Conflict with Poland risks escalating to the broader European level
To the West, last week was overshadowed by the aggravation of diplomatic conflict with Poland centred on the Polish national day of remembrance of “cursed soldiers”, which is traditionally a problematic issue for Belarus.
The event commemorates the participants of the anti-Soviet armed underground. It features a march of “damned soldiers” in Hainouka, honouring(among others) Ramuald Rice, who was convicted of war crimes in 1949 as a war criminal for murdering 79 Orthodox Belarusian peasants in eastern Poland but later rehabilitated.
On March 9, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned Polish charge d’affaires, Martin Wojciechowski, to deliver a strong protest regarding the Polish Consul in Brest, Jerzy Timofiejuk. The point of contention was Mr Timofiejuk’s participation in an informal event dedicated to the “Day of the Damned Soldiers” featuring participants representing non-governmental and youth organisations associated with Poland, held in Brest on February 28, 2021. The Polish side was handed a note requesting that Consul Jerzy Timofiejuk leave Belarusian territory.
On March 10, Marcin Przydacz, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Security, American, Asian and Eastern policy, tweeted that a member of the Belarusian Embassy delegation in Warsaw had been declared persona non grata.
Also on March 10, the Brest prosecutors office opened a criminal case under Part 3 of Art. 130 of the Criminal Code (rehabilitation of Nazism) connected with an event held at the regional centre dedicated to the “Day of the Damned Soldiers”. As part of the investigation, the co-founder of the “Polish School” and its director were detained.
On March 11, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry handed Wojciechowski a note requesting that the Head and Consul of the Polish Consulate General in Hrodna leave the country within 48 hours.
The following day, Warsaw announced the expulsion of two Belarusian diplomats: the Consul from the Embassy in the capital and the head of the Consulate General in Bialystok.
In response to this, on March 12, a group of eight MEPs addressed a letter to the European Parliament leadership calling for restricting access to the Parliament for employees of the Belarusian Embassy in Brussels and reviewing communications with the Belarusian Embassy in general.
On March 14, Wendy Morton, Minister for European Neighbourhood and America for the UK, supported the Polish position and called the expulsion of Polish diplomats a “cowardly attack.”
The escalation of this conflict may exacerbate the crisis in relations with the European Union as a whole and undermine the few remaining communication channels with Brussels.