Hostile actions against Poles in Belarus

Czeslaw Ryszka

The attacks of Lukashenko's regime against the Polish minority in Belarus have continued. On 8 February 2020 the Belarusian militia and bailiffs entered the Polish Community House in Ivyenets. The House belongs to the Union of Poles in Belarus and its chairwoman is Angelika Borys. After the representatives of the Union of Poles in Belarus had been brutally thrown from the building the policemen blocked the entrances and the bailiffs, although they did not have the court verdict, catalogued the objects and sealed the whole building. The house in Ivyenets was taken over at the motion of the pro-government organisation also called the Union of Poles, directed by Stanislaw Siemaszko, usurping the right to manage the Polish properties in Belarus. The controversy concerning the Polish House will be settled on 15 February in the court in Wolozyn despite the fact that the house was completely financed in 2003 by the Senate of the Republic of Poland, granted by the Association 'Polish Community'. The building is one of the most beautiful houses in the town, with the population of 6,000, out of which 50% are Poles and over 80% are Catholics. The leader of the Union of Poles in Belarus Angelika Borys fears further repression. A huge fine was imposed on the firm 'Polonika', which she runs. The firm supports education and activities of the Polish Houses. The fine amounts to over 40,000 dollars. If she does not pay the fine it will mean the end of Polish lessons for over 400 pupils in the Polish Community School connected with Polonika. One can also see an increasing number of physical assaults against the representatives of the Polish ethnic minority. Furthermore, some unknown perpetrators damaged the cars of the members of the Union of Poles in Belarus and the journalist of 'Glos znad Niemna' [The Voice from the Niemen River] (he had all flat tyres, the car body was cut and painted blue). The Association 'Polish Community' issued a protest against the unlawful treatment of Poles by the Belarussian authorities. The Association regards it as an obvious case of violation of the rights of the Polish minority. The Parliamentary Club Law and Justice made an appeal to Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski to take immediate actions to defend the Polish national minority in Belarus.

It is true that the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a strong protest against the actions of Lukashenko's regime, including the recalling of the Polish ambassador in Belarus for consultations whereas Minister Radoslaw Sikorski ensured the public opinion that he would conduct a very serious conversation on this subject with his Belarusian partner Sergei Martynov. However, generally speaking we lack decisive actions of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the government, showing solidarity with Poles in Belarus and in the East and defending their rights. The President of Belarus uses repressions and then partially withdraws, creating the impression that Belarus is undergoing democratisation. I think that this is the carrot or the stick policy. Out of 16 Polish Houses only two have remained in the hands of the Union of Poles. The Belarusian Ministry of Education is going to introduce regulations according to which education can be conducted only in Russian or Belarusian. That means the closure of the two Polish schools in Grodno and Wolkowysk where ca. 500 Polish children are taught at present. People also speak aloud about the plans to pull down 200 houses in Nowy Swiat, the old district of Grodno, which is the most Polish part of the city. Before pulling down the building one must remove their inhabitants, including many Poles. I want to remind you that according to the official data the Polish minority in Belarus has 400,000 members but about one million people admit to having Polish roots. Whatever you write the adherence of many of them to Poland is deeper and more vivid than many of their fellow countrymen. Their patriotism grew on the spiritual distinction from the surrounding and overwhelming Russian culture, on their emotional relationship with the Polish spirit. It is first of all expressed in their adherence to the Polish language in the Church as the long and only available form of manifesting Polishness and the most important support of their national identity. One should remember that as many as 82 % of Catholics in Belarus admitted to having Polish origin, including 66 % having both Polish parents and 16 % coming from mixed families. That's why the national minority of Poles is at the same time the biggest one in the Church in Belarus. Therefore, Lukashenko's regime does not want Polish priests. Many of them had to leave Belarus because their permissions to conduct pastoral activities in Belarus were not prolonged. Since 2007 the number of Polish priests in Belarus has dropped from 181 to 161. The takeover of the Polish House in Ivyenets is an exact repetition of the Grodno events in 2005 when after the election of Angelika Borys as the chairwoman of the Union of Poles in Belarus the militia seized the headquarters of the Union in Grodno and placed there the former, loyal towards Minsk, chairman Tadeusz Kruczkowski. The events of 2005 led to a diplomatic war between Poland and Belarus. Among other things Warsaw recalled the Polish ambassador from Minsk. What will be the reaction of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs now? Would it be necessary that Prime Minister Tusk appealed to the European Union to introduce a trade embargo on Belarus? Should the Polish diplomatic representation in Belarus not be established on the level below the ambassador? One cannot speak about democratisation of Belarus if its authorities do not stop repression against the Polish people.


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