On 16 May in Bielastok (Poland) Court Will Announce Verdict on Case of Editors of Belarusian Weekly Niva
On Tuesday, 9 May 2006 in Bielastok there came to an end one more court sitting of Bielastok District Court on the case that was brought against members of the Program Board of the Niva weekly, the only newspaper of the Belarusian national minority in Poland. That day the court listened to witnesses. The defense lawyers of the accused solicited for summonsing more witnesses, but the court refused to do it, saying everything was quite clear. The only witness on 9 May was Ivona Grodskaja, former worker of the Department of culture of national and ethnic minorities of the Ministry of Culture of Poland. She stated that at the moment that is considered by the court the department gave financial assistance to organizations with the view of its budget, not the demands of the organizations. This article completely satisfied the defendants and their lawyers. Basing on the testimonies of all witnesses the lawyers asked the court to justify their clients. The accusation insists on 8 months of conditional imprisonment with probation term of 2 years and 7000 US dollars fine to the former chair of the Program Board of Niva Eugeniusz Mironovicz, 1 year of conditional imprisonment with 3-year probation term and 1 000 US dollars fine for the accountant Maria Pawliuchuk and 1 year of conditional imprisonment and 200 US dollars fine to 9 other members of the Program Board. The members of the Program Board of the weekly and their lawyers disagree with the accusation and state that it is biased and tendentious. In his last word one of the accused, the chief editor of Niva Eugeniusz Wappa pointed at the fact that international human rights organizations pay much interest to this case. To his mind, it witnesses that the accusation is unfair.
The final sitting of Bielastok District Court is to take place at 2 p.m. on 16 May 2006 in Bielastok, Kiuri-Sadowska Street, 1, room #9.
We should remind that members of the Program Board of Niva were accused of violation of the law on accountancy. According to Eugeniusz Mironovicz, ‘the accusation stated that the accountant allegedly hadn’t filled or had filled incorrectly a number of financial documents. Since the very beginning, when the Supreme control chamber started its check-up at the editorial office of Niva, it was clear they were looking for a reason for a scandal, and in the case a state organ is looking for something, it will find. One of Stalin’s prosecutors said: ‘Show me a man, and we’ll find the appropriate article’. The blow on Niva was professionally planned and the intellect of professional provocateurs is clearly visible here.’
Further in his article Mr Mironowicz analyzes the reasons for such treatment of the Polish Belarusians. ‘After the declaration of the results of the general population census of 2002 (almost 50 000 persons declared themselves Belarusians) the local nationalists concluded that the process of assimilation of Belarusians was slowing down too much and should be sped up with the assistance of the administrative repressions. That’s why they started to haunt Niva, seeing it as the main factor that favored the preservation of the Belarusian identity…’
Other members of the Program Board of Niva agree with these conclusions of Prof. Mironovicz. This case caused a large resonance in the journalistic circles of the world (it was elucidated by the Polish mass media, Radio Free Europe, www.spring96.org, www.euramost.org, etc.). The Belarusian Association of Journalists adopted a special statement of solidarity with the journalists of Niva, protesting against the methods that are applied against them.
Moreover, the case was discussed in the human rights circles. Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna urged the Polish authorities to turn attention to the situation of Niva and the schools of Bielastok area where Belarusian language is taught. One of the most influential political parties of Belarus, Belarusian People’s Front, also expressed its solidarity with the Program Board of Niva. Many organizations and private individuals in Belarus and abroad have started collecting signatures in support of the defendants and some well-known public figures of Poland said they couldn’t understand the very nature and essence of this case.
There are many surprising facts there, because even the accusation confirms that no financial means were stolen or lost. What’s the matter than? If we analyze the materials of Prof. Mironowicz, we can only pity the Belarusians who live in Bielastok area. Many of them fought for democracy together with other members of Solidarnosc and even were imprisoned under Jaruzelski’s rule (such as the world-known historian Oleg Latyszonek). Now they are considered as aliens in the Polish democracy and are purposefully labeled as Communists and Lukashenka’s supporters, despite the fact that the attitude of the present Belarusian authorities to the members of the editorial office of Niva is well known. For instance, the journalist Jury Kalina and the editor Eugeniusz Wappa can’t get visa to Belarus. So, now the Belarusians of Bielastok area are between the beetle and the block: their ethnic fatherland doesn’t welcome them and in Bialystok they can’t get clear explanations what they are judged for.
At present the attention of Niva adherents is fixed on the upcoming court verdict that will be announced on 16 May. 16th day of every month is especially important for Belarusians. That day they light in their windows candles of solidarity with political prisoners. The members of the Program Board of Niva state that in the case the verdict is unfair they would apply to supreme instances, including the international ones.