Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Belarusian refugees demonstrate in Warsaw
Belarussian refugees in Warsaw, joined by Polish human rights campaigners, chanting ‘Down with the Lukashenko regime’ in front of the Belarussian embassy in the Polish capital. That was in response to the latest move by the Belarussian government to forcibly close down the offices of the ethnic Polish organization in the city of Grodno, right on the Polish border. The newly, democratically elected leader of the Polish organization, Anzelika Borys, was arrested under a pretext, to allow her replacement, a man handpicked by the Belarussian president, to take control of the union. The controversy over the election of the Polish organisation’s leadership has been simmering for several months now. The government in Minsk first tried to intimidate the community leaders, then it ordered the printing of false Polish language newspapers bearing the organisation’s logo, to discredit it. With the Polish ethnic community in Belarus numbering more four hundred thousand, and human rights abuses mounting in number, Polish politicians feel it is time that not just Poland took a stance on what’s going on in that former Soviet republic. Polish Speaker of Parliament Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz doesn’t mince words when he talks about the present state of Polish-Belarussian relations.
The Polish government has repeatedly asked the European Union to put pressure on Belarus to observe democratic principles that are respected in all other European countries. However, Polish leaders were surprised to hear the views of senior Brussels officials, who suggested that the deterioration of Polish-Belarussian relations was just a matter between the two countries, and that Poland should try to settle the dispute on its own. Polish commentators argue that just like in Ukraine, only with the EU’s help could democracy be restored in Belarus. Polish politicians have been arguing that with Ukraine now firmly on its path toward integration with western structures, Moscow may be trying to keep the maverick Belarussian government within its sphere of own interests. Meanwhile, Poland is attracting more and more Belarussian refugees, like this teacher in his thirties. He says that in his country, it is just not possible to speak your mind.
‘Belarussian dissidents live in terror. There’s high unemployment in Belarus, but if you openly say you are against the Lukashenko regime, you simply lose your job, the Belarussian refugee says.
You can also listen to a broadcast of the piece.