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EU Official Criticizes Belarus On Eviction Of Ethnic Poles

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek

STRASBOURG/MINSK -- The president of the EU Parliament has criticized Belarus for evicting an ethnic Polish organization from its offices, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

"I call on the Belarusian authorities to stop taking drastic measures against the Polish minority,” said EU Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, who is Polish, speaking today in Strasbourg. “An essential condition for our good relations with Belarus is its acceptance of EU norms with regard to ethnic minorities."

Buzek's comments come on the same day that Poland recalled Ambassador Henryk Litwin from Minsk for consultations. Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said in Warsaw that the recall is a political signal to Belarus that Poland is unhappy with the treatment of the cultural group, the Union of Poles in Belarus (ZPB).

Paszkowski said Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Viktar Haysionak was told by Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer during a meeting in Warsaw today that "such repressive actions are unacceptable" to Polish authorities.

ZPB activist Andrzej Poczobut told RFE/RL’s Belarus Service on February 8 that police came to the group's offices in Ivyanets -- about 50 kilometers from Minsk -- and the staff was ordered to vacate the building, known as the Polish House. Poczobut was stopped by police as he was driving to Ivyanets and was prevented from continuing.

Police later seized the Polish House after it was vacated.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on Polish television that he was getting ready for a "manly talk" with the Belarusian Foreign Ministry about the Ivyanets incident.

The ZPB was deregistered by Belarusian authorities after it elected Andzelika Borys as its chairwoman in 2005. Belarusian officials have registered a progovernment alternative called the Union of Belarusian Poles, led by Stanislau Syamashka. It was Syamashka who urged the authorities to confiscate the Polish House and give it to his organization.

Warsaw recognizes Borys's ZPB as the sole legal representative of the Polish minority in Belarus. It is a nonpolitical organization set up to promote the Polish language and cultural traditions among ethnic Poles living in Belarus. It says it has about 20,000 members.

Buzek said respect for the rights of all minorities in Belarus is "absolutely crucial" for improved EU-Belarus relations.

About 4 percent of Belarus's 9.7 million people are ethnic Poles.