Poland has expelled two Belarusian diplomats in what a deputy minister called an act of “reciprocity” as the two sides fight over a recent World War II commemoration and Warsaw’s support of pro-democracy activists in Belarus.
Poland’s government has repeatedly condemned Alyaksandr Lukashenka and called for increased sanctions against Minsk. Belarus has been the site of nearly daily protests since last August when Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared winner of a presidential election that the West and tens of thousands of Belarusians say was rigged.
Poland has also sheltered Belarusian activists who have fled across the border to escape the crackdown on Belarus’s pro-democracy supporters. More than 30,000 people have been detained, hundreds beaten, and several killed, in the Belarusian government crackdown, triggering Western sanctions and refusals to recognize Lukasehnka, 66, as the legitimate leader of Belarus.
“Due to the ongoing unfriendly gestures from Minsk towards Polish diplomats, Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to expel Belarus’ General Consul in Bialystok as well as the consul from Warsaw according to the principles of reciprocity,” Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz wrote in a tweet on March 12.
The move comes a day after the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it had expelled the two diplomats “in connection with the excessive, asymmetric, and destructive response of Poland.”
The two senior staff members of the Polish Consulate in the city of Hrodna were given 48 hours to leave the country, the ministry said.
The unofficial, commemorative event at the heart of the dispute took place on February 28 in the southwestern Belarusian city of Brest in honor of so-called “cursed soldiers,” Polish fighters who initially fought against Nazi occupation and later turned against Soviet occupiers. The soldiers often acted violently against non-Poles, especially Belarusians.
On March 9, Minsk announced it was expelling the Polish consul, Jerzy Timofejuk, saying he had taken part in the ceremony, prompting Warsaw to also declare a Belarusian diplomat “persona non grata” the next day.
Belarus then responded with the expulsion of the two Polish diplomats on March 11.
Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said that Warsaw reserved its right to an “adequate response” to the move.
Belarusian prosecutors said on March 10 that they had opened a criminal case into the Brest event for actions aimed at inciting national, religious enmity, and hate based on nationality, religion, language, as well as actions aimed at glorifying Nazism.
The Foreign Ministry in Minsk said celebrating “war criminals and the justification of genocide against the Belarusian people” was unacceptable.
The Day of Cursed Soldiers has been commemorated in Poland every March 1 since 2011.