In 1991, three leaders of USSR founding countries buried the Soviet Empire. In the governmental residence Viskuli, in Belavezhaskaya forest, presidents of Russia and Ukraine Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk and the head of the Supreme Council of the Belarusian Republic Stanislav Shushkevich denounced the Agreement of 1922 on formation of the USSR and declared the formation of CIS. Back then, the decision made some peoples happy and others desperate. Even two decades later, the attitude towards the Belavezha Accords is controversial.

On the eve of the Independence Day of Ukraine, ForUm decided to talk to the direct participant of USSR peaceful divorce, Stanislav Shushkevich. Former leader of Belarusian parliament recalled about the atmosphere of signing process of Belavezha Accords and its impact on the development of our countries.

USSR funerals

- Did you know ahead that signing Belavezha Accords would mean collapse of the USSR?

- In fact, we gathered to solve economic problems - to agree with Russia on oil and gas prices. But by that time we knew USSR no longer existed, and in Belavezhaskaya forest were found courage to admit it.

- Staying there, in Belavezhaskaya forest, were you afraid of the army or KGB?

- Back then, the safety of those gathered in the hunting lodge was provided by Belarusian KGB. Its then head Eduard Shirkovski reported to me about preparations. After the USSR collapse, he left for Moscow and wrote in his memoirs that he was sorry for not arresting all of us back then. However, he could not possibly do that. The signing of the agreement was a peaceful process. Rebelling it meant to go against the whole population. That's why we were working quietly and did not think about KGB.

Within the time, people thought up many theories about Belavezhaskaya forest events, you name it. But in fact, it was quiet and cold-blooded process of signing the agreement.

- There is an opinion that Belavezha Accords would have been impossible if Boris Yeltsin had managed to take control without bringing down the USSR. Is it true?

- No, the USSR had collapse long before that. And it was Gorbachev who brought it down. Yeltsin wanted to rule Russia, and as a President, he had a full right to do so (Yeltsin was elected President of the RF on June 12, 1991).  The matter was not about their personal conflict, but about long overdue necessity to document legally the collapse of the USSR. It was an excellent move, as for the first time Russia recognized the independence of Ukraine and Belarus, which used to be considered Russian colonies, though nobody ever said it out loud.

- What was Belarus reaction to the Accords?

- The Supreme council ratified the Accords within two days, which was a surprise for me, as we had 80% of communists in the parliament and they were supposed to stand for the USSR. The matter is that when the putsch was suppressed, communists got scared. They acted pretty cowardly, sending others under the guns and keeping themselves safe.

Life after Belavezha Accords

- Have you met again other signers after the events, Leonid Kravchuk or Vitold Fokin (head of the Cabinet of ministers of Ukraine in 1990-92)? Did you discuss those historical events?

- At the beginning of this year we met all together in Kyiv, at the event dedicated to the birthday of Boris Yeltsin in Russian embassy in Ukraine. They both said they were proud of their signatures under the document.

Gennadiy Burbulis (secretary of the State Council under Russian President in 1991-92) also said he was glad with his position in those days. However, my colleague Vyacheslav Kebich (PM of Belarus in 1990-94) wrote in his book I forced him to sign the document. It's not true, he declared this just to keep his place.

- Do you keep in touch with Kravchuk?

- We've never had close personal relationships, but we shared respect. I want to say I appreciate Kravchuk as a politician. He is a wise man. Volodymyr Yavoryvski once called him a 'smooth operator'. Yavoryvski spoke with derision, but I believe it is a great compliment to hear such words from the head of the Union of writers of Ukraine.

- Have you met Mikhail Gorbachev at some events?

- Yes, we have met at certain events, but I've never fawned on him. You know, back in 1984 I used to worship Gorbachev, when I saw him answering questions of foreign journalists without a paper. But when he delivered a speech on Chernobyl in May of 1986 he said shameful things. When he was elected the head of Green Cross in 1993, I was deeply disappointed. In fact, Gorbachev's position on Chernobyl increased the probability of Ukrainian and Belarusian children to get sick with cancer. Gorbachev was first a communist, and then a man.

Recently, I was shocked by his decision to go to celebrate his birthday to London, with people he used to call foul sharks of capitalism. He demonstrates no purity of political views, but a mere toadeating for his own benefit.

He was a head of the whole USSR, but when there were bloody events in Tbilisi and Vilnius, he pretended to have nothing to do with them. Even his home arrest in Foros looks suspicious.

- You think he knew about GKChP?

- He could not have been unaware. He had power to summon anybody and dismiss anybody, but he never did it either. When Gorbachev appointed Gennady Yanayev as vice President (USSR vice president in 1990-91, secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, chairman of GKChP), I was shocked. Yanayev was unable to answer any question, but later became the main putsch leader.

