed down all the processes for a long time, concerning impeachment. Since we had come to the Supreme Council in January, we had to put the executive power in its place more toughly. We had all the possibilities for this. We missed a lot, allowing Lukashenko to usurp the media, to put out of the parliament's control the law enforcement agencies. He managed to destroy the system of local authorities, turning it into executive vertical. I know, today the vast majority of people regret what happened. They opened the way to dictatorship by their own hands. And what we have today, people have generated by their own will, expressed in 1996.
I think even we could prevent this scenario, although the popularity of Lukashenko was higher than that of any other authority. But today his rating is much lower than that of the Supreme Council of 13th convocation. And today we can explain to people, how right it would be to go back to a state, where there is a separation of powers, where the Constitution is a foundation and core of all relationships in the state. Where all should obey to the adopted laws, and there is no man who is a little bit higher than God, and he determines a fate of the state so as he pleases. Many have already supped the results of this rule.
- So, the parliamentary project of the Constitution hasn't lost its relevance?
- Yes, at that time we didn't need to leave from a parliamentary republic. And the sooner we get back to it, the faster we'll get back to a normal life. I can give many examples where the executive power is very strong. Germany is a parliamentary republic. And at the same time the federal government led by Chancellor Merkel has wide powers to bring the policy defined by a majority in parliament. But in the post-soviet space all the presidencies degenerated to some degree of autocracy.