Russian and Belarussian communists have held the 1st congress of the Peoples of the Union state in Moscow. More than 1000 delegates from Russia and Belarus representing 40 political parties attended the congress.
The major report at the congress was delivered by Gennady Zyuganov, leader of KPRF and the People's Patriotic Union. He proposed holding a referendum to determine and fix the common principle of the reunification: free will, equality and sovereignty. Zyuganov stated that "it was necessary to make it clear to Belarussians that Russia does not intend to absorb Belarus and that it intends to share with Belarus an equal fraternity union." According to him, the congress will confirm the common strive of the Russian and Belarussian peoples towards real reunification within the single Union state. The KPRF leader was of the opinion that "they had no other way towards reviving the country, restoring historical justice, creating adequate living conditions for all citizens." Zyuganov considered it symbolic that the congress took place during another global protest action against war in Iraq. He stated that decisions of the congress "would serve the cause of peace in the world not less than mass street anti-military rallies." In the opinion of the KPRF leader the Union State might become the focal point for opponents of a US possible war in Iraq.
Zyuganov indicated that the congress was designed to give "a new impetus to the unjustifiably delayed process of reunification of Russia and Belarus." He criticised various "artificial obstacles" to integration.
While assessing the advantages of reunification of Russia and Belarus Zyuganov pointed out that "an average Belarussian is born more often, lives longer, dies later, while real wages are on an average much higher in Belarus than in Russia." And in general, the KPRF leader was of the opinion that Russians had something to learn from Belarussians.
A school student is believed to be the person who set fire to the wooden church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (built in the 18th century)