sierakowski80_Ulf Mauderpicture alliance via Getty Images_border crisis Ulf Mauderpicture alliance via Getty Images

The Home Front of Poland's Border Debacle

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has succeeded in manufacturing a refugee crisis on Poland’s border, largely because the Polish government is too incompetent and cynical to have prevented it. As tragic as the situation is, it could still redound to the benefit of the country’s opposition.

WARSAW – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party knew well what to expect from Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko before he started funneling refugees from the Middle East to the Polish border. Belarusian authorities had already done it to Lithuania and Latvia. And in a clear sign of what was to come, Belarus terminated its readmission agreement with the EU in October. Poland had time to pursue preventive measures in the refugees’ countries of origin. It didn’t, and now thousands of desperate people are huddling in the cold on the border, facing options that are either bad or very bad.

One reason why the PiS-led government failed to work with the EU to head off the crisis months ago is that it has been busy fighting EU institutions over its politicization of Poland’s judiciary, among other issues. The irony, of course, is that PiS had previously gained notoriety for its government’s refusal to take in asylum seekers during the EU-wide refugee crisis of 2015. It should have been obvious at the time that the tables could easily turn – and now they have.

In procrastinating until refugees had already started massing at the border, PiS created an opportunity to stage a cynical show, performatively defending the Polish nation against foreign threats. Officials have since declared a state of emergency and held press conferences against a backdrop of armored vehicles – moves intended to unite society behind the government by whipping up fear and patriotism. The Polish leadership also refuses to allow journalists into the border area, which leaves the impression that either it has something to hide or is paranoid. Meanwhile, Lukashenko lets reporters in, which helps him promote his version of events.

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