WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's prime minister vowed Monday that the government would always support the Belarusian people struggling for democracy, weighing in after a senior member of his ruling party suggested Polish solidarity could be conditional.
Poland's notoriously bickering political factions have long been united in their support for those in Belarus opposing the dictatorship of longtime President Alexander Lukanshenko. For Poland, a nation that has been swallowed up and controlled by Moscow for long periods in its history, a united front against authoritarianism to the east has been considered virtuous, transcending any domestic divisions.
That is, until a leading presidential contender in last year's elections in Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, dared to meet last week with Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who belongs to a centrist opposition party long at odds with the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party.
Ryszard Terlecki, a deputy parliament speaker and a top member of the ruling Law and Justice party, was angered and tweeted Friday: “If Tsikhanouskaya wants to promote the anti-democratic opposition in Poland and speak at Trzaskowski’s meeting, let her seek help in Moscow, and let us support a Belarusian opposition that is not on the side of our opponents."
In a follow-up comment later on Facebook, Terlecki also added that it would be easy for Tsikanouskaya “to lose the sympathy of most Poles.”
The comments outraged many Poles and there were demands by the opposition for him to resign. Some pointed out that Tsikhanouskaya's husband, an opposition activist, remains imprisoned by the regime in Belarus, which is supported by the Kremlin.
“Ryszard Terlecki should not only lose his position, but he should disappear from public life,” said Marek Migalski, a political analyst and professor at the University of Silesia.
“It is probably she who, although we do not know for sure, won the presidential election," he told TVN24. "This type of contemptuous tone is disastrous for the interests of the Polish state.”
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, asked about the matter on Monday, began by defending Terlecki's record. He recalled that Terlecki was active in the struggle for democracy in Poland in the 1970s and 1980s, and was arrested by the communist authorities.
Morawiecki then said that “from the very beginning of the protests in August last year we are with the Belarusians who are fighting for freedom, fighting for the rule of law, fighting for democracy." He insisted that support would continue.
On Monday, the foreign ministers of Poland and Lithuania met in Wigry, in northeastern Poland, to discuss cooperation and security in the region.
A later communique said that Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau and Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis have similar views on the situation to the east of the two nations' borders. Rau stressed the importance of resolve in the two nations' approach to the developments in Belarus and Russia.
Polish efforts to help Belarus are many. The government funds Belsat, a Warsaw-based TV station that broadcasts independent news into Belarus. It has also sought international pressure on Lukashenko's regime, while Poland has welcomed many Belarusian activists and students who now live in exile and study in Warsaw and other Polish cities.
Last week, the government also revealed that it had brought three Belarusians belonging to the ethnic Polish minority who had been imprisoned in Belarus to safety in Poland.
Last week during her visit to Warsaw, Tsikhanouskaya voiced gratitude to President Andrzej Duda, who is allied with the government, and Trzaskowski, for the help Belarusians were receiving from different authorities in Poland.