MINELRES: Belarus: Serious Violations of Polish Minority Rights

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sat Jul 30 14:00:28 2005

Original sender: Ionas Aurelian Rus <ionasrus@eden.rutgers.edu>


Poland recalls ambassador from Belarus amid row over 'meddling' 
Thu Jul 28, 8:50 AM ET

MINSK (AFP) - Poland recalled its ambassador from Belarus after police
in the ex-Soviet republic seized the offices of a Polish community
association amid an escalating row over what Belarus' authoritarian
government says is foreign meddling in its affairs.

"Given the situation, we have recalled our ambassador for consultations.
He will not resume his post until the situation in Belarus changes,"
Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said in Warsaw.

The new crisis came hours after Belarussian riot police seized the
headquarters of the Association of Poles, which represents about 20,000
of Belarus' 400,000-strong ethnic Polish minority.

Several of the association's leaders - declared illegitimate by Belarus
President Alexander Lukashenko - were held in police custody before
being released Thursday morning.

The recall of the Polish ambassador follows tit-for-tat expulsions of
Polish and Belarussian diplomats amid mounting pressure on the ethnic
Polish association, a campaign that Warsaw describes as a human rights

The European Union also called Thursday on Belarus to "ensure full
compliance" with international obligations, "including the full respect
of minority rights."

"This new episode takes place in a context of growing repression," a
spokesman in Brussels said.

The broader reason for the breakdown in relations between the two
neighbours appears to be a growing fear in Minsk that outside powers aim
to foment democratic change in the ex-Soviet republic similar to the
"orange revolution" that shook Ukraine last year.

Earlier this week, Lukashenko accused the West, in particular the United
States, of spearheading a revolution in Belarus with the help of Poland
and two other neighbours, Lithuania and Ukraine.

Belarus, where opposition and free speech are strictly limited and the
economy is run on a Soviet-style command model, is due to hold
presidential elections next year.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is entitled to run again,
after a referendum in Belarus lifted the limit on the number of
presidential terms.

The Association of Poles in Belarus is one of the last big
non-governmental organisations in the country, but Lukashenko says
Poland uses the association to interfere in Belarus' internal affairs.

Overnight Wednesday, riot police in the western city of Grodno "broke
into the building with dogs and automatic guns, and all those inside,
including the association's chief Angelica Borys, were taken to a police
station," Inessa Todryk of the local Polish-language newspaper Glos znad
Niemna told AFP.

In addition, a court on Wednesday sentenced three prominent Poles to
prison terms of up to 15 days for public order offenses as the result of
an unauthorized demonstration they organized in early July.

Opposition figures and analysts in Belarus said the conflict
demonstrated the extent of Lukashenko's fear of being overthrown in the
kind of people-power revolution that shook three other ex-Soviet
republics - Georgia, Ukraine, then Kyrgyzstan - in the last 20 months.

"Lukashenko is in a panic from fear of an 'orange revolution,'" said
political analyst Valery Karbalevich.

"Because Poland actively supports democratisation in Belarus, including
through EU structures, Lukashenko believes that it will be through the
Association of Poles that Poland will export the 'orange revolution,'"
Karbalevich said.

Alexander Milinkevich, a potential opposition candidate in presidential
elections, told AFP that Poland and other EU countries would probably
keep applying pressure on Lukashenko by supporting civil society.

"They will work solely with civil society in Belarus, non-governmental
organisations, free trade unions, and support independent media," he

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