Why Belarus is erasing the memory of WWII Polish resistance


On 27 June, the Union of Poles in Belarus reported that “unknown criminals” had stolen gravestones and dug up the our bodies of two Polish troopers from the AK [Armia Krajowa or Home Army, the WWII Polish resistance]. They died in 1944 in Iodkavichy, close to Grodno [formerly a part of Poland].

On 30 June, the Polish overseas ministry claimed that “acts of desecration of locations of nationwide Polish reminiscence” had turn into extra frequent in Belarus. Based on the Polish diplomats, it primarily issues the Grodno area, the place there are 550 burial websites of the AK fighters.

On 5 July, the Polish Embassy in Belarus printed an image of diplomat Martin Wojciechowski on the place of the destroyed graves in Mikulishki, Grodno area. The press service of the embassy wrote that the Polish navy cemetery was “barbarously razed to the bottom”. Different photos present traces of tyres. The graves have been lined with sand, which was flattened by building equipment.

The Polish overseas ministry reacted to the destruction of the conflict graves by summoning the Belarusian chargé d’affaires.

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“There have been no graves in any respect

In response, the Belarusian overseas ministry instantly summoned Martin Wojciechowski. The ambassador was informed that there have been no burials of overseas troopers in Mikulishki and “the legality of the works is confirmed by the Basic Prosecutor’s Workplace and relies on information displaying the absence of human stays.”

A few days later, a consultant of the Union of Poles mentioned that the tombstone at a burial web site of the AK fighters in Volkovysk had been destroyed.

The grave of two troopers of the Polish Armia Krajowa in Iodkavichy, close to Grodno, earlier than and after it was desecrated. | Photograph: Mariusz Proskieñ/The Village.

And the identical day, viewers of “Belsat”, a Polish Belarusian-language TV station, discovered that the crosses from troopers’ graves had additionally disappeared close to the village of Kachichy, in Korelichy district.

Historian Alexey Bratochkin feedback: “The cultural motive [for maintaining such sites] should even be complemented by a political dimension: the desire to beat conflicts and disagreements, together with within the space of historic reminiscence. If graves are destroyed, it means we see a problem not solely in relation to tradition, but in addition a political gesture, maybe an try and get revenge not a lot for the previous as for the current. Particularly, the political place of the Polish authorities in relation to these now in energy in Belarus.”

“Gang of Polish nationalists

In response to the Polish accusations, Belarusian propaganda is formulating its personal model of what’s taking place with the conflict graves. For instance, the newspaper SB Belarus Segodnya, printed by the federal government of President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, quotes political scientist Piotr Petrowski, who recommended that the AK needs to be acknowledged as an extremist organisation.

Olga Bondareva, a blogger and activist from Grodno, calls AK fighters “terrorists” on her Telegram channel: “Belarus has blown to smithereens the graveyard of the Polish terrorists from the Armia Krajowa. For individuals who have no idea, the AK is a gang of Polish nationalists, who throughout the Nice Patriotic Conflict cooperated with Germany and engaged in ethnic cleaning of the inhabitants of Belarus.”

Aliaksey Bratochkin finds this narrative extremely simplistic: “Attitudes to the AK are shaped on the premise of what its representatives did in relation to the civilian inhabitants, however in addition they relate to the Nazis, to the query of the borders of Belarus, to the Soviet affect and so forth.”

The Armia Krajowa fought each with the Nazis and – relying on the political scenario – with the Soviets. The historian Evgeni Mironovich has described the scenario in Western Belarus throughout the Second World Conflict as “a conflict of all towards all”. Bratochkin factors out that ethnic Belarusians additionally fought within the ranks of AK.

In 2017, Poland adopted amendments to the “decommunisation regulation”. Inside a yr 470 sculptural and architectural objects have been demolished, most of them devoted to the Pink Military. Nevertheless, this initiative didn’t concern conflict graves.

The controversy over socialist-era monuments erupted in February, when Russia invaded Ukraine. On 23 March, the authorities within the village of Chrzowice demolished a five-metre-high stele with a pink star, the location of a former cemetery with the graves of 620 Pink Military troopers. Chrzowice was adopted by demolition of monuments within the villages of Siedlec, Międzyblące and Garnciarsko.

On 19 April the Belarusian Republican Youth Union held a rally close to the Polish consulate in Brest “towards the actions of the Polish authorities to demolish monuments to the Soviet soldier-liberators of the Nice Patriotic Conflict”.

