More than the fame of Grunewald unites us!

[b]Ambassador of Belarus to Poland, H.E. Mr. Victor Gaisenok, tells of unbreakable historical ties between Belarusians and Poles and of the new tasks set by modern times [/b][i]Ambassador, this year, Belarus and Poland are celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald, where our forefathers stood shoulder to shoulder. Will we be encouraging a shared memory from Belarusians and Poles? [/i] 2010 marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald — a remarkable event of European significance. It is one of the brightest pages of our shared history, since the victory much influenced the formation of the Belarusian nation and the union of our peoples. Belarusians played an important role in European history, even at that time. International celebrations of the jubilee are a matter of honour for the Belarusian Embassy to Warsaw; we should popularise the history of Belarus’ nationhood, as well as prospects for strengthening bilateral liaisons with Poland and Lithuania proceeding from our common historical-cultural heritage.
Ambassador of Belarus to Poland, H.E. Mr. Victor Gaisenok, tells of unbreakable historical ties between Belarusians and Poles and of the new tasks set by modern times


Ambassador, this year, Belarus and Poland are celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald, where our forefathers stood shoulder to shoulder. Will we be encouraging a shared memory from Belarusians and Poles?
2010 marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunewald — a remarkable event of European significance. It is one of the brightest pages of our shared history, since the victory much influenced the formation of the Belarusian nation and the union of our peoples. Belarusians played an important role in European history, even at that time.
International celebrations of the jubilee are a matter of honour for the Belarusian Embassy to Warsaw; we should popularise the history of Belarus’ nationhood, as well as prospects for strengthening bilateral liaisons with Poland and Lithuania proceeding from our common historical-cultural heritage.
I would like to note that Belarus has proposed a joint four-sided organisational committee to celebrate the jubilee, with the participation of Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine. Solemn events throughout the year are to include scientific conferences, seminars, exhibitions and fairs. Displays by knights’ clubs, folk masters and medieval-style musicians will evoke an exciting historical atmosphere, creating the mood of the age. The celebrations will end with an official closing ceremony on the battlefield in July, including a major reconstruction of the battle, with the participation of a Belarusian club.
In December, the National History Museum of Belarus in Minsk is to host an exhibition of a monumental masterpiece — ‘Panorama of the Battle of Grunewald’ (created by Polish artists Zygmunt Rozwadowski and Tadeusz Popel).
We’ll once again prove that Belarus has its own glorious history, closely connected with the fate of Europe. We should remember the Battle of Grunewald as a struggle but also as a cultural act. We should recall the active role played by Belarusians in European history. At present, Belarus is developing the ‘Eastern Partnership’ with the European Union; we need to remember that this works does not start from scratch. Belarus has been, and remains, a European state — boasting its own historic destiny.

Let’s return to modern times. Is Belarus using the potential of good neighbourly relations in the economy to the full, taking into consideration that Poland is the closest EU state to us.
In my view, Belarusian-Polish trade-economic relations have great possibilities, as yet not fully realised. Before the global economic crisis, turnover was steadily growing, with ever more Belarusian and Polish goods being traded. Our companies were developing their economic ties. The restoration of pre-crisis trade volumes and enhanced collaboration in this field is a complex task; to achieve this, we need to consolidate our efforts. 
Poland’s support of our trade-economic contacts with the European Union is of great significance, and is seen in many directions: in particular, regarding the renewal of the application of the Generalised System of Preferences regarding Belarus; our country’s joining the WTO; and access to EU markets for Belarusian potassium chloride and textile goods. Poland is also supporting the certification of Belarusian agricultural products, while offering consultations and training for Belarusian specialists. This expert assistance is of great value.
The Polish Foreign Ministry is soon to discuss giving foreign assistance to Belarus, funding an educational programme for veterinary specialists. This would allow our agrarians to gain acquaintance with EU standards regarding animal-origin food production. Belarusian companies would also gain access to auditing, allowing them the right to export to the EU. The project — planned for realisation from June-July 2010 — aims to raise the competitiveness of Belarusian agricultural products on the EU market and to prepare Belarusian enterprises for their certification on this market.
I’d also like to note the assistance of Poland in the privatisation process, attracting investments into the Belarusian economy. At the beginning of this year, the State Property Committee and Poland’s AKJ Capital signed an agreement making AKJ Capital the first investment agent of Belarus. Polish specialists are now preparing development programmes for the Belarusian chemical industry and tourist branch. Seven investment projects at Belarusian enterprises are under focus.

