Conflict between Belarusian Authorities and Union of Poles in Belarus
The conflict started in March 2005, after the VIth assembly of the Union of Poles in Belarus, at which representatives of the Polish national minority elected the new administration for the UPB, including chair of the organization. As a result the old head, Tadevush Kruchkouski (who was loyal to Belarusian authorities) was replaced by Anzhalina Borys. The Ministry of Justice of Belarus didn’t recognize the results of the assembly and still considers Tadevush Kruchkouski the chair of the organization. It caused protest of the national minority in Belarus and the Polish government.
On 28 July Adam Rotfeld, Polish minister of foreign affairs, stated that Poland revoked from Belarus its Ambassador Tadeusz Pawliak “till improvement of the situation”. At night of 27-28 July the riot police seized the UPB office in Hrodna. They detained the officers and journalists and released them several hours later. Poles bent their knees in front of the office, asking God to solve this situation.
The political motivation of persecution of Poles is evident. On 26 July, in his speech at the government, A. Lukashenka stated he wouldn’t stand Polish interference with the internal affairs of Belarus with “invented problems related to Union of Poles”. Soon Belarus closed the airway to the Polish delegation to Moscow. As a result the diplomats had to fly through Ukraine. After it the authorities disproved this information and said that Poles had the necessary permission but didn’t want to use it. They called the whole story a provocation staged by Poland. Four workers of the Polish diplomatic mission were deported from Belarus and four Belarusian diplomats were deported from Poland. Belarusian authorities also closed the European fund “Dialogue” registered in Warsaw. Alexander Kwasnewski, president of Poland, stated it was the conflict with Belarusian regime, not society.
The situation is getting from bad to worse. In the end of July – beginning of August the police arrested the leaders of the Union of Poles. They were sentenced to different terms of jail:
1. Tadevush Havin, one of the UPB founders – 15 days;
2. Mechyslau Iaskievich – 10 days;
3. Vieslau Kieuliak, deputy chair of the UPB – 15 days;
4. Andrei Pachobut, chief editor of Magazyn Polski – 15 days;
5. Iuzaf Pazhetski – 10 days;
6. Andzhei Pisalnik – 10 days of jail.
The UPB chair Anzhalika Borys was warned by the procurator’s office.
The escalation of the conflict drew the attention of the US and the EU, who addressed critical notes to Belarusian authorities. The Council of Europe officially expressed its deep concern with the events concerning the Polish national minority in Belarus. In response the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Brussels and Washington in attempts to interfere with the country’s internal affairs.
At present the authorities limit the work of Polish journalists in Belarus. On 6 August they deported Adam Tuchlinski, photo correspondent of Przekroj and Newsweek magazines and didn’t let the TV journalist Marcin Smialowski into Belarus. Mr. Tuchlinski was deported from Belarus for alleged absence of accreditation. He was detained by two policemen in plain clothes who pulled him into ordinary car. He was very surprised at it and said it looked like a gang assault and one couldn’t even talk of any legality of such actions. Mr. Tuchlinski stated he had come to Belarus on tourist visa and made photos in public places, which is not banned by the law, but Belarusian police paid no attention to his explanations.
The same day the Polish journalist Marcin Smialowski wasn’t let into Belarus though he had visa and accreditation. Belarusian border guards detained him for several hours and then stated his presence in Belarus was undesirable and told him to return to Poland.