Poland condemns Belarusian repression of its Polish minority

Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk has announced that Poland will demand an explanation from the Belarusian authorities after an intensification of repression targeting its Polish minority.

Polish school headteacher detained in Belarus

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The reaction comes following the detention of Anna Paniszewa, a Polish minority activist and headteacher of a Polish School in the Belarusian city of Brest. She was arrested for the part she played in organising a commemoration event marking the Polish National Day of Remembrance of the Indomitable Soldiers on March 1.

The soldiers were part of a number of underground military organisations that had fought against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. They decided to keep fighting against the Soviet Union as well, as it imposed the communist marionette regime on Poland following the end of the war. Some of the Indomitable Soldiers have been accused by Belarus of killing Belarusians in connection with their armed struggle against the Soviet and Polish communist regimes.

According to the prosecutor responsible for the detention of Ms. Paniszewa, the headmistress took part in an "illegal mass event" which glorified “war criminals”.

Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk has reacted strongly against the actions taken by the prosecutor’s office and expects and Belarusian authorities to firmly condemn the repression targeting the sizable Polish minority in Belarus, which according to official figures is almost 300,000 people.

Ms Paniszewa’s arrest comes in the wake of the decision by the authorities in Minsk to expel three Polish diplomats from the country. Poland responded by expelling three Belarusian diplomats, in accordance with diplomatic standards of reciprocity.

Minister Wawrzyk stressed that Poland does not want to escalate the conflict, and therefore limits itself to reacting to the actions of Belarusian authorities. “We only respond in an adequate manner, accepted in bilateral relations," the minister stated.

The actions of the Belarusian authorities towards the Polish minority have been criticised by local opposition activist Alexander Milinkevich.

The founder of the "For Freedom" movement says that he believes President Alexander Lukashenko is directly behind the decision to escalate tensions with Poland, following Poland’s critical stance against the way the presidential election in August 2020 was conducted. President Lukashenko was re-elected with 80.1 percent of the vote for a sixth consecutive term, in an election that is widely considered to have been marred by electoral fraud.

According to Milinkevich, the Belarusian president draws from the Soviet traditions and is looking to start diplomatic conflicts with neighboring states in order to deflect from his increasingly fragile internal position.

Following the presidential election, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was a driving force behind an emergency meeting of the European Council, which declared on August 19th that the Belarusian elections were neither free nor fair and that the Council therefore does not recognise the results.