It is not a fair comparison, but last weekend far more Poles demonstrated against the rigid abortion ban than there are currently migrants rattling on the eastern border. Yet the conservative-nationalist government is on high alert because of the latter. Fifteen thousand soldiers have been sent to the primeval forest between Poland and Belarus to assist border police. Barbed wire, water cannons, tear gas and helicopters are used to keep migrants out. A steel wall must be built. And after crisis deliberations by the cabinet on Monday, an emergency parliamentary debate followed on Tuesday. Prime Minister Mateusz spoke of “a brutal violation of our eastern border (…) the worst in thirty years”.
Meanwhile, multilingual social media assistants spit on politicians tweet na tweet with videos of violent migrants, shooting Belarusians and big words about the ‘coordinated invasion’ by dictator Alexander Lukashenko. This ‘hybrid war’ – the term used in Warsaw and Brussels for the migration crisis created by Minsk – is largely a battle of imagery. To determine this, journalists and aid workers have been banned from the border area since September.
Simultaneously displaying victimhood and decisiveness is essential in Poland. To involve foreign allies: this is also your outer border, dear friends of the EU and NATO. But mainly for domestic consumption. The alarming reports that 3,000 to 4,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa suddenly appeared at the border on Monday were accompanied by reassurances that the situation would be “under control”.
Also read: EU is up with ‘hybrid’ border war
It is also a political gift
The state smuggling of Lukashenko is a serious problem for Poland, in addition to being life-threatening for the migrants recruited in the Middle East. But, without diminishing the existential threat some see in it, the escalation this week is also a political gift. The war rhetoric surrounding the migration flow drowns out other bad news, triggers a rally round the flag effect and pushes the opposition into a very complicated position.
Poland faces several controversies, all of which have to do with the maltreated rule of law, except for problematic inflation. A first victim has succumbed to the consequences of the almost complete abortion ban that was issued last year through the hijacked Constitutional Court. Izabela, 30, died of blood poisoning after doctors refused to remove her nonviable fetus, text messages from the hospital prove. Thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of cities over the weekend who see her as a direct victim of ultra-Catholic government policies. Weeks earlier, an even larger crowd had gathered in protest against a decision by the same constitutional court that partially invalidated European law.
Poland’s position in the EU could become untenable
The conflict within the European Union is also running high on this issue. In addition, Poland is at odds with EU partners over institutionalized LGBTI discrimination, the gagging of judges and an illegally expanded lignite mine. For the latter issues, the European Commission has fined Poland millions and the money pledged from the corona recovery fund is being held up in Brussels. But it is precisely countries that, with regard to the rule of law extremely critical – the Netherlands first – would love for the country to keep out migrants who see Poland only as a transit country to more western places.
More importantly, domestic support for ruling party PiS benefits greatly from the migration crisis. She already won elections in 2015 with rhetoric against migration that took place far from her own borders. Her tough stance on this Russian fingerprint crisis is proving popular.
Disagreement in opposition
The largest opposition Civic Platform party, recently led again by former EU President Donald Tusk, is much less aware of the crisis. Tusk says he is in favor of strong border security, but also wants humanitarian treatment for the people who do slip through. Within his party there is disagreement about what the emphasis should be on.
For several PiS politicians and the state media, that is reason enough to label opposition politicians as traitors to the country. “We owe the opposition massive attacks by illegal immigrants on the Polish border,” tweeted PiS MP Adam Andruszkiewicz. Controversial Chief Justice Krystyna Pawlowicz said the opposition should “get to its knees”. Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak was more subtle: “The voters will judge them.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 10, 2021