It seems like the Belarusian authorities have developed a whole operation on discrediting Poland’s MFA.
The problems with obtaining Polish visas have already existed for several years in Belarus. For increasing the number of visas being issued the neighboring country’s foreign ministry has developed an electronic application from, by filling which a Belarusian citizen can apply for a visa.
However, when opening the web-site for filling up the application and getting registered Belarusian citizens suddenly face the web-site’s blockage. Charter97.org already published an investigation by an internet-user from Hrodna, who detected the blockage of the access to the consulate’s web-site at the level of the state internet-monopoly Beltelecom. It turned out that the data protocols are blocked at BelPAK’s router (Beltelecom’s sub-division) at the moment when the application for registration are being sent. In half an hour after the number of available applications has run out, the access to the web-site restores.
The management of the internet-monopoly would hardly decide to undertake such a scheme, it is rather an order from the authorities. Polish diplomats are under tough pressure in Belarus: the embassy in Minsk was deprived of the building, Belarusian authorities keep refusing to let the embassy increase the number of employees at Polish consulates, there are attacks on Polish ambassadors and Polish authorities in the state-controlled media. That is why the blockage of the consulate’s web-site falls into Belarusian authorities’ general policy.
“Visas are obtained by hacker firms disguised as travel agencies”
The charter97.org web-site has learnt about the current situation with obtaining Polish visas from the head of one of travel agencies in Minsk.
- We left the Polish direction, because there are only few Minsk travel agencies that can get Polish visas, they have hackers employed. This is the only way one may get registered for an appointment in Polish consulates. Honestly, it is impossible in principle to do that by turn today, - the director of a travel agency in Minsk told us.
- What does it mean to have hackers employed?
- It is that the only possibility to get registered on the web-site of the Polish embassy is with the help of a hacker. It unclear how the appointments are distributed, it is impossible to just wait for a free spot for a registration neither in the morning, nor during the day, nor at night. Only the people, who know the stuff, can register. Accordingly, these appointments are sold in the domestic market.
- Who makes money on that?
- These are travel agencies, or course, which get access to the online-registration systems with the help of hackers. The Polish “for purchases” visa is the simplest to get today: you just register, show VAT forms for a certain amount and get a Polish Schengen visa for a year. Such a thing does not exist in any other embassy of the Schengen area countries. That is why there is such an impressive pilgrimage to the Polish embassy.
Earlier it was possible to get visas, but from this year it has become impossible to get registered on their web-site in the usual way. My colleagues and my friends all say that – this is an obvious fact. Some do not sleep at night trying to get registered on their own, but as soon as some window appears and you start registering your application it closes immediately.
- Does it mean that someone is making a successful business on Polish visas?
- Yes, absolutely correct. Travel agencies ask for 130 euro for such a visa instead of the actual 60. The new field is occupied by hacker firms, disguised as travel agencies, which get loads of money.
Attacks on Polish MFA
By a weird coincidence simultaneously with the appearance of the information about the blockage of the e-konsulat.gov.pl web-site by Belarusian KGB some Andrej Sumar emerged in the information field together with his organization Renaissance. This person started to actively bring up the problem of obtaining Polish visas by Belarusian citizens. However the focus of his activities was quite one-sided: he accused the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland and personally its head Radoslaw Sikorski of all the troubles.
The charter97.org decided to find out who Andrej Sumar actually was and clarify the nature of the Renaissance organization behind him. It turned out that Sumar lives in Brest ad is related to the chairman of Brest region executive committee Kanstancin Sumar. His organization was registered a year ago... in Poland. The organization’s goals and objectives, stated on its web-site, are ambitious.
It is claimed that “the organization Renaissance is registered in the Republic of Poland as an official representation of a public movement Renaissance-Revival that acts in the Republic of Belarus”. According to the organization’s constitution, its main goals are protecting civil rights, revealing corruption among the authorities.
