Senior Researcher, Center for Development and Environment, University of Oslo
The European Union should be invited to the Polish-Belarus border for several reasons.
This is history. Opinions expressed in the text are at the author’s expense.
Many press reports about the ongoing skirmishes at the Polish-Belarus border are oversimplified. It is often quoted by journalists who write faster than they think.
They lack context. The great background against which the conflict erupted. Here we are talking about a possible collapse of civilization in Europe, planned by the duo Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.
The plan has so far been as successful as it was diabolical, at least according to the prominent historian from Eastern Europe Timothy D. Snyder. In “The Road to No Freedom” (2018), Snyder suggests that when Putin realized that Russia could not become like the West, he began to dream that the West would become like Russia: both inhuman and barbaric. Indifferent to human suffering.
Today, thousands of exhausted and dying refugees at the Polish-Belarus border are expressing the triumph of that Putin’s dream.
In their brutal response to the border crisis, Polish authorities, and increasingly European Union governments, are beginning to think, feel and act according to Putin’s cynical logic. It is based on seeing human life as “the fertilizer of history”.
The apparent ‘ovulation’ of Eastern Europe is only half of a more complex picture
Surprisingly few commentators have noted that in recent years Putin is not only on the verge of destabilizing Europe – he also has ambitions to demoralize Europeans.
But is Snyder right when he writes that “the West is turning into what Putin wants it to be”?
If you look at the Eastern European Pavilion, there are many indications of this. Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland all flirt with illiberal tyranny of the majority that abolishes free courts and an independent press and violates the rights of minorities. Ukraine is already under partial occupation.
More complex picture
But the apparent “spawn” of Eastern Europe is only half of a more complex picture.
Let’s take Poland as an example: there are hundreds of organizations, groups and initiatives that fight against anarchy, the nationalization of education, the oppression of women, the liquidation of independent media and the harassment of disobedient judges.
According to what was recently published Report From the Judiciary Committee, 26 cases were documented of judges who had been suspended, persecuted or harassed for complying with the constitution and respected judges of the European Court of Justice.
Groups challenge the Polish government
What the Western media also ignore is a gradual moral revival in Polish villages and villages, which are often dominated by the PiS (Polish ruling party) along the Belarusian border.
Many small social groups, such as Granica, Ocalenie, and Caritas, challenge the leadership of the Polish government. They search for refugees, feed them and provide medical assistance.
Countless spontaneous initiatives—including soup stations for housewives, grocers, and pharmacist gifts for refugees—have saved the lives of dying and freezing fleeing.
Yes, as Aftenposten journalist Ingrid Prieke writes, the border crisis may be a boon to the Polish Law Party’s self-image as the heroic defender of the Poles against the “invading legions of Asia”.
But the return of new philanthropy is also a sign that many Polish citizens are dusting off their Christian values and scrambling to stand up for “common human decency” (in the words of a shopkeeper from the village of Kozno).
The European Union as a guarantee
For democratic and humanitarian groups in Poland and Eastern Europe in general, the existence of the European Union is the only guarantee that the ongoing process of political destabilization and the collapse of civilization, which Putin so cleverly exaggerated, will one day avert. No matter how slow and incompetent the EU appears to respond to current challenges.
When you talk to the Polish Movement for Free Courts or a group of 14 women from the Bridge, which recently challenged the march of nationalists and anti-Semitism, you hear the same argument: “No matter what we think about the European Union, for the first time in the country’s European history, we can sue the Polish government in an organization supranational managed to achieve stable peace for more than 60 years. ”
The European Union should be invited
In the complex context, the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border is ridiculous to the point of excruciating pain.
The PiS government is really very anti-Russian. But it has tirelessly imitated Putin in many areas. Now he is in Putin’s trap.
Asking for help from the European Union (or NATO) is like losing your parental and muscular virginity. It is a sheer humiliation for Putin’s petty authorities, who pretended to be an accomplished defender of the country’s interests. It did so by being able to get money out of the EU without following EU rules, then courting Polexit. Now it becomes clear how arrogant, weak and isolated they were.
But the situation is too dangerous for Poland and the EU alike to pursue old differences. The European Union should be invited to the Polish-Belarus border for several reasons.
First, Europeans have much more experience than Poland in dealing with refugees. In 2015 alone, Frontex counted 181,000 cases of illegal border crossings between Libya and Italy alone. Not to mention the mass migration between Turkey and Greece or Morocco and Spain. The European Union can provide the most urgent humanitarian assistance.
In addition, the EU has tools of a completely different class than Poland to counter the provocations of Lukashenko and Putin. The European Union could shut down the passage of refugees through Belarus through air traffic control. Or the EU could slow Lukashenko by removing Belarus from the SWIFT financial transaction system, which is key to Belarus’ key industries.
He can’t let Putin try
The EU, Poland, Norway or post-Brexit England cannot allow Putin’s attempts to bring about a liberal democratic collapse in the heart of Europe. He has already succeeded enough in Ukraine.
We cannot tolerate his success in dismantling the unique “European peace”.
Besides, we cannot trust that the Americans will once again save us from the collapse of civilization. As Hilda Rystad and Hilmar McGildy explain in a column in Aftenposten, the United States is very likely to be able to get a new President Trump in office. One would simply be deceived.
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