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"It was clear who the losers were in the dispute between Poland and Belarus. The thousands of migrants who became stranded on the border in freezing conditions had their dreams of a new future in Europe dashed, and some are now being repatriated to their home countries. But for Poland's government, the crisis helped to divert attention from a series of uncomfortable issues" – we read in the analysis published on CNN’s website on Monday.
Migranci na granicy białorusko-polskiej w okolicach Kuźnicy. Ramil Nasibulin / AP
The author, Laura Smith-Spark, who covers European affairs from London, recalls the many problems Poland’s Law and Justice government is currently struggling with: a clash with Brussels over the rule of law, reignited protests against the ban on abortion after the death of a pregnant young woman, rising inflation, difficulty to secure a parliamentary majority, an opposition-controlled Senate, and increasingly unfavorable ratings.
"The nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), which won an outright majority in 2015, has seen its grip on parliamentary power weaken in the years since. It is also roiled in conflict with the European Commission over the rule of law and faces wide opposition, especially in urban areas, to its position on cultural issues" – she writes.
PiS is hoping for preferential treatment in its relations with Brussels
In its analysis, CNN cites among others Piotr Buras, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Warsaw office.
„I don't want to play down the situation because it is risky and serious, quite a difficult political situation because it involves a security conflict and a humanitarian crisis... but there is of course also an attempt to capitalize politically on this crisis" – the expert states, commenting on the Poland-Belarus border crisis.
"With this whole crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, Law and Justice now is seen as a champion of protecting Polish sovereignty and, of course, protecting Europe" - adds Judy Dempsey, editor of the Strategic Europe blog for the Carnegie Europe thinktank.
CNN points out that "the crisis has also forced the EU to rally behind for Poland at a time of increasingly bitter dispute between the European Commission and Poland over the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary".
Furthermore, Mr Buras says that ruling camp politicians are not hiding their hopes that the Commission "will show more understanding for Poland and would apply a lighter approach to the rule of law issues because of this crisis on the border".
Dempsey, on the other hand, emphasizes that if the crisis on Poland’s eastern border deescalates, whether PiS continues to still benefit from it will largely depend on the effectiveness of the opposition.
MEP Sikorski: Lukashenko’s gamble could backfire
CNN also recalls that in an effort to control the discourse, the Polish government has banned media and humanitarian aid organizations from accessing the border area.
"That has not always worked to the Polish government's benefit: Some of the most compelling images of the crisis, such as Polish border forces using water cannons on desperate migrants, were captured from the Belarusian side of the border, where international journalists were able to operate" – remarks CNN, whose correspondent, Matthew Chance, reported on the crisis from the Belarusian side of the border.
Mentioning the broader geopolitical context of the issue, CNN quotes Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who, in an interview with the German daily "Bild", talked about how Lukashenko and Putin are trying to destabilize the West, and that the crisis may also be an attempt to distract attention from Putin's pending new offensive on Ukraine.
CNN also quotes Poland’s former head of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MEP Radosław Sikorski, who in an interview with Hala Gorani assessed that Lukashenko's efforts to blackmail the EU may eventually backfire.
- Lukashenko is trying to repeat what President Erdogan of Turkey did, except that Turkey really had millions of Syrian refugees, and it really was a huge drain on Turkey's resources, and that EU agreed to pay some of that cost. Mr Lukashenko has imported his migrants on purpose – Mr Sikorski said, adding that while in the short term Lukashenko might see the phone calls with EU leaders as a success, "eventually, he will have to conclude that it's a bigger problem for him than for the European Union".
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
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