Kraków City Council Declares Lukashenka Persona Non-Grata
The council of the Polish city of Kraków has declared Aliaksandr Lukašenka, the President of Belarus, persona non grata in the city. It is a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Union of Poles in Belarus. The city council has passed a resolution which appeals to the European Parliament to take all possible effective action against the Belarusian state to protect the rights of persecuted Poles in Belarus. The conflict around the Union of Poles of Belarus is quite far from what it may look like at the first glance. The specific is that the conflict has no nationalistic background at all.
In principle, one can find potential grounds for Polish-Belarusian nationalistic tensions on historical and geographic issues, just as there are tensions between Poland and the Republic of Lithuania around the Vilnius region or between Poland and Ukraine on the role of Ukrainian Insurgent Army in the 2nd World War. Polonization and repressions against Belarusian national movement in Poland-occupied West Belarus in 1919-1939, transfer of the city of Bielastok (Polish Białystok) and surroundings from Belarus to Poland by Joseph Stalin in 1945 or the fact itself that Poles are the only ethnic minority in Belarus that was largely formed not as a result of migration of people from mainland Poland but from Roman Catholics of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania adopting Polish self-identification – all these controversial historical episodes could have been used by a nationalistic Belarusian government as a reason for tensions with Poland.
As a tradition from Soviet times, September 17, the day of the Soviet invasion to Poland in 1939, is still commemorated as the Day of Reunification of West Belarus with the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, but nothing more than that. Belarus has avoided a wave of nationalistic self-esteem buildup all other newly independent states, like Ukraine or the Baltic states, have been through. The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka is far from being nationalistic. To the contrary, it seems more cautious about the Belarusian-speaking minority, that is mostly represented by urban intelligentsia and youth in opposition to Lukashenka, than about the Polish minority. There is an official Union of Poles of Belarus led by Stanislau Siamashka that is loyal to the government and that gets support from it.
The prosecution of the unofficial Union of Poles of Belarus led by Anžalika Borys is first of all a prosecution of an organization that is independent from the government and refused to demonstrate loyalty. It should be viewed together with the government's reluctance to register political parties (like the Belarusian Christian Democracy) or repressions against free press in Belarus – and not along with nationalistic tensions between certain parties in Poland and Ukraine or the Republic of Lithuania. Read stories by Belorusskie Novosti, Gazeta.pl (in Polish) and TVP (in Polish). See also a background story by Deutsche Welle Russian edition
Avigdor Lieberman’s Murky Dealings in Belarus Unveiled
A loud scandal involving the foreign Minister of Israel and money laundering via Belarusian banks is unfolding. Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, the former Ambassador of Israel to Belarus, provided Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister of Israel, classified information when they met in Belarus in 2008.
That information suggested that Lieberman had accepted bribes and evaded taxes using Belarusian banks. Israeli authorities were hoping to cooperate secretly with the Belarusian authorities, but their ambassador kept a copy of the confidential files for himself, and later shared it with his boss Liberman.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
According to the statement released by police, Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus, Ze’ev Ben-Aryeh, allegedly showed Lieberman classified information regarding his investigation by police on allegations that he had accepted bribes and failed to report income to the tax authorities.
The documents had been sent to Ben-Aryeh by the Foreign Ministry to hand over to the Belarus government, whose help Israel required in tracing money transfers from a local bank.
According to the police statement, “the ambassador, who was supposed to pass the request on discretely and directly to the authorities in Belarus, kept one copy for himself. When Lieberman arrived in Belarus on a visit (during October 2008), [Ben-Aryeh] copied classified information from the request, [and] handed it over to Lieberman illegally when they met. The investigation also deals with Lieberman’s involvement in the advancement and job appointments of Ben-Aryeh in the Foreign Ministry in recent months.”
It is interesting that a few years ago the Israeli Embassy in Belarus was closed down completely, but later re-opened. According to Israeli Haaretz newspaper, Avigdor Lieberman became excessively interested in relations between Israel and Belarus long before he was appointed Foreign Minister. As a minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, Lieberman actively lobbied for Israel to reopen its Minsk embassy, closed following budget cuts in 2003.
Although this scandal is an internal matter of Israel, Belarus is becoming internationally infamous for its dealings with all kinds of murky “investors”. The countries of origin vary from Syria and other Arab countries, Russia, Israel, Iraq, Libya and North Kora. It is often unclear what Belarus has to offer to such investors.
Take an example of Emanuel Zeltser, a US lawyer involved in battle over the legacy of a Georgian-Russian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili who died in London under mysterious circumstances in 2008. Zeltser spent more than a year in Belarusian KGB prison under bogus charges. It is still a mistery what the whole dispute has to do with Belarus.
Despite its ever changing pro-Russian or pro-Western rhetoric, the only aspiration of the Belarus regime is to remain in power for as long as possible. “Money does not smell” seems to be the prevailing ideology in Belarus today.
Read more about Liberman’s story in Jerusalem Post.