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Building on Stones Rather than Sand
By Sergei Mitrokhin, Deputy of the State Duma of the Yabloko faction, Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Local Self-Government
November 17, 1999

Yabloko has consistently advocated a union between Russia and Byelorussia. At the same time we have our differences with other political parties (the CPRF, "Our Home is Russia" and others) over the form and strategy of the integration of Russia and Byelorussia.

We consider the following three positions to be of utmost importance:
  1. The union must be built strictly on a legal basis, otherwise it will resemble a house built on sand.
  2. The union must be concluded to the mutual benefit of both Russian and Byelorussian people. It should in no way yield benefits to one nation only.
  3. The union must not lead to legal chaos and political arbitrariness in both countries.
Now we will dwell on each position in more detail.

1. Lukashenko and Yeltsin: Twins, Brothers?

A strict legal approach governing the signing of the union treaty is the only alternative to political voluntarism rife with harsh consequences for the peoples of both countries. We can explain what we are talking about, by turning to the problem of the presidential proxies of Lukashenko and Yeltsin.

On October 27, 1999, the Yabloko faction refused to listen to Lukashenko's speech in the State Duma. This is easy to explain: a parliament that respects both itself and its country should not grant a platform to a man appropriating power through legal manipulation.

This is how we assess Lukashenko's actions, when he extended his presidential term by adopting the Constitution on a referendum in autumn 1996. If Russia considers itself a civilised country, it must refuse to recognise such a way of prolonging the term of office, where the electorate could only really vote for one candidate.

Proxies can only be confirmed at free elections. Byelorussia did not hold any such elections. Consequently, after July 20, 1999, Lukashenko was transformed from president into a private individual who illegally holds onto power.

Yabloko principally rejects the possibility of signing a Union Treaty between the two states with a private individual. First of all, any citizen and/or ruling body (of a RF subject) can through court prove the legal invalidity of such a union. Secondly, such a union would fail to achieve international recognition and, consequently, would not be able to conduct any foreign policy. And thirdly, and this is probably most important here: by endorsing the usurping of power by Lukashenko, the majority in the Duma create the pre-requisites for the same actions by Boris Yeltsin.

Allegations that Yeltsin is going to use some sly trick to retain power after 2000 have been circulating for a long time now. If he makes such an attempt, the parties who rendered such a warm reception to Lukashenko on October 27 cannot object to it. For why shouldn't Yeltsin do the same thing that was welcomed in the case of Lukashenko? Yabloko will not be among these parties.

2. In favour of a union which does not involve tricks and liesYabloko fears that the adventure-populist version of the union will turn out to be an infringement of Russia's national interests. Such an infringement has already occurred. The customs' union between our countries functions in such a way that Russia cannot check if the volume of goods flowing into Russia through the Byelorussian border with third countries corresponds to payments transferred to Russia by Byelorussian customs.

According to expert estimates, Russia's budget annually loses several dozens billion roubles. The majority in the Duma has constantly asked where we can obtain money to pay wages to budget employees, teachers and doctors. At the same time it has hypocritically endorsed the huge black hole in the customs' union with Byelorussia. If a number of articles of the official draft treaty come into force (for example, on credit, monetary and tax policies), then Russia's losses will be disastrous.

This irresponsible approach with a clear anti-Russian stance is countered by Yabloko's alternative - a draft Agreement on the Economic Union between our countries that Yabloko devised as early as 1997. This document differs principally from Yeltsin-Lukashenko's text: the official draft proposes the simultaneous construction of a whole range of the political and economic institutions of the Union without analysing the technical details of this process; Yabloko's draft presents a detailed plan for building joint economic mechanisms, so that further political integration has a firm basis.

In other words, Yeltsin and Lukashenko want to build immediately all parts of the building very rapidly and roughly. Yabloko proposes starting with the foundation and basic elements, built in accordance with all the requirements of the art of construction.

3. Yeltsin-Lukashenko's draft represents a path to legal chaos and political arbitrariness

At first sight the draft Agreement, published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, represents ordinary legal hack-work. Let us take, for example, the point on dividing jurisdiction between the Union and the participating state. The draft drives us onto a bulky and perplexed legal system that will look as follows on Russian territory:

    1. Exclusive jurisdiction of the Union state.
    2. Joint jurisdiction of the Union state and the participating states.
    3. Jurisdiction of the Russian Federation.
    4. Joint jurisdiction of the RF and its subjects.
    5. Jurisdiction of RF subjects.

Today relations between the RF and its subjects are too confused. The entry into force of the Agreement will bring even more disorder. For example, according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the tax policy falls under the joint jurisdiction of the RF and its subjects. However, under the Agreement it falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Union state.

The list of differences could be continued. Russia will not be able to conduct its own budget policy, which will be a derivative form of the Union's; at the same time the tax revenues will be still received by the national budgets of Russia and Byelorussia, which will subsequently pay agreed deductions to the Union budget (Article 31, Para 2).

It remains unclear how the Union will develop and adopt its own budget under these circumstances. At least not in the revenue part: that will depend totally on the will of the national parliaments.

Here we witness a very strange division of jurisdiction: revenue policies are handled by the Union, while expenditure policies (including expenditure on the maintenance of the organs of the Union) remain within the jurisdiction of the states.

In other words, the Union will decide how to earn money, and its constituent states will decide how to spend it. We can only wish that anyone other than the Russian and Byelorussian nations live with such a system of state finances.

The political part of the Agreement looks less absurd. Here we can detect someone's firm and persistent will. The citizens of the RF are virtually offered the chance to test the experience of their Byelorussian neighbours, who have been living in an authoritarian regime decorated by the entourage of the Soviet era. The Supreme State Council (SSC) is declared to be the "supreme authority of the Union State" (Article 33, Para 1), whereas the Parliament of the Union State represents only "a representative and legislative authority", devoid of any rights to control the SSC. The SSC has the competence to "decide the most important issues pertaining to the development of the Union State" (Article 34, para 1).

This means that its jurisdiction is virtually unlimited. The SSC is also granted the right "to issue decrees, resolutions and directives within its jurisdiction (Article 34, Para 3). Thus, instead of the laws on the most "important issues", we will have decrees and directives of the SSC.

At the same time the SSC enjoys the right of legislative initiative (Article 42, Para 1). But does it need it, if it can easily pass a decree or directive? The political system of the Union stipulated in the draft Agreement resembles too closely that of Byelorussia and is far more barbarian in nature than the present Russian system. A collective boss represented by the SSC gains power, which exceeds considerably the present proxies of both the State Duma and the President of the RF. All this contradicts the present Constitution of the Russian Federation.

I do not want to use strong words here, but I cant help feeling that the Agreement in its present form is conscientiously targeted at establishing a state of legal chaos required both by Yeltsin and Lukashenko to implement their deeply personal political plots.


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