The case of Lida-based Poles’ House updated

April 22, 2016 18:26

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.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.