Belarus sanctions

The latest brutal repressions of the Lukashenko regime against the pro-democratic opposition in Belarus have prompted Poland to take some strong actions targeted at the authorities in Minsk.

Slawek Szefs reports

The decisive factors for introducing the measures have been the ruthless treatment of the Belarusian protesters in Minsk by special police squads and the detention and imprisonment of Poles who observed the demonstrations, including former Polish ambassador to Minsk Mariusz Maszkiewicz. After an ad hoc trial, Maszkiewicz was sentenced to fifteen days in jail. Another Polish journalist was given a ten-day sentence.

Parallely, the Polish consul in Grodno had been held overnight and for the successive day at the Belarusian border, not given entry into Belarus nor the possibility of turning back. The Foreign Ministry in Warsaw has demanded the immediate release of ambassador Maszkiewicz and an explanation for holding the Polish diplomat at the border checkpoint.

It also announced absolute visa restrictions for those members of the Lukashenko authorities responsible for rigging the presidential election in Belarus and active in mounting repressions against the democratic opposition in their country. The Polish Foreign Ministry further appealed to the European Union to introduce similar measures. Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said the Polish government intends to go even further.

' This is not all. We are preparing successive steps directed against the Belarusian authorities, as their latest repressive actions against the opposition at home and against Poles, including diplomats guarded by immunity, are absolutely scandalous.'

Sources indicate that the initial list is to be extended to several hundred names of Lukashenko officials. Polish visa restrictions will in no way be affecting ordinary Belarusian citizens. On the contrary, especially young people and students will be able to apply for them at no charge in Polish consular missions in neighboring Ukraine or Russia.

The Polish government has also pledged financial support to Belarusian students expelled from universities back home. Many academic centers in Poland have already volunteered to accept them for studies without tuition. But such initiatives are not the only help expected by the opposition in Belarus. Vital Voranau, a young Belarusian studying at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan says equally important is the flow of uncensored news from Belarus to inform western democracies of the real situation there and the sentiments among Belarusian people.

' Democratic countries, such as Poland, can help inform western societies which are not always well informed about the Belarusian situation, about the regime in Belarus.'

On the other hand, Olek Latyszonek from Radio Racja - a broadcaster operating from Poland - told us stations such as his are doing their best to provide Belarusian compatriots with uncensored news, but for obvious reasons, there is little feedback.

' Of course, we do feel our information is very needed in Belarus. People are arrested there and their compatriots don't know about it. We couldn't make any survey, but people are asking for more information, for more programs.'

Vital Voranau adds that Belarusian minority organizations in Poland are eager to help the pro-democratic forces in their native country.

' As a Belarusian organization in Poznan, we'll be trying to help - as we did before - in the development of a democratic society in Belarus. We want to open a publishing house in Poznan, and maybe also a printing house, in which there will be books that cannot be published in Belarus for different reasons. This would be our input, our brick in building a democratic society in Belarus.'

The latest developments have shown the need for an international action to isolate the Lukashenko regime. However, it must be remembered that the people of Belarus cannot suffer as a result of sanctions imposed on the Minsk authorities. This is something to be carefully considered by democratic neighbors of Belarus and the entire European Union.