Poland outraged at Belarus naming Sept. 17 Day of National Unity

Poland's Foreign Ministry has expressed its outrage over a decision by the Belarusian authorities to create a new national holiday on September 17, the date the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939.

A decree introducing the new holiday, named 'Day of National Unity,' has been signed by President Alexander Lukashenko.

September 17 is specified in official Belarusian history as the anniversary of the joining of the lands of western Belarus with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus.

“The choice of dates emphasises the connection of generations, the steadfastness and self-sufficiency of the Belarusian nation and statehood," Lukashenko's press service said.

But the choice of date has sparked anger in Poland, and could further damage relations between the two countries, already strained by the brutal treatment of Belarusian pro-democracy campaigners by Lukashenko’s security forces.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs learnt with outrage of the declaration of the Belarusian government of establishing a new holiday named the 'Day of National Unity' on September 17," the ministry stated on Tuesday.

"Basing the historical policy of Belarus on the heritage of a pact between Hitler and Stalin is entirely beyond understanding. It is a gesture that is part of Russian actions aimed at re-interpreting the extremely difficult history of our region, which seriously hampers dialogue and understanding between Belarus and neighbouring states, as well as with the states of the whole of Europe."

The ministry pointed out that the date marks the day on which the Soviet Union invaded Poland under a secret protocol included in the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.

"That joint Soviet-Nazi invasion of Poland started the most terrible war in world history, which cost the lives of 60 million people, including residents of Belarus," the Polish foreign ministry said in a statement. "Many of them died in German concentration camps or Soviet gulags. September 17, 1939, meant for several hundred thousand civilian Polish citizens the loss of citizenship, dignity and death in the depths of Soviet Russia."

The ministry concluded by describing the establishment of the new holiday as "an act undermining the independence and sovereignty of Belarus."