Today the Internet is full of stories about how Lukashenko is trying to fight the EU with the help of migrants from the Middle East. According to some media reports, the migration flows are organized by Lukashenko himself. Others say that the dictator simply stopped guarding the borders and this created an opportunity to travel to European countries by a relatively safe route (the situation has changed a lot in recent weeks because of the cold weather). Many have already labeled migrants and refugees as criminals, and Poland, bypassing all international treaties, has officially started kicking refugees out of its territory without considering an asylum application.
There are many sides to this story, and we want to look briefly at who is trying to exploit this situation?
Lukashenko and his friends
The dictator understands the situation with EU migration policy very well. It is not for nothing that he has been receiving money for many years for strengthening the border just from the side of Belarus. The flow of the European money shows well the possible pressure points. The calculation is simple – to exert enough pressure via refugees and migrants to return to the negotiating table. If politicians in Brussels really give in, the situation with Lukashenko’s rule may stabilize, despite the human rights violations, which the West has turned a blind eye to before.
Obviously, the regime, like many private citizens, makes money from migrants. From various duties, fees, and other bureaucracy to the use of government infrastructure, which would stand empty these days. Technically, hotels continue to fill up, tours are bought, and many can continue to keep their jobs. But this situation is more of a side effect of the open borders policy. It is much more important for the regime to offer political resistance to sanctions from the West than to make some money from refugees: the former cause much more losses for the dictatorship than profits from hotels and other infrastructure.
Most Belarusians in Poland are already aware of the conflict between the right-conservative government and the European Union. The conflict is based on numerous violations by the Polish state of the freedoms of its citizens. It has come to the point that Brussels writes fines to Warsaw, while the latter continues to ignore them and ask for economic support.
The current conflict on the border slightly changes the balance of power: now the right-wing conservatives, who have long been trying to close the EU to refugees, have become the defenders of Europe. In this position, Warsaw has gained good leverage over politicians in the West. This is why violations of the refugee conventions anger the UN, but so far do not particularly worry liberal politicians in Germany or France.
Obviously, in order to maintain this leverage, the escalation must continue, and the news itself must become more and more scandalous. Which is what the Polish government is doing. Today’s so-called steps to resolve the crisis are aimed more at further escalating the conflict with Minsk, primarily to preserve Warsaw’s political influence in the European Union. It was playing the border guard in 2014-2017 that allowed Hungary’s authoritarian leader Orban to remain relatively comfortable with Western politicians for quite some time.
Sadly enough, the opposition also benefits from the refugee situation. The conflict on the border seems to be the only serious problem that constantly draws the attention of Western journalists and politicians to the situation in the country. Mass arrests, torture, and murder have failed to provoke any serious reaction from the EU on sanctions in 2020. As soon as Lukashenko started to make mistakes in foreign policy – by landing a Ryanair plane (if Protasievich had flown on Belavia or Aeroflot, the concerns of the West would have been much more moderate), and then by opening the borders to refugees – Europe immediately started to impose serious sanctions.
Both bloggers and opposition politicians understand this and try to use every way to put pressure on the dictator. How ethical this is is up to each of us individually.
It’s hard to imagine who might win in this situation. It is obvious that authoritarian forces on all sides are trying to use refugees to form their own crazy reality: on the one side Lukashenkoland, where any critic of the regime is repressed and the great leader seeks to create an analogue of North Korea in the center of Europe; on the other side states whose borders are surrounded by barbed wire and huge fences, protecting that very first world from reality. The very reality in which people suffer from global warming, capitalism, wars and dictatorships. And these people come to the European fortress hoping for help, and die in the swamps of the Belarussian and Polish regime.
We can say for sure who loses in this whole situation – it’s the people who need help and a safe place to live. And it’s not just about people from Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq. Barbed wire stops refugees regardless of their nationality. The paths the Belarusians used to make their way to the EU last year are closed today through the efforts of Lukashenko and some of his opponents. We are once again in a situation where politicians are playing, and ordinary people are suffering.
Fuck Lukashenko and his regime activists! Fuck Duda and his corrupt friends! Fuck Motolko and other bloggers hunting “illegals” in Minsk.
Our solidarity with all those fighting authoritarianism in Minsk, Warsaw, Baghdad, and across the planet.