What’s Happening in Belarus?

On 8 February, Belarusian Police entered and overtook a building owned by the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB) in the town of Ivyanets. In response, the Polish government recalled its ambassador from Minsk the next day.

The eviction, condemned by both the Polish government and Belarusian senior opposition figure Alyaksandr Milinkevich, also prompted a series of protests last week by ethnic Poles in the country, but that was not the end of the controversy. Mieczyslaw Jaskiewicz, the deputy head of the ZPB, was detained by Belarusian police on Friday, on charges of not having the appropriate driver’s licence. A hefty fine has also been charged against Polonica, a firm led by Andżelika Borys, the ZPB’s chairperson. The crackdown continued on Monday with a series of arrests, including that of Borys. Altogether, about 40 members of the ZPB have been arrested in Belarus.

On Friday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk spoke out against what he called an “unjustified and scandalous element of repression and harassment of the Polish minority and institutions linked to it”. He called for higher standards of treatment for minorities in Belarus, and warned that this situation could affect Belarusian-EU relations.

Today, the crackdown was condemned by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “I condemn police action against the Union of Poles and what appear to be attempts by the authorities to impose a new leadership on the Polish community,” she stated.

Belarus has much to lose if the clampdown continues, including its participation in the Eastern Partnership, a new EU scheme designed to boost EU ties with six post-Soviet states, including Belarus. “The success of this engagement is conditional on steps towards democratisation and upholding human rights, including minority rights,” Ms. Ashton explained.

Jerzy Buzek, European Parliament president and former Polish prime minister, echoed Ms. Ashton’s statements. “The Belarusian authorities must understand how much might be lost on non-compliance with basic human rights,” he added.

The ZPB had already angered Belarusian authorities four years ago, when it elected Borys, a Polish activist, as its head. The group, numbering about 20,000, was unregistered, and a pro-government official union was formed, called the Union of Belarusian Poles. However, the Polish government still only acknowledges the ZPB as the only group representing the 400,000-strong Polish minority in Belarus.

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