At the same time neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, nor the interviewed heads of leading Belarusian organizations registered in Warsaw, nor human rights activists working in Belarus know anything about Andrej Sumar or his organization. This organization never held a single event in Warsaw. In fact all it has today is a web-site and an e-mail.
Recently Sumar gave several “revealing” interviews, in which he accused Polish diplomats of corruption. The interviews were published by the Inforama.by web-site, which positions itself as “Belarus’ independent i-portal”. Later these interviews were re-published by several other Belarusian web-sites with a reference to the origin. Having checked the information on the web-site, we found it weird that the web-site emerged simultaneously with the appearance of Sumar’s interview on it – in July 2013.
We called the editorial office. No one answered. In an hour we received a phone call from their number and a man asked about the reason for our calling. We asked to tell us who Andrej Sumar was. The man said he did not know that and asked to send all the questions by e-mail. To our remark that it was quite strange to take interviews from unknown people, the person hesitated and confessed that he was Andrej Sumar. First he confusedly explained why he was calling from the web-site editorial office’s number (cell-phone number, by the way): having seen a Polish number the employees decided not to pick up since they did not speak Polish and asked him to give a call back. In the end Sumar confessed that the web-site was made by his supporters, so for the “revealing” reports he actually interviewed himself.
Andrej Sumar has confirmed that he lives in Brest, is related to the local chief official Kanstancin Sumar, and registered his organization in Warsaw, because “it is problematic to register something like that in Belarus”. At the same time it is hard to call Sumar an oppositionist: his only argument was the participation in the parliamentary elections of 2004. He ran for parliament independently and is does not belong to any political party or organization.
When asked how his organization was financed, Sumar responded that “it existed at the expense of membership fees and he did not get a single dollar, euro, zloty or Russian rouble”. At the same time the Renaissance’s head said that a criminal case had been being investigated against him in Belarus for already 10 year for selling a fake 100 dollar bill. “I was warned that if I said something wrong, I would have problems”, - Sumar confessed.
To the question what the organization Renaissance did in a year, what actions held, Sumar answered that it was not “an over-the-phone conversation, by far we were gathering people and strengthening our lines”. As to the kinship relations with the governor Sumar he said that “never made a use of those” and they “belonged to different camps”.
Sumar did not answer to the questions on what he did before creating the organization or what education he had: “These are again political questions. I do not want to mislead you. I am a fool from the group of the so-called Belarusian commonalty. Let’s not discuss this question”. In the end he said that he had been an entrepreneur.
Today the head of the organization registered in Poland is sending all his energy of a “civil activist” to struggling with Polish authorities. The reason for that, according to him, was the fact that at the Polish embassy they refused to issue visas for the member of his newly created organization, which had not been involved in active politics. He calls the Poles exclusively “our so-called allies in democratic transition” and “arch enemies”.
The head of the “oppositional” organization complained about Polish diplomats to… Belarus Prosecutor General’s office and the Anti-Economic Crimes Department.
Revenge for adhering to principles?
We asked Belarusians, who are today compelled to live and work in Warsaw due to political reasons, to comment of the Renaissance’s strange initiatives.
Anton Cialiezhnikau, director, representatives of the Union for Democracy in Belarus:
- I have never heard of such an organization in the 11 years that I have lived in Poland. The surname is familiar, because Sumar is a governor of Brest region. Not only am I shocked with such accusations, it is something completely new for me. For the first time of my stay in Poland I am encountering something like this. Probably, Lukashenka adherents started creating their organizations here. They used to act in an underhand way here before. This is something new. Surely it is being done not for a good cause. Polish authorities should react to that, find out what organizations get registered here. We, the Belarusians who work openly, cannot overcome this on our own. Attempts to discredit us have been undertaken for long time, that is why Poland should react to that respectively.
Dzmitry Bandarenka, coordinator of the European Belarus civic campaign, former political prisoner:
- The problem for Belarusian citizens to obtain a Schengen visa does exist. I brought up this issued in conversations with the deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland and other Polish diplomats. I heard the argument that Poland issues more visas than other European Union countries, and is ready to increase the number of visas being issued by several times, but for that it is necessary to increase the number of consuls. But Belarusian authorities deny Poland to receive new representative of consular service because of political problems between the two countries.
