op_holland1_Maciej LuczniewskiNurPhoto via Getty Images_polandrefugee Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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Fear and Loathing in Poland

As in the past, refugees will be a key issue in Poland's election this month, because the ruling party wants it to be so. Law and Justice is betting that voters will succumb to their basest, most xenophobic instincts, rather than recognizing the parallels to one of the darkest periods in their country's history.

On the eve of Poland’s parliamentary elections, which pit opposition parties against an illiberal populist government in power since 2015, Polish historian Irena Grudzińska Gross sat down with the renowned Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland to discuss her latest production, Green Border, which won the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival. A fictionalized account of the real-world experiences of asylum-seekers stranded on the Polish-Belarusian border in 2021, the film has become the bête noire of Poland’s populist government, and a welcome symbol of solidarity for Polish advocates of democracy and human rights. The shocking reality Green Border depicts continues, and people like those it portrays are still dying.

Irena Grudzińska Gross: Your latest film, Green Border, has received international acclaim and won important awards, and it has already been viewed by more than half a million people in Poland. But it also has been subjected to unprecedented attacks by Poland’s populist ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), in the run-up to this month’s general election. Why?

Agnieszka Holland: During each election campaign, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński invents an enemy through which to harness public fear and anger. It was LGBT+ people during the last election, and refugees before that. Now that his anti-LGBT propaganda no longer arouses the same negative emotions as it once did, it is refugees’ turn again.

In 2021, the Belarusian dictator, Aleksandr Lukashenko, and Russian President Vladimir Putin came up with a new idea to destabilize Poland and the European Union. Their goal was to create an emigration corridor through Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, through which they would shuttle migrants and asylum-seekers from the Middle East and North Africa.