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Pavel Latushka's speech at the commemoration evening of Stanislav Shushkevich

University of Warsaw May 7, 2024

For me, Stanislav Shushkevich will always be the first leader of Belarus, regardless of Lukashenko's attempts to prove otherwise. Stanislav Shushkevich holds great significance for Belarusian statehood. He played a crucial role in the declaration of our country's independence and in establishing Belarus as an independent, democratic, and free nation.

I vividly remember when Stanislav Shushkevich, as the first leader of independent Belarus, received the 42nd President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, in Minsk in 1994. I was a young man at the time, and I stood at Victory Square when Clinton and Shushkevich laid flowers. They came close to the people, and I saw two heads of state just a meter away from me. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet and greet many presidents and heads of state, but that visit left a lasting impression on me as a student. Shushkevich, as the inaugural leader of independent Belarus, established the first official relations between our newly independent country and numerous nations worldwide.

Diplomats who served during the 90s will always recognize Shushkevich as the first leader of Belarus. Meanwhile, Lukashenko has consistently attempted to erase his memory. I distinctly recall how in 2011, Lukashenko proposed the idea of opening the Museum of Modern Statehood of Belarus in the administration building on Karl Marx Street in Minsk. The sixth floor housed an exhibition that initially included a significant section dedicated to the early 90s, highlighting the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, the country's name, the national flag, and numerous documents signed by Shushkevich. However, the infamous deputy head of the Main Ideological Department of the Lukashenko Administration, Iryna Dryga, later took control of the museum. Under the orders of the deputy head of the administration at the time, Natalia Petkevich, she removed all the materials. Only one document remained—the Constitution signed by Stanislav Shushkevich. There were attempts to get those artifacts back into the exposition, but they were unsuccessful, as regime representatives insisted that the museum should solely focus on one individual who has held power for the past three decades. While it may be possible to "cleanse" an exhibition, it is impossible to change or rewrite history, and it is certainly impossible to diminish the immense contribution made by Stanislav Shushkevich to the independence of our country.

I recall a story from my time as a young vice consul that still perplexes me. It happened when I was seeing off my mother and mother-in-law at the bus station in Bialystok as they were returning to Minsk after visiting us. It was there that I saw Stanislav Shushkevich. He stood confidently, wearing a good coat and carrying a bag over his shoulder. I couldn't help but wonder why the first leader of our independent state was traveling on a regular bus, waiting in those enormous border queues. Once, Witold Jurasz, a former Chargé d'affaires of Poland in Belarus, suggested that the neighboring state could have taken better care of Stanislav Shushkevich, the first leader of independent Belarus.

However, it was not anyone's fault. Such circumstances were a result of Lukashenko's and the regime’s attitude. It was unacceptable that he received a symbolic one-dollar pension. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that despite this treatment, Stanislav Shushkevich never compromised his principles or wavered in his beliefs and worldview. He remained a true patriot of Belarus.

I remember that my first father-in-law, may the earth lie light upon him, personally knew Shushkevich. He once told me that Stanislav Shushkevich collected playing cards from different countries, which many people brought back for him from their business trips. It was an extraordinary collection for a nuclear physicist and corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences. Overall, during both Soviet times and the period of Belarus' independence, he represented the scientific elite—a man with a challenging destiny who never gave up.

Shushkevich was well aware of the regime's repressive nature. It's worth mentioning his father, also named Stanislav, who was a writer and poet. In 1937, he was arrested and sentenced to eight years in the camps. In 1949, he faced another conviction. It wasn't until 1975 that he was finally fully rehabilitated. Perhaps it was these events in his family's life that shaped Stanislav Shushkevich into a resilient individual.

In the first and unfortunately, the last democratic elections in Belarus, I cast my vote for Stanislav Shushkevich. However, I firmly believe that the time will come when we can elect a representative of the Belarusian people through fair and transparent elections.

A few months before his departure, I had the privilege of speaking with Stanislav Shushkevich. We had a conversation about constitutional reform—discussing what the constitution should entail and the importance of establishing checks and balances that would prevent a recurrence of the situation we have witnessed over the past 30 years in our country. It was an incredibly meaningful discussion. I must admit that it was a great honor for me to have a personal conversation with an exceptional figure in the fight for Belarusian independence like Stanislav Shushkevich, the first leader of independent Belarus.


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