Amid escalating tensions between Belarus and Poland, Reuters reported on June 30 that a memorial to soldiers of the Polish Home Army (AK) in Mikulishki, Belarus, had been destroyed.
The Polish Home Army was the main anti-Nazi resistance force in occupied Poland during World War II. Polish media covered the reported destruction of the memorial, and the Polish charge d'affaires in Belarus, Martin Wojciechowski, visited the memorial site July 5.
That same day, Poland’s Foreign Ministry released a statement expressing concern about “increasingly frequent cases of violating Polish national memorials in Belarus” and blaming the pro-Russian Belarus government for an “atmosphere of acquiescence to such practices.”
The Belarus Foreign Ministry waved it off as “hysterics.”
In reference to Mikulishki, the ministry said on July 7 that, “According to local authorities, no military funerals and burials of foreign soldiers have been registered in this settlement.”
But this is false, according to the Polish government and historians.
According to Poland’s Foreign Ministry, there are several hundred small memorials to Polish Home Army soldiers in western Belarus. Such memorials are often unofficial but well cared for by surrounding communities.
Earlier this month, BelSat TV, the Polish satellite channel aimed at Belarus, interviewed Belarusian historian Alexander Pashkevich, who noted that memorials to Polish Home Army soldiers are located across western Belarus.
He said that many of them were built and maintained by members of the Polish minority in Belarus and on land that had belonged to Poland before the World War II. Local news reports have chronicled other incidents involving the desecration of Polish memorials have been reported in the Belarusian towns of Volkovysk, Kaczyczy and Kachichi.
Poland also recently spoke out about the removal of a Polish flag at a cemetery in Katyn, western Russia, that commemorates the Polish military officers executed there by Soviet forces in 1940.
Ethnic Poles and Polish speakers are a minority in Belarus and have been the target of discrimination and harassment throughout President Alexander Lukashenko’s tenure.
The Polish community has been primarily represented by the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB), although the group’s operations have been reduced after its leaders were arrested in 2021.
Community leaders and politicians in Poland have been vocal about the discrimination against and antagonism toward the Polish communities in Belarus.
Since almost the start of his tenure as Belarus’ president in 1994, Lukashenko has identified the Polish minority in Belarus as potentially destabilizing to the state because of its close relationship with the Polish government.
Lukashenko, who effectively rules as a dictator, also sees Belarus’ Polish minority as a threat to his efforts to shore up domestic support following his disputed election victory in 2020.
The European Union, including Poland, recognizes Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran as the opposition candidate in that election and who is now in exile, as the country’s rightful leader.
Tsikhanouskaya also has recognized the destruction of Polish memorials inside Belarus and has objected on social media about the way the Belarusian government has responded.
Russia's war against Ukraine is backdrop for the Polish-Belarus tensions.
Poland is a member of the U.S.-led NATO defense alliance, which is arming Ukraine. Belarus is Russia’s ally, and Lukashenko allowed the Kremlin to amass troops on its border with Ukraine prior to the invasion in February. This month, Lukashenko threatened to attack Western cities.
Earlier this month, a top-ranking Belarusian intelligence official, Maj. Gen. Ruslan Kosygin, alleged that the United States was using Poland and the Baltic states as a “testing ground” for “plans to unleash another bloody conflict in Europe against the Russian Federation and its allies.”
Kosygin indicated that Belarus would not hesitate to respond to threats.
Late last year, Poland accused Belarus of instigating and inflaming migrant crises along their shared border. The Belarusian government has denied those claims.
Belarus has accused Poland of desecrating memorials.
“About 30 acts of vandalism have been registered in Poland this year alone. Monuments to people, who gave their lives to free Poland from fascism, were vandalized,” the Belarus Foreign Ministry said in its July 7 statement. “The desecration of a mass grave of 620 soldiers in Chrzowice in March 2022 was broadcast live.
“In 1997, there were 561 monuments in Poland whereas now there are less than 100 of them left.”
This is misleading.
Following the passage of a “de-communization law” in Poland, the Institute of National Remembrance, a state-sponsored research and archival organization aligned with the majority Law and Justice Party, has led initiatives to remove memorials that feature Soviet symbols.
The President of the Institute of National Remembrance, Karol Nawrocki, spoke during the demolition of a memorial in Chrzowice, stating that there was “no room” for monuments that “symbolize the crimes of the communist system.”