Belarus protests Enduring Soldiers commemoration in east Poland

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has lodged a protest against commemorations of Poland's post-war Enduring Soldiers anti-communist underground, planned on Sunday in Hajnówka, eastern Poland.

In its statement, the ministry especially condemned the event's intended commemoration of Romuald Rajs, an Enduring Soldiers commander known for brutal pacifications of the region's Belarusian population.

Calling the commemorations "an absolutely unacceptable glorification of war criminals," the ministry reminded that the Enduring Soldiers were today revered by Poland's radical right groups, and called the event, and especially its focus on Rajs, "a cynical insult" against the memory of the Enduring Soldiers' victims.

"(The Belarusian Foreign Ministry) decidedly condemns plans to commemorate the Enduring Soldiers. (Such events - PAP) by the radical right in ethnic Belarusian communities are an openly cynical insult against the memory of the Enduring Soldiers' victims, and enhance the heroisation of Nazism," the ministry wrote.

In 1946 units led by Rajs pacified several Belarusian villages near Bielsk Podlaski in eastern Poland, killing 79 people, including children.

Poland's Institute of National remembrance (IPN) qualified the pacifications as genocide, but in 2005 dropped its inquiries into the attacks, arguing that proceedings against some of Rajs's soldiers had been closed in the post-war years, while others had died or had never been found.

Rajs was sentenced to death in 1949, but posthumously rehabilitated by a Warsaw military court in 1995.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry also said it would present its standpoint in the matter to the Polish authorities, which it accused of "long-standing tolerance" towards radical right groups.

The Enduring Soldiers commemorations in Hajnowka are held annually to mark National Enduring Soldiers Day (March 1). Usually held in the form of a march, this year's event has been downsized to a motorcade owing to pandemic restrictions.

On Saturday in Hajnowka a group of local activists commemorated Rajs's victims at a local memorial to war and repression victims. Flowers were laid and lights were lit under the memorial, the victims' names were also read out in a special roll-call.

Commemorations of the pacification victims have been taking place since 2018 on the same day as the National Enduring Soldiers' Day commemorations.