Our country’s participation in the Eastern Partnership programme has inspired debate over our visa regimes — since visas hamper free movement. Does Warsaw understand Belarus’ move to simplify the visa regime with the EU?
We are seeing more regular dialogue with Poland on this issue. During talks with representatives of the Sejm, the Government and diplomats, we are looking at Poland’s aspiration to act as a ‘bridge’ between Belarus and the EU. Poland’ Foreign Minister has many times stressed that his country is working to liberalise the visa regime for Belarusians and reduce the cost of Schengen visas for our citizens.
An agreement is due to be signed between the Belarusian and Polish governments on border movement, with the signing expected to take place during a visit to Warsaw by the Belarusian Foreign Minister. The document will embrace those residing near the border of our two states (up to 50km either side) simplifying their movement in either direction (staying for up 90 days within 6 months). Visas will be issued by Belarusian and Polish consular agencies, making this a concrete step towards simplifying communication between our neighbouring states. 

We only need to look at a map of Europe to understand that the interests of Poland and Belarus coincide in one of the most important issues of European policy — energy security. How is our co-operation in this field developing?
Constructive Belarusian-Polish dialogue in the field of energy transit has been observed recently. The interrelation is developing aimed at the promotion of the construction of a second Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, taking into consideration its influence on the growth of energy security and high economic efficiency. Projects dealing with the diversification of energy supplies to Belarus are also in focus.
We are now interested in co-operation with Poland to renew electricity deliveries, using the electric transmission lines operational between our countries. In this respect, much attention is being paid to realising construction of a coal-fired station in Zelva (with 920mWt capacity) and a Ross-Narew electric transmission line (with continuous current).
With our Polish colleagues, we’ve decided to study the technical and economic feasibility of mutual gas supplies to border regions and possibilities for collaboration in constructing underground gas storage in Belarus. We are also planning an early notification system, to monitor fluctuations in oil and gas supplies. We are interested in steady, intensive interaction with the Polish side regarding secure oil and gas supplies for Western Europe.

Polish Economy Minister Waldemar Pawlak, visiting Minsk, expressed Poland’s interest in the Customs Union of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan. Could this Union stimulate the additional promotion of Polish (and European) products to the East?
During our talks, we noted that Customs Union issues are a subject of enhanced interest on the Polish side. Primarily, this is because Belarus — with its logistical and production potential — is becoming a more attractive trading and investment partner. In realising joint projects, Poland is receiving almost unlimited possibilities for their use within the whole Customs Union territory.
We are organising a seminar in the first quarter of 2010 in Warsaw, for representatives of Polish business circles and associations of entrepreneurs; it will focus on Polish access to the Belarusian market, under the conditions of the Customs Union, for goods and services.

Cultural and public liaisons are a major avenue of bilateral co-operation but Warsaw has been recently implementing the ‘Pole’s Card’ in neighbouring countries; this ensures privileged access to education and jobs in Poland for Polish nationals. Doesn’t this hamper relations?
Let’s look at the rich cultural contacts which bond our people. In 2009, over 180 cultural events were organised (artistic and photo exhibitions, meetings with Belarusian writers, concerts by professional and amateur teams, and individual performers, as well as the participation of Belarusian performers in international contests and Polish festivals). Days and evenings of Belarusian culture took place in Warsaw, Bialystok, Bielsk Podlaski, Biala Podlaska, Maciejowice, Poznan, Lodz, Gdansk and other Polish cities.
During the year, our Embassy has been actively liaising with a number of public organisations: the Poland-Belarus and Poland-East societies, the Polish Fund named after Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Centre of Slavonic Culture and the Nesvizhane and Braslavyane associations. We’ve organised various joint public and cultural events, while making contacts with Polish unions of authors and composers, artists, musicians and photographers.
Regarding the development of cultural ties, 2010 is the year of new projects and new ideas. I’d like to note the joint staging of Stanislaw Moniuszko’s ‘Halka’ opera — by the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus and the Bolshoi Theatre of the National Opera of Poland. Additionally, the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth is being celebrated by Poles and Belarusians. I hope the Days of Belarusian Culture in Warsaw, Poznan, Lodz, Bialystok, Gdansk and Gdynia will bring us even closer to one another.
For many years, our Embassy has helped organise ‘Krakow Ballet Nights’, the International Literary Contest in Kzheshitsy, the ‘Belcanto-2009’ International Vocal Contest in Nalenczow, and the International Folklore Contest in Olesnica.
I see diplomats’ role as being to create bridges between people, supporting projects which spiritually enrich and unite us. Sadly, not all initiatives pursue this noble goal. Belarus believes that Poland’s policy of preferential terms for native Poles contradicts the principles of good neighbourly relations and mutual respect. Preferences for Belarusian citizens holding Polish ‘cards’ could affect international harmony in our country, aggravating the Polish diaspora and creating inter-confessional discord.
However, we are pleased that the ‘Pole’s Card’ for the Polish national minority in Belarus has in no way influenced mutual understanding between those of Polish nationality or otherwise. Our community has grown over many centuries, with no divisions based on blood or nationality.