Polish means responsible

Acts just like the “regulation on decommunisation” have been adopted in lots of nations of Japanese and Central Europe, however the Polish coverage of reminiscence is most resented by Belarusian authorities, Bratochkin says: “After all, there’s a frequent body of interpretation of World Conflict II – the defeat of Nazi Germany is a wonderful end result. However the narratives of how the conflict began, the function of various forces on the time, and the illustration of nationwide pursuits – these differ between Poland and Belarus.”

The official college model of World Conflict II historical past in Belarus emphasises the Soviet partisan motion, notes Bratochkin: “Completely different interpretations of occasions are regular, however there are additionally conflicts. One in every of these conflicts is the reminiscence of Romuald Rice’s postwar raids on Podlasie and the killing of Belarusians by his troopers in 1946. Rice was a member of the AK and took half within the anti-Soviet resistance, but in addition dedicated crimes towards civilians. Belarusian officers have turned this story into one of many key parts of the anti-Polish rhetoric as we speak, as an illustration of a ‘genocide of Belarusian folks’.”

The Belarusian authorities has had quite a few disputes with Poland during the last two years. One was over the arrest on 25 March 2021 in Grodno of a journalist and activist for the Union of Poles, Andrzej Poczobut. Within the view of one other Polish journalist, Andrzej Pisalnik: “As Russia carries out “denazification” or de-Ukrainianisation in Ukraine, in Belarus these processes could be referred to as de-Belarusianisation and de-Polonisation. We see it within the context of the navy battle in Ukraine. Belarus is now underneath Russian occupation. All the things that occurs right here is initiated by the occupying regime.”

“After the occasions of 2020, the safety forces have changed into historians. Historical past has been declared a zone of nationwide safety. The previous and its official interpretation needs to be protected as a lot as potential, the authorities consider.“

Historian Aliaksey Bratochkin

The historian Aleksei Bratochkin hyperlinks this marketing campaign to the non-recognition by the Polish authorities of the official outcomes of the presidential elections in 2020: “The authorities in Belarus underneath Alexander Lukashenko have all the time tried to manage the loyalty of the nationwide minorities via completely different mechanisms – on some events permitting organisations and faculties, for instance, and on others prohibiting them. It was a fantastic steadiness. However infrequently, the authorities would battle the ‘double loyalty’ of residents – for instance, to criticise the distribution of Polish ID playing cards, to attempt to management the actions of the Church in Belarus, to battle grassroots makes an attempt to self-organise, and to manage the Union of Poles.”

Historical past written by prosecutors

In spring 2021, Belarus’s prosecutor-general Andrei Shved mentioned that whereas investigating the prison case of “genocide of the Belarusian folks,” police had discovered “nonetheless alive” AK veterans, “who have been listed as members of punitive battalions”. Shved mentioned that Belarus intends to ask Poland for “acceptable authorized help”.

The progress of the investigation has not been reported, however a yr later the prosecutor-general was the editor of a e-book entitled “Genocide of the Belarusian Folks”. Thus, says Aliaksey Bratochkin, has the prosecutor’s workplace turn into liable for historic reminiscence in Belarus: “After the occasions of 2020, the safety forces have changed into historians. Historical past has been declared a zone of nationwide safety. The previous and its official interpretation needs to be protected as a lot as potential, the authorities consider. This explains the legal guidelines on genocide of the Belarusian folks and towards rehabilitation of Nazism, and the amendments to the regulation on extremism. The proliferation of protest symbols has frightened the authorities. A monopoly on the interpretation of historical past is being established. This can’t be maintained in a contemporary society by drive. However they’re making an attempt to do it as we speak in Belarus.”

Bratockhin believes that the prosecutor’s hopes for a present trial of the AK fighters are unrealistic: “In Europe there are mechanisms for prosecuting crimes towards humanity, which don’t have any statute of limitations. However the utility of those mechanisms should be justified and individualised. Solely those that have dedicated conflict crimes could be prosecuted. The Armia Krajowa was not a prison organisation.”

From 1988 till 1994-95 we had a democratic reminiscence coverage. Completely different teams might take part in public debates concerning the collective historic previous, and thereby affect which variations of historical past have been disseminated.

Now we now have a somewhat inflexible official narrative of historical past, which the authorities try to guard by drive. But when reminiscence politics turns into democratic as soon as once more, then we will have a public dialogue about our previous collectively. Then the scenario will change for the higher.

This story is printed inside our programme in assist of Belarus unbiased media and journalists.
👉 Authentic article at The Village Belarus

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