By Danilo Elia. This article appeared first in our Italian website on November 24, 2021.
There are many ways to look at what has been happening for weeks on the northwestern borders of Belarus: humanitarian tragedy, geopolitical game, hybrid war, loss of EU values, invasion. None of these, however, is able to photograph the phenomenon in its complexity. Observers and commentators who focus only on one aspect – even the most serious and urgent, as that of the lives of migrants in danger in the woods – risk losing sight of that complexity and, at the same time, oversee the possibility of finding a solution.
In such a complex scenario, even the most uncomfortable vision, the narrow-minded one of the extreme rights so active in Poland, the one that sees an invasion of migrants pressing on the borders of the country, finds space. The very fact that there are people who reduce everything to a defense of borders in the most xenophobic sense, as if the question can be resolved only with tangles of barbed wire, prevents us from ignoring it.
Tickling the lower instincts of the Polexit ultranationalists is probably the first goal of the Putin-Lukashenko duo. The migratory pressure on the northeastern borders of the European Union from the Belarusian side did not start today. They know this well in Vilnius. Lithuania had to reinforce its defenses along the border with Belarus and call on Brussels for help as early as September, sounding the alarm against the suspicion that the flow of migrants from Middle Eastern countries as had never been seen before was actually part of a strategy.
The response from Lithuania was somewhat contained, compared to lower numbers. In those weeks, the other two EU countries bordering Belarus, namely Poland and Latvia, were also starting to grapple with the same problem. But still, the media echo was not strong enough to make the front pages of European newspapers. What caused the case to explode at European level was on the one hand the swelling of the ranks of desperate people lying in the open in the largest forest on the continent, and on the other the decisive response from Warsaw. Fire hydrants and tear gas against those trying to survive freezing and starvation are not aligned with what Europe is trying to be.
Could this be expected from a country like Poland, struggling with a continuous erosion of democratic spaces? From a country that is squeezing women’s freedoms on the subject of abortion, the rights of the LGBT community, even the independence of the judiciary and the establishment of a hierarchy of national and European rules at the basis of membership of the Union itself? Could this response be foreseen coming from a country, Poland, that the nationalist, clerical and conservative party in government has in fact transformed into the European center of gravity of the extreme right – precisely that extreme right who, parading through the streets of the capital, cried to the Muslim invasion of Catholic Europe? Probably yes, and this is what they must have thought in Minsk: hitting the soft underbelly of Europe to get the best result. That is to create further friction between European partners, destabilize the Union on its most fragile ground, strengthen anti-European parties in Eastern Europe, sound another suffix -exit echo next to the name of a member state in the corridors of Brussels. And the indignation of much of the European press at the violent Polish pushbacks at the border is part of that result.
Poland has reacted defensively against accusations of reserving inhumane treatment to migrants. Describing the attempts by smaller groups of migrants in recent hours to cross the border at several points, Warsaw Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak repeatedly called them “attacks”, adding that “there is no doubt that they are orchestrated by the secret services. Belarusians “. What is behind it, we know well by now. Scheduled flights organized from Minsk to bring in migrants from countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan with the promise of an easy border crossing to Europe, the complacency of airlines, bus transport to the border, survival kits delivered along with pincers to cut barbed wire, strobe lights and lasers to dazzle border guards at night. Discovering the cards of this tragic game played on the skin of poor people is already a step towards a solution to the crisis.
Lukashenko himself hardly makes any more secret of it. “Our military knows that the migrants are headed for Germany… it is entirely possible that some of them have given them a hand. We are Slavs, we have a heart, ”he told the BBC. Putting the great cheater Lukashenko and his sponsor Putin in a position not to harm those people first of all, but also to Europe is the immediate result to be pursued. The closure of the Minsk routes by the Gulf companies is a signal. Repatriations from Belarus in recent days are another sign. A signal, the latter, came after the contacts between Angela Merkel and Putin. But also, it must be said, after the unshakable Polish position on the border, a position held even under the threat of a gas blockade by Lukashenko.
Having transformed migrants into a weapon to be used in a hybrid war against European sanctions marked a further peak of the ruthlessness of the Belarusian regime – one that had already shown its most unscrupulous face with arrests, torture, the hijacking of a civilian flight between two European capitals. Contrasting this weapon is the priority of European leaders. The most difficult role is that of the frontline countries. The High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, asked Poland to “immediately stop all push-backs on the border with Belarus” and spoke of an alarming humanitarian situation. Many Polish citizens took to the streets to protest the government’s hard line and ask for assistance and food to migrants. Evidently, for now, the countries on the eastern borders of the EU are certainly not distinguishing themselves as examples of hospitality. But at the same time, we are seeing the Eastern countries take so far the toughest positions against the Lukashenko regime and giving political asylum to Belarusian dissidents more than any other EU Member State has: opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has found refuge in Lithuania.In Poland is hosted the only free broadcaster in Belarusian language, Belsat. In short, the countries that are more exposed to it help us to remember how the presence of a ruthless dictatorship at the gates of Europe is a problem that affects us all. Just like the need to find a common welcome policy.