Ethnic Polish leaders arrested in Belarus

Written by Sean Sampson

Poland last week told Belarus that it would block further improvements in relations between the European Union and Belarus after a police crackdown on the country's Polish minority, EU Observer reported.

The threat followed the arrest last Monday of Angelika Borys, the head of the Union of Poles in Belarus, and an estimated 40 other activists en route to a protest in Valozhyn in western Belarus. The arrests came just a week after police raided the minority organisation's headquarters in Grodno near the border with Poland.

Polish officials also said they could try to block financial aid to Belarus from the International Monetary Fund.

EU not amused

Belarus' hard-line approach to its Polish minority also provoked a reaction from the European Union.

Its foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said she was "disappointed" by the arrests. "I condemn police action against the Union of Poles and what appear to be attempts by the authorities to impose a new leadership on the Polish community," she added.

Ashton also mentioned the possibility that the actions of the Belarusian government could affect its participation in the Eastern Partnership, an EU programme aimed at deepening relations with six former Soviet republics. The other members are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Belarus under the authoritarian leadership of President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly been condemned for its human rights record.

Large minority

According to official statistics, roughly 400,000 Poles live in Belarus, although other estimates put the figure much higher. Most of the Polish minority live in western Belarus. They were stranded there after Poland's frontiers were shifted westwards following the Second World War.


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