Stanislav Shushkevich Dead at 87
Stanislav Shushkevich, the first head of state of independent Belarus, one of the three leaders who signed the December 1991 agreement declaring that the U.S.S.R. had ceased to exist, and a staunch opponent of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has died after being hospitalized for complications caused by COVID-19.
Shushkevich died on May 4, his wife, Iryna, said. He was 87.
Shushkevich, a soft-spoken professor of nuclear physics who became a staunch and steadfast advocate of democracy, played a pivotal role in one of the most important events of the 20th century before largely disappearing from the world scene — but remaining a resonant voice of dissent as his autocratic successor, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, tightened his grip on the nation of nearly 10 million.
On December 8, 1991, Shushkevich, then the chairman of parliament, met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk at a resort in a forest in western Belarus and signed the Belavezha Accords, which effectively dissolved the disintegrating Soviet Union while creating the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on December 25 and the U.S.S.R. was no more.
In an interview with Reuters in August that year, Shushkevich correctly predicted that Lukashenko would hold on to power, backed by his powerful military and by Moscow.
“Lukashenko serves the Kremlin because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to hold on. The Kremlin … supports him,” he told Reuters by phone from his dacha.
“In such conditions, it’s difficult for the beaten and tortured Belarusian opposition to struggle with Russia.”
Lukashenko signed a special decree in 1997 by which Shushkevich’s pension was frozen and not indexed to inflation. In 2015, by which time the pension’s valued had eroded almost to zero, he relented and raised it to $220 a month.
References to Shushkevich were removed from school history books in 2021 after he spoke out numerous times against Lukashenko’s crackdown on protests.
His death was reported by the state news agency Belta on Wednesday in a bland six-paragraph chronology of his academic and political career.
Shushkevich is survived by his wife Iryna, son Stanislau, and daughter Alena.
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