The recent arrests and convictions of members of the Polish diaspora in Belarus are part of a growing campaign of harassment and persecution orchestrated by the Minsk authorities against the country’s Poles.
It has been more than eight months since dozens of Belarusians took to the streets to protest against the result of the rigged presidential elections of 2020 and to oppose the regime of the “last dictator in Europe”, Alexander Lukashenko.
They have demonstrated across the country, showing continued perseverance and courage, to voice their grievances and demand democracy and freedom.
In response, Belarusian authorities unleashed a widespread and brutal crackdown on peaceful protests, using excessive force against protesters as well as arbitrary arrests, detentions and imprisonments of Belarusians exercising their human rights. Beaten and bruised, subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, the demonstrators remain rebellious despite a ruthless dictatorship and police brutality.
With a further escalation of the repression against the Belarusian people and the continued deterioration of human rights, the targeting of the Polish minority in Belarus has intensified sharply in recent weeks.
Minsk’s anti-Polish campaign
The Polish diaspora in Belarus is relatively large, numbering over 300,000 people, and it is well organized. The descendants of the Poles, who ended up in Belarus following the border changes after World War II, strive to remember their ancestors and their heritage. They continue to cultivate Polish language, culture and traditions, also by joining organizations such as the Union of Poles in Belarus.
The recent arrest and conviction of famous Polish activist and President of the Union of Poles in Belarus, Andżelika Borys, and the detention of journalist, blogger and Union member Andrzej Poczobut, are part of a growing campaign of harassment and persecution orchestrated by the Minsk authorities against the Polish diaspora.
The latest round of crackdowns on Poles was launched with offensive investigations into Polish educational institutions and an aggressive anti-Polish campaign on history and its misinterpretation. And the provocative and threatening actions of the Belarusian authorities against the Polish minority should continue.
The behavior of the authorities in Minsk is all the more surprising as it violates the centuries-old Belarusian tradition of tolerance and the multicultural character of the country. Belarus prides itself on its rich and historic freedom, tolerance and republican traditions dating back to the 15th and 18th centuries of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which were its hallmark before the country fell under Communist rule.
Poland will not be silent
The recent measures taken by the Belarusian authorities are part of a series of actions aimed at worsening the political crisis. In an attempt to weaken bilateral relations, in October last year 35 Polish and Lithuanian diplomats were expelled from Belarus; two more Polish diplomats were expelled this month. In solidarity with Poland and Lithuania, the UK temporarily recalled its ambassador to Belarus last year.
The accusations against Poland – repeatedly repeated in official Belarusian media – regarding the alleged Polish threat of terrorism or the promotion of a totalitarian system are absurd. Poland has always demonstrated its willingness to develop positive neighborly relations with Belarus; however, it cannot and will not remain silent in the face of an unprecedented wave of persecution and violations of human and minority rights.
It is important to bear in mind that the hostile attitude of the Belarusian authorities towards their own society, the Church, the independent media and national minorities is only aimed at covering up the internal problems which have been caused by the authorities themselves. themselves, with more than 33,000 people arrested during protests, as well as economic hardship resulting from the contraction of the economy and the deepening of the recession.
We must not close our eyes
Human rights violations in Belarus must end immediately. The Minsk authorities must respect the international commitment to protect human and minority rights enshrined in international agreements and conventions, such as the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris, as well as Bilateral Polish-Belarusian commitments under the Treaty of Good Neighborliness and Friendship Cooperation. Minorities have the right to freedom of expression, the right to assemble and the right to promote their ethnic, cultural and religious identity.
On March 25, we celebrated Freedom Day in Belarus. We are all witnessing a momentous moment not only in the history of Belarus, but also in the history of Europe. As a European and international community, we must not turn a blind eye to the fate of Belarusians.
The UK has rightly described itself, also in the recently published Integrated Review, as “a force for good”. The dire situation in Belarus, as well as that of the Polish minority, demands all the support it can get, especially from countries like the UK, where steadfast respect for basic human rights remains the solid foundation of the society.
I therefore express my deep hope and my expectation of solidarity from the whole world in condemning the aggressive actions of the Belarusian authorities. I call on the international community to join my call for the release of those imprisoned, to stop the repression of the Polish minority and to end human rights violations in Belarus.
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