Mourners bid farewell to former Agriculture Minister Lyavonaw

Mr. Lyavonaw, who spent years in prison on what was widely viewed as politically motivated charges, died on January 4 at the age of 76.

Tributes were paid to former Agriculture Minister Vasil Lyavonaw at Monday's memorial service in Shchamyslitsa, a village a few kilometers southwest of Minsk.

Mr. Lyavonaw, who spent years in prison on what was widely viewed as politically motivated charges, died on January 4 at the age of 76.

The mourners who traveled to the village where Mr. Lyavonaw spent the last years of his life included Stanislaw Shushkevich, Belarus' first formal head of state; former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir; opposition politicians Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, Anatol Lyabedzka and Alyaksandr Fyaduta, as well as trade union leader Alyaksandr Yarashuk, and representatives of the US embassy in Minsk.

Mr. Fyaduta described the ex-minister as a strong personality who attracted respect, and played up his performance in the ministerial post. "Lyavonaw did his best to ensure that Belarus is an independent country as far as it concerns food supplies and that it is a rich country," he said.

Mr. Chyhir, who was prime minister when Mr. Lyavonaw held the post, described him as an exceptionally decent and reliable person and an advocate of reforms in the sector. "Considering that Lukashenka had somewhat different views he had to leave the job because of that," he said.

He noted that the reforms proposed by Mr. Lyavonaw would have helped secure a strong and profitable agricultural sector. "It's a shame that this man's potential was not realized in full," said Mr. Chyhir.

After the memorial service Mr. Lyavonaw was laid to rest at a cemetery near the village of Strochytsy, Minsk district.

Born in what is now the Kastsyukovichy district, Mahilyow region, on April 16, 1938, Mr. Lyavonaw graduated from the Byelorussian Institute of Agriculture Mechanization and the Minsk Higher Communist Party School.

He was a member of the Soviet Union’s Supreme Soviet in 1984-1989 and served as head of Belarus’ trade mission in Germany between 1991 and 1994. Mr. Lyavonaw accepted Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s offer to take the job of agriculture minister in August 1994. He fell out with Mr. Lukashenka after criticizing the 1996 referendum that gave the Belarusian leader sweeping powers and extended his first term in office by two years.

Mr. Lyavonaw was arrested in his office in November 1997. The arrest was filmed by Belarusian Television’s camera crew. In January 2000, he was found guilty of bribery and theft of state property and sentenced to four years in prison. He maintained his innocence and condemned the charges as politically motivated. He was freed in October 2000.

He became an outspoken critic of Mr. Lukashenka’s policies after his imprisonment.