Our European readers are no doubt keen to know whether Belarusian-Polish co-operation is likely to inspire Europeans to visit.
The Avgustovsky Canal and the National Park Belovezhskaya Pushcha are good examples of co-operative success; they are pearls. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha State National Park - situated on Belarusian territory — shares its natural formation with Poland’s Belovezhsky National Park. It is one of the oldest reserves in the world. In 1992, the Pushcha was placed on the World Cultural and Natural Heritage List, following UNESCO’s decision. It bears the status of a biosphere reserve and is a major ornithological territory of international significance. The Belovezhskaya Pushcha has been awarded a Council of Europe Diploma for its successes in promoting nature protection.
Last year, we celebrated the 600th anniversary of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha’s reserve status, jointly with our neighbours. Thousands of tourists from dozens of countries worldwide annually visit this unique forest, feeling the breath of nature and experiencing its primeval mystery. Belarus and Poland have every right to be proud of this ‘miracle of the world’ being situated on their territories.
The Avgustovsky Canal flows through our two states, with the Belarusian section connecting the rivers Visla and Nieman. After reconstruction, it has become one of the most interesting tourist objects in our country, running 102.5km (including over 20km through the north-west of the Grodno region, stretching from the Belarusian-Polish border to the influx to the Nieman).
The Avgustovsky canal is unique as a transborder waterway, connecting all water arteries of Central and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, its initial purpose as a transport artery connecting the rivers Visla and Nieman to the Baltic Sea has been lost. However, neither Poland nor Belarus doubt its attractiveness as a tourist site.
The canal is much valued for its unique ecosystem and unspoilt nature; it is a picturesque corner of the Avgustovskaya Pushcha and is home to many plants listed in the Red Book, as well as rich fauna. Two national parks are situated on Polish territory — at the south and north end of the canal; moreover, there are many reserve sites located around it. In Belarus, the Grodno Pushcha has been created from the Sopotskin and Gozha reserves. Moreover, dozens of unique historical and architectural monuments are situated near the Avgustovsky Canal. It is a unique ecological and historical-cultural area, with its own sub-culture.
For about a decade, the Avgustovsky Canal has hosted the ‘Avgustovsky Canal in the Culture of Three Nations’ festival on the last Sunday of August. This is a unique event gathering representatives and amateur artistic teams from Belarusian, Polish and Lithuanian national associations of the Grodno region. The festival is extremely popular with local residents and tourists alike. In 2009, over 10,000 people attended and this ‘water pearl’ attracts tourists not only in summer. A modern ski track (from 3 to 15km) is expected to be launched here to host winter sports.
Jointly with Poland, we’ve nominated it for inclusion on the UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage List.
What can you say about the Belarusian minority in Poland? What role does the Cultural Centre in Bialystok play in supporting our countrymen?
Our Belarusian Embassy to Warsaw aims to support the Belarusian minority in Poland. The Belarusian Public-Cultural Association and the Society of Belarusian Culture are revering the traditions of their forefathers, successfully operating in Poland.

You are right to stress the special role played by the Cultural Centre in Poland. Established as a structural subdivision of the Embassy and directly overseen by the Foreign Ministry, it pursues a double task: presenting and promoting Belarusian culture in Poland while supporting Belarusian organisations operating in Poland.
This Centre of Belarus abroad has opened for the first time in Poland — a country with which we have so much in common, primarily, a rich historical-cultural legacy. It hopes to develop fruitful contacts between Belarus and Poland in the fields of culture, art, education and science. The Centre is situated in Bialystok - so often called a capital of Belarusian culture in Poland. Most of Poland’s ethnic Belarusians live in the Podlaskie voivodship, with many carefully keeping their national traditions and language. The Cultural Centre is working hard to promote relations with the Belarusian Public-Cultural Association of Poland, the Society of Belarusian Culture, the Belarusian Belavezha Literary Association, the Museum and Centre of Belarusian Culture in Hajnowka and with Polish educational establishments where Belarusian language is taught.
In its year of existence, the Centre has already gained authority among ethnic Belarusians residing in Poland, as well as among anyone interested in Belarusian culture and art. It has organised exhibitions of Belarusian artists and photographers, concerts by folk ensembles and pop performers, and artistic meetings of Belarusian writers living in Poland. There have been presentations of books and screenings of Belarusian feature films, documentaries and cartoons. Of course, this is not the full list of activities. There is a quarterly illustrated information bulletin — ‘Przeglad Kulturally’; this is aimed at Polish readers but publishes materials in Belarusian as well. The Centre also assists partner ties between Belarusian and Polish educational establishments — in particular, between higher educational establishments (such as the universities of Grodno and Brest and Bialystok University).
We are striving to facilitate direct contacts between people, organising excursions for students from Polish schools, gymnasiums and lyceums who study Belarusian. Last year, over 240 children and their parents visited Belarusian cities with the Centre’s help.
Events are organised in the Podlaskie voivodship and all over the country. Our Centre is well known in Warsaw, Katowice, Lodz, Poznan, Gdansk, Siedlce, Radom and elsewhere. I should note that the Cultural Centre was established only a year ago. We are gradually accumulating experience and skills, ready to improve and develop our promotion of Belarusian culture, history and art in Poland.

Thank you for your thoughts, Ambassador!

By Nina Romanova
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