As to Mr Sumar, it seems to me that it is quite a strange personage. I would attentively re-read his interview to this Brest web-site. It appears that the reason is seemingly fair – standing up for the rights of Belarusian citizens, but in reality, when you are reading the interview, it becomes obvious that Mr Sumar is fighting the Minister Sikorski, Polish MFA and is criticizing Belarusian opposition, Belsat TV channel, the European Parliament, sends complaints to KGB and Belarus Prosecutor General’s office for them to deal with Polish diplomats. At the same time he does not fight the initial reason: that Belarusian authorities do not negotiate with neighboring countries on a complex solution to the visa problem, on increasing the number of consular service representatives, on lowering visa prices for Belarusians and the blockage of the electronic registration system by the monopolist Beltelecom. For example, Ukraine has normal relations with the European Union, aims to conclude the association agreement and it is much simpler and cheaper for Ukrainians to get visas.
On the Renaissance organization’s web-site I was surprised by the picture of the Square 2010 manifestation, a weird schedule of events in Poland, which you can only attend if you get previously registered via e-mail. I have been in Warsaw for a year already and never heard of such an organization and its events.
My version: there are Belarusian authorities behind the attacks on Sikorski. The main reason for such accusations is the principled position of Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Minister Radoslaw Sikorski as to the Belarusian dictator, Poland’s coherence in supporting Belarus’ civil society, independent Belarusian media working from abroad, a clear position on the release and exoneration of political prisoners.
It is strange that a citizen of Belarus, who lives in Brest, has registered an organization in Poland, whose goal is to fight Polish MFA.
Commentary from Poland’s MFA: Beltelecom is to blame
The сharter97.org web-site asked Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to comment on the situation. This is the official commentary that we received:
- It is important to point out that in 2011 Polish consulates in Belarus issued around 300 thousand visas, in 2012 – already over 350 thousand, which accounts for about 50% of the visas, issued by all the EU countries. Unfortunately, we regret to highlight that we are unable to satisfy the increasing visa demand due to the limits that Belarusian authorities put on the number of consuls. We emphasize that a significant part of the problems of satisfying the increasing visa demand on the part of Belarusian citizens is caused by the absence of other possibilities, like close border movement. It is known that it is not Poland’s fault that the agreement has not been implemented.
The reliability and responsibility of Polish consuls in carrying out visa procedures are very important and have large social implications. The main problem with the registration of visa applications in Belarus is the disproportion of the demand for visas and the availability of vacant dates for application. So-called hackers cannot break the system, although their activities are aimed at breaking it. The system of electronic registration has become a target for hacker attacks. The data of Belarusian users are sent to intermediaries and only then they receive a registered application. In order to avoid that, the registration from exclusively Belarusian IP-addresses has been introduced. It was an expensive and unprecedented task executed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which allowed to detect the problems with the registration of applications.
Based on the collected information, it is obvious that it is the main Belarus’ internet provider Beltelecom to blame for blocking the possibilities for registration for many internet users. All the internet providers are compelled to use the single data transmission channel and the blockage of internet connection takes place. This influences common users’ possibility to register and gives preferences to selected IP-addresses, whose owners make a profit out of the people wanting to get a visa.
Nevertheless, Poland’s MFA is carrying out intensive work on improving the electronic system and eliminating further blockage of the electronic registration system. From May this year the system has been allowing for registering only two requests from the same IP-address, but this is still not an obstacle for hackers, who use multiple IP-addresses. After all these changes only a short-term improvement was reached, that is why a decision was made to concentrate on a completely new way of booking a date for a visa application. With the purpose of this we intend to create a call-center in order to simplify the possibility to get an appointment at a consulate.
The MFA is pursuing a policy of openness for Belarusian citizens. All Polish consulates are working in Belarus in the conditions of great political burden, cause by the inaction of Belarusian authorities on the issue of simplifying the visa regime.