The case of Lida-based Poles’ House updated
On February 20th, Bealrus’ Investigative Committee reported that in 2011 there was an attempt to blow up the building of the Poles’ House in Lida. Criminal investigation has been launched into the matter.
Belarusian authorities have reserved an additional communication channel with Poland – on the special services’ level. Depending on the foreign policy developments, the criminal case regarding the explosion near the Poles’ House may be used by the authorities either as destructive or constructive tool in negotiations with the West.
Unexpected statement by the Investigative Committee that in December 2011 there was an attempt to blow up the Poles’ House building in Lida could be explained by the following factors.
Firstly, this news refreshes Belarusian-Polish relations through recalling the two Poles’ Unions operating in Belarus after the split in the leadership in 2005. The conflict between the Poles’ Unions left the most important economic issues unresolved, namely, who owns the 16 Poles’ Houses in Belarus.
Secondly, the authorities are likely to use this dispute as an entry point in the broader conflict – the relations between Belarus and Poland and the EU. These relations depend on Russo-Belarusian relations and can be both, destructive and more constructive. In particular, during the meeting with the KGB heads, President Lukashenko expressed interest in a constructive dialogue with the West.
Highly likely, the criminal investigation into the blast near the Poles’ House will follow the destructive policy line in the Polish-Belarusian bilateral relations. The case envisages charges of “illegal actions with firearms, ammunition and explosives” (part 2 article 295 of the Criminal Code), and the Investigative Committee officials particularly emphasized there were no grounds for legal actions on “terrorism” charges. Noteworthy, the information about the criminal case was originally published in the “Ezhednevnik”, an online publication known for its close ties with Belarus’ security agencies. The information was later circulated by the main independent news agencies however the state media ignored this news entirely.
Finally, it should be noted that the statement was made right after the Polish Foreign Ministry published its statistics about the number of issued “Pole’s Cards”. On February 19th, Chairman of the non-registered Belarusian Union of Poles Mr. Jaskiewicz said in an interview with the “Radio Liberty’s” Belarusian service that Belarusian officials, despite the legal ban, continued applying for the “Pole’s Card”, and that the Union helped them in confidence. Bearing this in mind, the report by the Investigative Committee could be regarded as a warning to all involved.
Nevertheless, in the context of developments in the multilateral relations between Belarus and the EU, the criminal case could mean that Minsk generally aimed to resume dialogue with the West, and was collecting “weighty” arguments to strengthen their negotiating position.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.