- The founder of Polish "Solidarity", dissident and President of Poland in 1990-95 Leh Valensa once nominated you for the Nobel Prize of peace. Do you keep in touch with his?

- I meet him every year, and I am a jury member on Leh Valensa Awards.

-You were also friends with the deceased Polish President Leh Kachinsky.

In soviet times, I taught physics in Krakow. Since then I have close ties with Poland, and I've learned one thing: Polish politicians may have various view on domestic policy, but they are one if it concerns foreign affairs.

You know, relations between Belarus and Poland are simpler than relations between Ukraine and Poland. You share complicated history moments, and it is difficult to forget some of them for both of you.

- After the collapse of the USSR, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland found themselves in equal condition. However, now Poland is more developed country, than both our states. What is Polish secret?

- It's simple. Poland has never had soviet mentality. Poland has given the world great personalities and heroes, including Leh Valensa and John Paul II. You will never find the second Leszek Balcerowicz, great economist who saved Poland from crisis, while the rest of world was suffering.

- It's been 21 years of post-soviet reality for both Ukraine and Belarus. Tell us, how has it changed our countries?

- I want to quote Otto von Bismarck, who said that revolutions are carried out by romantics, but results are used by adventurers. It is sad that the results and achievements of independence are misused by people who care about their interests only, and not about the people and national dignity.

- Do you believe Belarus has managed to get rid of soviet mentality?

- Belarus is the USSR in miniature. People governing the country do not really know what the state affairs is and how to carry out proper policies. We just need to survive this period. Belarusians were more soviet people than any other USSR nation. We believed in the left ideas, like "land to the farmers and plants to the workers." Even now our propaganda contains some ridiculous ideas. I would say we are coming back to soviet times with its ruling fear and ignorance.

- I know you visit Ukraine frequently. Do Ukrainians keep soviet mentality as well?

- You are right. I do know Ukraine and I like its people. In my opinion, Ukraine shows better positions that Belarus, as your authorities hand over the power in a decent way. Kravchuk handed the power to Kuchma, Kuchma to Yushchenko, Yushchenko to Yanukovych. Belarus has not had elections since 1996, when Lukashenko came to power.

However, Ukraine is a divided country: Russian part and Ukrainian part. I believe national revival is possible only with Ukrainian Ukraine. However, your politicians have failed to unite the parts so far.

- I am sure you've heard about the adoption of the language law in Ukraine. What do you think about it?

- Ukrainians are proud people, and the language is the question of national pride. I believe to have two languages is like to have two wives. You did well when declared Ukrainian the only state language. On the other hand, people who used to live in Russian speaking areas should not suffer. But you could have developed some special long-term programs of transition to the Ukrainian language.

Ukraine has demonstrated proper approach to the language issue, but its level is still lower than the level of Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians. Belarus, however, is far behind all of you. We are ruled by offensive ignorance. Our 'father' does not speak Belarusian well and did his best to impose the language he thinks he knows better. I must say he does not speak Russian well either.

- Is true one can hear Belarusian language in villages only?

- You think about Belarus better that the things really are. You can hardly hear Belarusian language even in villages. Russification of the whole country continues for the sake of Lukashenko's interests. In due time, he posed as a friend of Moscow, but it was only a method to seize power. Russians welcomed that move, as for them it was easier to deal with one dictator than with the legitimate parliament.

- There are talks in Russia about resurrection of Russian lands and restoration of the USSR. What do thing such statements?

- I think they are results of sick imagination. As for Russia itself, laws and orders once existed in the USSR are being restored in Russia now. I believe Vladimir Putin is on this. Political scientists even call it "belarusification" of Russia, i.e. focusing power in one hands, introduction of telephone justice, etc.

Awards and heroes

- In March of this year, the fund of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation honored you with Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom. Do you feel like the West appreciates your contribution to USSR collapse even more than Motherland?

- I do not expect anybody to appreciate my contribution, though I liked to be awarded. However, I am Belarusian and I work for my country.

Today I have a national merit pension at the amount of 3200 Belarusian rubles, which is about three hryvnias. In 1997, Lukashenko issued a special decree fixing my pension at this level. The currency has devalued and my pension has devalued with it. Lukashenko thinks I will run to him begging for money, but I am still capable to earn my living. I have plenty invitations to lecture in universities.

- Do you keep teaching physics?

- I abandoned physics as a science in 1991. Until 1995 I chaired the Council on thesis defense. At the same time, I got three doctor's degrees in political science in different universities. Now I deliver lectures on political science.

- Many participants of the Belavezha Accords have written their memoirs, giving different versions of the event. Are you planning to write your memoirs?

- I already have. My book "My life, collapse and resurrection of the USSR" will be published in the nearest future in Russian. It would be difficult to manage to publish it in the Belarusian language, but I might find a way.

- Will you reveal any secrets?

- I've already sent to a publisher, so you can say all the secrets are revealed.

Alina Yeremeyeva


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