Senior researcher, Center for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo
The EU must be invited to the Polish-Belarusian border for several reasons.
This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.
Several of the press reports about the ongoing skirmish on the Polish-Belarusian border are marked by oversimplifications. They are often conveyed by journalists who write faster than they think.
They lack context. The great backdrop against which the conflict unfolds. Here we are talking about a possible collapse of civilization in Europe, planned by the duet Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.
The Putin Dream
The plan has so far been as successful as it has been diabolical, at least according to the leading Eastern European historian Timothy D. Snyder. In “The Road to Unfreedom” (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: equally dehumanized and barbaric. And indifferent to human suffering.
Today, thousands of exhausted and dying refugees on the Polish-Belarusian border are expressing the triumph of this Putin dream.
In their brutal response to the border crisis, the Polish authorities, and increasingly the EU governments, begin to think, feel and act in accordance with Putin’s cynical logic. It is based on a view of human life as “the fertilizer of history”.
The apparent “putinization” of Eastern Europe is only half of a more complex picture
There are surprisingly few commentators who 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 becoming what Putin wants it to be”?
If you look at the Eastern European flank, there are many indications of that. Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland are all flirting with an illiberal majority despotism that abolishes free courts and an independent press and violates minority rights. And Ukraine is already under partial occupation.
A more complex picture
But the apparent “putinization” of Eastern Europe is only half of a more complex picture.
To take Poland as an example: There are hundreds of organizations, groups and initiatives fighting against lawlessness, nationalization of education, oppression of women, liquidation of independent media and harassment of disobedient judges.
According to a recently published report From the Committee for the Judiciary, 26 cases have been documented about judges who were suspended, persecuted or harassed for having complied with the Constitution and respected judges from the European Court of Justice.
Groups defy the Polish government
What the Western media also overlooks is a gradual moral revival in the Polish, often PiS-dominated (Polish ruling party) villages and villages along the Belarusian border.
Numerous small social groups, such as Granica, Ocalenie and Caritas, defy the command of the Polish government. They search for refugees, feed them and offer medical help.
Countless spontaneous initiatives – including housewives ‘soup stations and grocery and pharmacists’ gifts to refugees – have saved the lives of dying, frozen people on the run.
Yes, as Aftenposten journalist Ingrid Brekke writes, the border crisis may be a gift to the Polish PiS party’s self-image as the Poles’ heroic defender against the “invasion of Asian hordes”.
But the new resurgence of charity is also a signal that many Polish citizens are dusting off their Christian values and rushing to defend a “common human decency” (to quote a shop owner from the village of Kuzno).
EU as a guarantee
For the democratic and humanist groups in Poland and Eastern Europe in general, the EU’s existence is the only guarantee that the ongoing process of political destabilization and the collapse of civilization, so cleverly inflated by Putin, will one day be averted. No matter how slow and seemingly impotent the EU has been in its response to current challenges.
When you talk to the Polish Movement for Free Courts or a group of the 14 Women from the Bridge, who recently defied the march of nationalists and anti-Semites, you hear the same argument: “No matter what we think about the EU, it is for the first time in European history of the country that we can sue the Polish government in a supranational organization that has managed to create stable peace for over 60 years. “
The EU must be invited
In the complex context, the situation on the Polish-Belarusian border is ironic to the point of pain.
The PiS government is rightly very anti-Russian. But it has tirelessly imitated Putin in many areas. Now it is in Putin’s trap.
Asking the EU (or NATO) for help is like losing your patriarchal-muscular virginity. It is a pure humiliation for the Little Putin authorities, who have pretended to be brilliant defenders of the country’s interests. It has done so by being able to get EU funds without following EU rules, and then flirting with Polexit. Now it becomes clear how arrogant, weak and isolated they have been.
But the situation is too serious for both Poland and the EU to pursue old feuds. The EU must be invited to the Polish-Belarusian border for several reasons.
First, Europeans have much more experience than Poland in dealing with refugees. In 2015 alone, Frontex counted 181,000 illegal crossings of the border between Libya and Italy alone. Not to mention mass emigration between Turkey and Greece or Morocco and Spain. The EU can offer the very urgent humanitarian aid.
In addition, the EU has instruments in a completely different class than Poland to meet the provocations of Lukashenko and Putin. The EU can close the passage of refugees through Belarus via air traffic control. Or the EU could slow down Lukashenko by throwing Belarus out of the Swift system of financial transactions, which is central to Belarus’ key industries.
Can not afford to allow Putin’s attempt
Neither the EU, Poland, Norway nor post-Brexit England can afford to allow Putin’s attempts to create a liberal-democratic collapse in the heart of Europe. He has already succeeded enough in Ukraine.
Nor can we tolerate his success in dismantling the unique Pax Europaea (European peace).
Besides, we can not trust that the Americans will again save us from civilizational collapse. As pointed out by Hilde Restad and Hilmar Mjelde in a column in Aftenposten, it is far too likely that the United States can get a new Trump president in power. One that will simply give the bluff.