Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

Meeting on Problem of Union of Poles Postponed by a Week

The first meeting of a Belarusian-Polish expert group that was established to discuss possible solutions to the problem of the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB) has been postponed by a week.

The meeting, initially scheduled for March 9, has been postponed, tentatively until March 16, because of differences between the parties on the issue, an informed source told BelaPAN.

The group is reportedly headed by Leanid Hulyaka, the Belarusian governments commissioner on religious and ethnic affairs, and Andrzej Kremer, the Polish foreign ministrys undersecretary of state.
An agreement to set up a group of experts to resolve the Polish minority conflict was reached by Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski at their meeting in Kyiv on February 25.

"The president of Belarus assured me that the group of experts would try to find solutions satisfactory to both parties," Polskie Radio quoted Mr. Sikorski as saying. "I accepted this in good faith... I think I managed to convince President Lukashenka that this is a matter of urgency."

Messrs. Lukashenka and Sikorski were staying in Kyiv to attend the inauguration of President-elect Viktor Yanukovych.

Mr. Sikorski noted that he had arrived in the Ukrainian capital city with a special view to meeting with the Belarusian leader.

The fact that Mr. Lukashenka agreed to the meeting suggests that Belarus "takes seriously the Belarusian-Polish relationship and the Belarusian-European relationship," Mr. Sikorski said.

He called on the Polish media and politicians not to stir up passions and let the experts do quiet behind-the-scenes work so that they will be able to generate solutions in an atmosphere free of provocations. In the meantime, the Polish community in Belarus would have two autonomous organizations and the two countries would be able to develop their economic, cultural and political relations, the minister said.
"I believe the dialogue and our conversation are proof that the government of Belarus realizes the seriousness of the situation and wants to find a solution," Mr. Sikorski noted.

"While tackling any issues that exist between Poland and Belarus and especially the issues that you are talking about, you should proceed from the fact that those 200,000 people of Polish origin are my Poles and my voters, and Im responsible for them personally." Mr. Lukashenka said. "And Ill do everything so that they will have a good life in Belarus."

The Union of Poles in Belarus split into a so-called official UPB, that is, the one recognized and backed by the Belarusian government, and an "unofficial" (unrecognized) UPB after Andzelika Borys was elected leader of the Union at a convention held in March 2005 and the Belarusian justice ministry declared her election illegitimate. At a government-orchestrated repeat convention held a few months later, Jozef Lucznik, a retired Polish language and history teacher, was elected new leader. Supporters of Ms. Borys contested the legitimacy of the repeat convention, accusing the government of installing loyal people at the UPB helm.

Many of the UPB members, including its founder Tadeusz Gawin, refused to recognize the new leader, siding with Ms. Borys.

At a conference held in Hrodna in September 2009, Stanislaw Siemaszko, a 57-year-old local businessman was elected to succeed the 73-year-old Lucznik.

However, the Polish government still regards Ms. Borys as the only legitimate leader of the Union. President Lech Kaczynski expressed solidarity with the unofficial UPB while meeting with Ms. Borys and other prominent members of the Union in Warsaw on February 22.

"People of the official Union of Poles and those who are regarded as members of the unrecognized union have the right to act as an organization," Polish politician Jacek Protasiewicz, who chairs the European Parliaments Delegation for Relations with Belarus, told BelaPAN while on a visit to Minsk last week. "If they cannot cooperate, why should not they be given the opportunity to work separately, as two separate organizations? This could solve the problem," he said.