- June 20, 2013
Belarus: Fines for commemorating the Polish Home Army
Mieczysław Jaśkiewicz, the chairman of the Union of Poles in Belarus, which is not recognised by the authorities in Minsk, and Weronika Sebastianowicz, the chairman of the Polish Home Army Soldiers’ Association in Belarus, have been sentenced to pay fines. The Court in Shchuchyn, which is a town in the Hrodna Voblast (Region), sentenced the head of the Union of Poles in Belarus to pay 4 mln Belarusian rubles (ca. LT 1300) and Sebastianowicz to pay 2,5 mln Belarusian rubles (ca. LT 700). They both have been found guilty of violating the rules of holding mass events since they did not have the proper permission from the authorities, said Uładzimir Kisielewicz, the defendants’ attorney.
It is all about an event that took place in Raczkowszczyzna, a village in the Hrodna Voblast, on May 12, 2013. There the Union of Poles in Belarus raised a cross commemorating Anatol Radziwonik, pseudonym “Olech,” who was the last commanding officer of the Home Army of the united forces of Shchuchyn-Lida (and who died fighting with the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs in 1949). More than 100 people took part in the ceremony, including Sebastianowicz, a few other veteran soldiers from the Home Army, and Andrzej Chodkiewicz who is the Consul General of Poland in Hrodna.
“I think that the sentence is unlawful because Jaśkiewicz and Sebastianowicz have not committed any administrative offence. Their actions should not come within the provisions of the Safety of Mass Events Act because, first of all, the people had no intention to hold a mass event,” said Kisielewicz. What is more, he regards the sentence as “political persecution.”
Mieczysław Jaśkiewicz emphasized the fact that the cross was raised on a private property with consent of its owner. Jaśkiewicz also stressed that the people who gathered there participated in a prayer. After the sentence was pronounced he said that the court case has nonetheless brought several positive effects: now everyone in Shchuchyn certainly knows that Radziwonik lived near Shchuchyn, was a Polish-language teacher before the war, and died for his land. “Czesław Niemen was born not far away from here. In his songs he extolled this land. He said that the world is strange. Moreover, Jaśkiewicz said that he cannot understand the fact that those who used to fight patriots are now remembered as heroes and there are monuments commemorating their memory, with inscriptions like “they died fighting for their fatherland,” though they had been born 2,000-3,000 km away. By comparison, those who fought for their land and home are remembered as criminals.”
Weronika Sebastianowicz said that she does not feel guilty. “A cross is sacred and it should be raised to commemorate every man who has ever been born,” she claimed, adding that she wass glad that the cross commemorating Radziwonik and other soldiers of the Home Army still stood there. “I must yet find my brother and raise a cross for him. To this day I do not know where he is buried. He was a Home Army soldier as well,” she emphasized. To the Wednesday hearing came a few dozen activists from the Polish minority, human rights champions, journalists, and Adam Chmura, who is a consul of Poland from Hrodna.
The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the attempt to accuse Sebastianowicz and Jaśkiewicz “of commemorating the Home Army commanding officer and of the alleged organisation of an illegal event resembles repressions from the dark ages, which should already make history in the whole of Europe.” “National minorities in Europe, including Poland, have the right to cultivate their identities and histories. We expect that Belarus will respect this right,” they said in the statement. The spokesman for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Marcin Bosacki, said: “We stand by our former opinion that cases of this kind resemble repressions from the dark ages of communist dictatorship. Once again, we appeal to Belarus for respecting the right of national minorities to cultivate their identities and histories, in the same way as this right is respected in the whole of Europe, including Poland.”
Andrzej Chodkiewicz, the Consul General of Poland in Hrodna, estimates that the number of places commemorating the Home Army soldiers in his area is around 30-40. They can be whole sections or just plates in church or municipal graveyards, informing that a Home Army soldier lies buried there. According to the information gathered by Sebastianowicz, in Belarus there are around 70 former Home Army soldiers, now elder people, the majority of whom are bedridden.
Weronika Sebastianowicz swore an oath to the Home Army. Since 1945, she had been a messenger of the post-Home Army underground. In April 1951 she was arrested and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment. She served the sentence in a labour camp in Vorkuta. After Stalin’s death the sentence was being gradually shortened and she eventually returned to Belarus. Her brother and father also belonged to the Home Army. In 1993 the Belarusian prosecutor’s office refused to rehabilitate her. The sentence was deemed as fair because she had maintained criminal connections with active members of the Home Army.
Based on: Polish Press Agency (PAP)
Tłumaczenie by Elwira Łykus w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Elwira Łykus within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.