Poland: Border crisis widens gap between Poles | International

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The crisis on the border with Belarus had all the elements to relaunch the declining popularity of the Polish government and mitigate the marked social polarization: an external enemy from outside the EU and an ally of Russia – a country with which Warsaw maintains a historical relationship of distrust -, a strident authoritarian leader (Aleksandr Lukashenko) and the firm support of the Union and NATO in the face of what Europe considers a “hybrid attack” after months of fights with Brussels on account of the rule of law and judicial independence. The policy manual, however, sometimes doesn’t work. The opinion polls in recent days reflect a new decline in the voting prospects of the ultraconservative party Law and Justice (PiS), in the twilight of a year full of controversies that the government coalition has carried ahead.

A poll released this Monday by the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza grants a 30% vote intention to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s PiS, who came to power in 2015 and won 43.6% of the votes in the 2019 elections. These are two percentage points less than a month ago, earlier from the peak of the crisis, and six less than a year ago. Meanwhile, the main opposition force, Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform (24%), which is basically opting for silence, and La Izquierda (8%) remain more or less stable. Poland 2050, the personalist project of journalist and television presenter Szymon Hołownia, jumps from 10% to 14% and the far-right Confederation, from 6% to 9%.

The survey, conducted last week, has an interesting element. Although the next elections are not scheduled until 2023, 78% of those consulted declare that they will go to the polls that day (57%, for sure), especially supporters of the Civic Platform and Poland 2050. Participation in 2015 it was 51% and in 2019, 62%. The electoral victories of PiS have been based precisely on the mobilization of its electoral base – older, traditional and Catholic people in towns or small cities, especially in the Southeast – and the demobilization of alternatives. 2% of those surveyed say they will vote for “some opposition party”, although it is not yet clear which one.

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“The language of the Government is that the people who are on the border are a threat. It does not matter if they are women or children, they are put in the bag of the aggressors. But even for some of those who support him, what is happening at the border is unacceptable from a human point of view ”, explains by phone Dorota Heidrich, professor at the Faculty of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Warsaw.

Image of Warsaw, last Saturday.
Image of Warsaw, last Saturday.Alvaro Garcia

Kajetan Kozowski is an example of these dilemmas. He is 20 years old and would not want to be in charge of his country these days. “It is a very complex situation. I do not like the government, but there is not much alternative to what it is doing, “he says in the supermarket where he works in the Polish town of Hajnowka, 30 kilometers from the border with Belarus. On the one hand, he brings out with a smile a fetish phrase among the opposition “Fuck PiS”(Fuck PiS). On the other, “as someone who has friends in the Border Guard”, admits that he sees the images on the fence and “migrants dressed in Puma or Nike” and understands the hot returns.

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Metro station in Warsaw, last Saturday.
Metro station in Warsaw, last Saturday.Alvaro Garcia

Two polls published in recent days by the newspaper Republic they coincide in granting PiS 30% of the votes (also with a drop of six points) and reflect the political division that the country is experiencing. 39% support the government’s action on the border, 36% reject it and 25% do not think. Sometimes the answers reflect a mixture of mixed fears and feelings. For example, 54% defend the recent amendment to the national immigration law that allows hot returns – illegal, according to international law, and which Poland has applied en masse in this crisis – and, at the same time, more than 60 % want migrants who cross into Poland illegally and request international protection to enter the asylum procedure, which prevents their automatic expulsion to Belarus.

Kajetan Kozowski, in the Polish town of Hajnowka, on the 17th.
Kajetan Kozowski, in the Polish town of Hajnowka, on the 17th.

Other cases in the same border region exemplify the social schism. On one side are Piotr Zojbert, 44, and Ela Moczynska, 37, a couple who argue that Poland should allocate the money it will cost to build the planned border barrier to host migrants. They work in marketing in the capital – where the Civic Platform beat PiS and La Izquierda obtained a good result in the 2019 elections – and they have come to spend a few days in a rural house that they have a few kilometers from the border, just before the area forbidden to non-residents by the state of emergency.

“The other day I was driving and [las fuerzas de seguridad] They stopped me like a war zone movie, with long weapons and dazzling me with the flashlight in my face. I was much more afraid of them than of the people they are supposed to protect us from. Because what should I be scared of? Of people on the border who at most have a stone? We were so far from the Government that with this we have almost turned around and reached the other side, ”he says with a laugh in front of a supermarket in the town of Narewka. “We believed that the Government could not cross more red lines, but it has,” she said.

Piotr Zojbert and Ela Moczynska, in the Polish town of Narewka, this Friday.
Piotr Zojbert and Ela Moczynska, in the Polish town of Narewka, this Friday.Alvaro Garcia

A few geographical kilometers away, but on the other side of the political gap, is Ula Z. “I would do the same as the Government. I know that these people are not well in their countries, but Poland does not have to accept them. They already have a country. They are all the time with that of [que quieren llegar a] ‘Germany, Germany, Germany…’ Why don’t you ask for asylum in Belarus? ”Protests in Hajnowka this 32-year-old bank employee who prefers not to give her last name. Or Stefan Martyniuk, who works in an appliance store in the same town. He is 38 years old and defines himself as a “patriot”, an evangelical Christian and a voter of the Confederation, the far-right party whose leader, Korwin Mikke, defended in the European Parliament that women should earn less than men. “The Government lies, but I support our soldiers [en la frontera] because I respect them: they have sworn by God and the country, ”says Martyniuk.

Ula Z., at the entrance of a shopping center in the Polish town of Hajnowka, on the 17th.
Ula Z., at the entrance of a shopping center in the Polish town of Hajnowka, on the 17th.
Stefan Martyniuk, in a shopping center in the Polish town of Hajnowka, on the 17th.
Stefan Martyniuk, in a shopping center in the Polish town of Hajnowka, on the 17th.

Adam Traczyk, political analyst at the think tank Global.Lab, considers that the government’s strategy of “mobilizing the people with the flag and presenting the opposition as foreign agents” has been “too obvious.” “He has exaggerated that letter and has not convinced anyone other than his main constituency,” he adds. “People have understood that the danger was not so great and that the biggest crisis in 30 years was an exaggeration, as can be seen in recent days. And yes, the EU has closed ranks with Poland, but the big issues with Brussels, such as the rule of law or the debate on conditionality [en la entrega de fondos europeos] They have not disappeared, ”he says.

Before the crisis at the border, many other things happened that explain the decline in the popularity of the Executive. The most recent was just three weeks ago, when the death of a pregnant woman was announced. Izabela, 30, died last September of septic shock in a hospital. The fetus had a serious malformation and the doctors did not perform an abortion (she arrived at the medical center expelling amniotic fluid) because a year before the Constitutional Court had declared unconstitutional the legal assumption under which 97% of legal interruptions of pregnancy fell, that of fetal malformation. Poland already had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

The case generated vigils and demonstrations, just like a month before, when tens of thousands of Poles took to the streets of a hundred cities to claim their Europeanism after the Constitutional rejection of a pillar of EU membership: the primacy of the Community law over the national. That same month, the EU Court of Justice fined Poland one million euros a day for violating judicial independence.

Nor has the new image of instability helped PiS. Last August and in just 24 hours, the tripartite government coalition, Right United, collapsed with the dismissal of a vice president and the resignation of three vice ministers, although it has resumed it with a recent split.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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