As it runs out of steam in the polls, Poland’s right-wing populist government is playing the anti-immigration card that helped it win in 2015, hoping to regain political leadership, analysts said.
Thousands of migrants – most of them from the Middle East – have crossed Belarus to eastern EU states, including Poland, in recent months.
The EU suspects the influx is being organized by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against increasingly stringent EU sanctions, with Poland and the Baltic states calling it a “hybrid attack”.
Political attention in Poland in recent weeks has focused on a group of around 30 migrants camping on the border between Poland and Belarus.
Poland refuses to let the migrants, who are said to be Afghans, in by a charity trying to help them, or give them aid without Belarus’ consent.
“It is not excluded that there will be early elections next year (…) and it is not at all certain that the Law and Justice party (PiS) will obtain the majority or will succeed in forming a coalition” said Agata Szczesniak, a policy analyst for the news portal OKO.press.
The government lost its formal parliamentary majority earlier this month after the departure of a junior coalition partner.
A recent Kantar poll also found that the PiS had lost three points in the polls and is now neck and neck with the main opposition group, Civic Platform, at 26%.
“To get back up in the polls, the PiS is trying to replay what happened in 2015 but even more. It focuses public emotion around the image and rhetoric of a war ”against migrants, Szczesniak said.
During the 2015 European migration crisis, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski scored electoral points in that year’s parliamentary elections with his anti-immigration rhetoric, including warnings about diseases and “all kinds of pests” that migrants could bring with them.
– ‘Holy Polish Territory’ –
The government has remained uncompromising on migrants at the border, even after multiple appeals from the UN refugee agency, the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was protecting “the holy territory of Poland”.
Dressed in military-style outfits, he went to the border to announce the construction of a fence.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski has promised to “defend Poland against migrants” and Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak has sent 2,000 troops to the border.
“What is happening at the border is political gold” for the government, said former EU chief Donald Tusk, now head of Civic Platform.
Adam Szostkiewicz, political commentator for the weekly Polityka, said the government “is building its election campaign around this”.
But analysts pointed out that public sentiment around the issue has changed in recent years.
Many Poles sympathize with the Afghans and are increasingly accustomed to higher levels of immigration to the country, especially Ukrainians and Belarusians.
“At the time, around 70 percent of Poles said they were against welcoming refugees. Today it’s 55 percent, ”Szczesniak said.
– Confusion –
The government can also send a mixed message.
In recent days, he has also evacuated nearly 1,000 Afghans who were working for the Polish military contingent.
“On the one hand, the PiS helps the Afghans and on the other it rejects them. It creates confusion, ”Szczesniak said.
Szostkiewicz said that the fact that the crisis can be orchestrated by Minsk “does not justify the lack of basic empathy … and the Poles can see it”.
The situation of the group stranded at the border has also prompted appeals from the Polish Catholic Church, traditionally close to the current government.
Poland’s leading Catholic clergyman, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, called on political leaders “to be guided above all by the spirit of hospitality, respect for newcomers and goodwill”.
© 2021 AFP