Staunton, January 10 – Over the next 12 months, people in the 12 former Soviet republics and three once-occupied Baltic countries will remember both separately and collectively the events of 1991 that transformed or promised to transform their lives with the collapse of the Soviet system and their acquisition or recovery of independence.
Many of these events like the killings at the television tower in Vilnius took place in one republic but had an impact throughout the Soviet empire. Others were restricted in their impact to a single place. But on this round anniversary, they deserve to be remembered both to honor those who took part in them and to ask more fundamental questions on what might have been.
In a blog post for Radio Liberty’s Belarusian Service, Syargei Navumchyk, a former deputy of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus provides a checklist of what he calls the ten most significant events of 1991 in his country, a checklist that provides a model for what others in other places will be doing as the year progresses (svaboda.org/content/article/27478345.html).
His ten are as follows:
1. Moscow Sends Tanks into Vilnius. On January 13, 1991, the Kremlin orders its forces to storm the television center in Vilnius. Soviet troops opened fire and killed 14 Lithuanians. Belarusian Popular Front deputies in the Supreme Soviet adopted a declaration in support of the Lithuanians. Four days later, the Belarusian parliament adopted a similar resolution thus making Belarus the only one of the 12 Soviet republics to do so.
2. Referendum on the Preservation of the USSR. Officially, more than 82 percent of Belarusians voted for the preservation of the USSR in Mikhail Gorbachev’s referendum on March 17. The Belarusian Popular Front declared that the referendum was not legitimate because it was ordered there not by the Supreme Soviet but only by that body’s presidium. The front also pointed out that, despite glasnost, those who opposed the Kremlin on this issue were not given television time to make their case.
3. Belarusian Popular Front Congress Confirms Course on Independence. At a congress in Mensk on March 23-24, Belarusian Popular Front leader Zenon Poznyak said that Belarusians have everything they need to live well except freedom and independence and that as a result, “the achievement of freedom and sovereignty of Belarus is the most important task of our generation.” The congress agreed.
4. The Largest Strike in the USSR Occurs in Mensk. On April 4, tens of thousands of workers from factories in the Belarusian capital converged on government house and demanded that the authorities “immediately begin to fulfill the Declaration on State Sovereignty.”
5. Belarusian Popular Front Blocks Introduction of Post of President. On May 21, the republic Supreme Soviet refused to consider a call by the Belarusian Popular Front to declare independence, but the Front was successful in blocking a communist call for introducing a republic president.
6. Those who Hid the Truth about Chernobyl Named at Supreme Soviet Hearing. On June 13-14, the Belarusian Popular Front succeeded in getting the republic parliament to identify those Mensk officials who had helped Moscow to conceal the full extent of the Chernobyl tragedy on the population.
7. Putsch in Moscow: Belarusian Popular Front Calls People into the Streets. In response to the attempted putsch in Moscow, the Belarusian Popular Front called Belarusians into the street.
8. Extraordinary Session of Supreme Soviet Declares Independence. On August 25, the Belarusian Supreme Soviet votes to declare independence. Deputy Aleksandr Lukashenka voted against. Six days later, Poland becomes the first country to recognize Belarus as an independent state.
9. Red-White-Red Flag and Horseman Shield Gain Status of State Symbols. On September 18, the Supreme Soviet chooses Stanislav Shushkevich as its chairman, and the next day, it approves the new national symbols.
10. Belarusian Supreme Soviet Ratifies Denunciation of Soviet Union Treaty. On December 10, the Belarusian parliament ratifies the Beloveshchaya accords, thus liquidating the USSR.