Posted: 05.03.2024 11:06:20

The tradition of popular sovereignty

Participation in elections is a guarantee of both the sovereign development of the state and the preservation of peace in its land

On February 25th, Single Voting Day was held for the first time in the history of Belarus to elect deputies to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the eighth convocation and to local Councils of deputies of the twenty-ninth convocation. However, we can only talk about relative novelty in this case — rather, we can pinpoint real continuity. After all, the traditions of popular sovereignty in the Belarusian land are rooted in the deep past.


                          The President of Belarus,
                         Aleksandr Lukashenko,

“Our country’s ancient tradition of popular sovereignty lies at the heart of our national 
unity. We choose our historical and political 
status together at referendums and Belarusian
people’s congresses. We vote by heart, on our own, and no one dictates their will to us.”

At the patriotic forces forum Symbol of Unity,
on September 17th, 2021

Milestones and popular assemblies

The legal tradition of Belarus is inextricably linked with the mighty Romano–Germanic legal family, as a number of historians note. The Byzantine, Serbian and Bulgarian traditions had a massive impact on the Belarusian law of the early period of statehood (late 10th — mid 13th centuries). At that time, there were three main institutions of power: the prince, the princely council and the Veche [popular assembly]. While the prince was the head of state and the carrier of executive power, the Veche enforced legislative power. It is known that the Polotsk Veche asserted the legitimacy of the prince. It was also impossible to introduce new types of taxes or declare war without the consent of the Veche.
The 16th century brought to Belarus an even greater influence of the ideas of ancient thinkers of law and legal philosophy — Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Tullius Cicero. The first person to justify the law concept as a fair retribution for crimes, and harmony between the state and the individual in our tradition was Francysk Skaryna. In the preface to the Bible, he outlined his own concept of ideal power as the enlightened, humane and strong power of the monarch. 
Thus, the monarch should be wise and fair and at the same time strong and formidable so as to stand up for the rights, if needed, and protect its people from both internal enemies and criminals, and from external ones.

Decisions are made together

An unbiased and impartial look allows noticing even more interesting things in common. We can track certain continuity both in the resolution of the First All-Belarusian Congress held in 1917, and in the constitutions of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia and the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1919, 1927 and 1937. The fundamental principle for all those who created the Belarusian national law in the twentieth century was the consolidation of the rights to self-determination and statehood, the need to preserve the territorial integrity of the country, as well as the appeal to its historical and cultural wealth and heritage. It is true that there was a class division principle in the Soviet constitutions. Yet, the principle of equality before the law, regardless of ethnic and linguistic origin, was the core idea that was woven through all the legal framework of that time. The fundamental right of all citizens of the country to their cultural identity was also emphasised. This explains the preservation of the council system, the repeated use of the referendum institution, and the availability of a bicameral parliament in our present-day independent country.
It is safe to name a widespread public discussion of draft laws as an essential element of popular sovereignty. This is one more form of the Belarusian original development model that is actively practised in modern Belarus. 
Thus, in 2022, the country held a wide public discussion of the most important draft laws ‘On Amendments to the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus’ and ‘On the Belarusian People’s Congress’.  Political analyst, researcher at
the Philosophy Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Piotr Petrovsky has pointed out in this regard as follows, “This is a real direct form of popular sovereignty. I have no examples of this happening in the West. While our Western neighbours are winding down the institutions of democracy, we have taken popular sovereignty to another level. In particular, there is a public consensus regarding the necessity of the Law ‘On the Belarusian People’s Congress’ and its body — the Belarusian People’s Congress. This confirms that citizens of our country appreciate the development and stability that we have.”

Civil harmony

It is particularly worth noting that the Belarusian People’s Congress has been held in our country since 1996. To date, six sessions of the Belarusian People’s Congress have taken place — the previous one was on February 11–12th, 2021. A unique feature of the seventh session will be its fundamentally new status. According to the amendments and additions made to the Constitution following the results of the republican referendum on February 27th, 2022, the Belarusian People’s Congress has become a constitutional body. The competence, procedure for the creation and activities of the Belarusian People’s Congress are determined by Chapter 3–1 of the Constitution and the law. 
The Belarusian People’s Congress is the highest representative body of the people’s power in the Republic of Belarus, which determines strategic directions for the development of society and the state, ensures the inviolability of the constitutional system, the succession of generations and civil harmony. 
The term of powers of the Belarusian People’s Congress is five years. The meetings are held at least once a year. The Belarusian People’s Congress is entitled to approve the main directions of domestic and foreign policy, military doctrine, the concept of national security, programmes for the socio–economic development of the country, as well as to hear the report of the Prime Minister about their implementation. The Belarusian People’s Congress is endowed with the right to put forward legislative initiatives. Its decisions are binding and may cancel legal acts, other decisions of state bodies and officials that contradict the interests of national security, with the exception of acts of judicial authorities.
“The advantage of the Belarusian People’s Congress is that only this body is capable of uniting all political forces — the government and civil society, including political parties regardless of ideology, the youth and pensioners, workers and the intellectuals, private business and representatives of state structures,” clarifies Doctor of Historical Sciences, Associate Professor, Head of the Centre for Belarus’ History at the end of the 18th – 21st centuries of the Institute of History of the Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences Nikolay Smekhovich. “No other political institution is able to ensure this. The benefit of the Belarusian People’s Congress is that only this body can take responsibility for the further historical fate of the state,
as well as preserve peace, unity and harmony in Belarus.”
By Maksim Osipov