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War in Ukraine prompts political change in Poland

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War in Ukraine prompts political change in Poland

WARSAW – After colluding with anti-immigrant firebrands friendly to the Kremlin and furious against the EU, the leader of Poland’s populist governing party has taken on an unexpected new role: a standard of European solidarity in defense of Ukraine and democratic- carrier value.

With three European prime ministers on a risky train ride to Ukraine’s besieged capital Kyiv, Jarosaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader and a longstanding crisis of European unity, this week became the latest European politician to lash out at Russia. Was attempting a hard somersault inspired by public panic. attack.

Mr. Kaczynski’s visit came as millions of ordinary Poles surprised their leaders and, in some cases, even themselves, as a tribute to Ukrainians fleeing the war and seeking shelter across the border in Poland. With exceptional, nationwide support.

The war in Ukraine has not only sent more than 1.5 million fearful people to Poland, which a few months ago was beating migrants from its border with batons and water cannons, but also sparked alarm that Russia would widen the conflict beyond Ukraine. could, dramatically expand and reshape the profile of Polish politics.

Previously focused on asserting national sovereignty and waging narrow domestic political battles against bureaucrats in Brussels, Mr Kaczynski’s party, Law and Justice, fought against the European Union and even its major military defender, the United States. with whom it had quarreled bitterly. For months at an American-owned television station that jeopardized its hold on the media.

But, forced out of its domestic political bunker due to the ongoing war next door in Ukraine, the Polish party “made a bigger face and returned to basics – NATO and the European Union,” said Marek, an analyst with Poltika Insight. Swierczynski said. , a Warsaw research group. “They are now trying to show, or at least make us believe, that they are 100 percent loyal Europeans,” he said.

It marks a shocking turnaround for Mr Kaczynski, who in December denounced the European Union as the German-led “Fourth Reich” and whose Law and Justice party, riddled with nationalism and dogmatic Catholicism, has denounced its political The brand was built on fighting alongside fellow Europeans. LGBT rights, rule of law and many other issues.

Even though the Polish government has shown no signs of backing down from its defiance of EU laws and regulations, Mr Kaczynski’s attempt to promote himself as a European standard-bearer sheds light on how Russian aggression has spread throughout. Politics and public opinion are scrambling in Europe. Germany has reversed decades of military and foreign policy and traditionally pro-Russian countries such as Bulgaria and Serbia are reconsidering their allegiance, even though public sympathy for Russia remains strong, especially in Serbia.

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Europe’s biggest supporter of the Kremlin and a strong ally of Poland’s governing party in its feud with Brussels, faces an uphill battle ahead of national elections due on 3 April. Which his opponents have billed as “a choice between” Orban and Putin or the West and Europe. His Fidesz party is slightly ahead in the elections, backed by a vast pro-government media apparatus that downplayed the genocide caused by Russia and presented Mr. Orbán as the only shield against the bloodshed spreading in Hungary.

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Poland, unlike Hungary, has been clear in condemning President Vladimir V. Putin and distanced itself from pro-Kremlin populist politicians whom it looked to support against Brussels, such as French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini, the far-right former deputy prime minister of Italy.

The change in Poland is particularly pronounced in Mr. Kaczyski. Apart from making statements recalling the role of Ukrainian nationalists in the genocide of Poles during World War II, he showed little interest in Ukraine and remained silent during the initial phase of the Russian invasion.

Which made his visit to Kyiv all the more surprising as the head of a European delegation of prime ministers from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

A reclusive man who rarely speaks in public and mostly confines himself to closed-door meetings with party loyalists and interviews with loyal media outlets, Mr. Kaczynski made his way to Kyiv by train. No light has been shed on the motivations.

Apart from providing moral support to Ukraine, European leaders who visited Kyiv did not provide any substantive aid. But his rail journey helped Mr Kazinsky obscure his previously enthusiastic association with Mr Putin’s most famous admirers in Europe, if not with the Russian leader himself.

Russian commentators aided him in this effort, lambasting the visit as hostile action. Kaczynski in Kyiv that NATO send a “peace mission” to Ukraine, Lyubov Steposhava, a foreign-policy analyst for the Russian media group Pravda, on Wednesday described Poland as “the hyena of Europe”. And invoked the Kremlin’s code for forced subjugation to Moscow as its “disclaimer”.

While some in the opposition condemned Mr. Kaczynski’s visit as a political stunt, his visit drew praise from supporters and some critics as a courageous gesture of solidarity with Ukraine – and generally at large. A welcome attempt to align its inner looking party with the sympathy of the masses. For Poland’s embattled eastern neighbor.

This sympathy is particularly strong among young Poles, many of whom hate the Law and Justice Party and strongly support the European Union.

“I never thought we had this,” said Michal Trefler, a 24-year-old student in business management who this week joined volunteers helping Ukrainians arriving at Warsaw’s central train station . “No one knew we could be mobilized like this.”

Some staunch anti-immigration Poles are so appalled by the kindness shown to Ukrainians that they think their fellow citizens may have been drugged. This week a conspiracy-minded Internet television channel suggested that Covid-19 vaccines were secretly re-engineered to give people “an enthusiastic response to migrants”.

“Knowing his position on the EU, we are all very confused that he suddenly takes a trip that was quite risky and claims to represent Europe,” said Mr Schnepp, adding that he is only looking for PR. ,” he said, and is “trying” to repair the damage caused by years of undermining the European Union and rapprochement with Mr Putin’s European friends.

Worried that rising inflation would undermine its popularity and that Brussels could suspend billions of dollars in badly needed funding, the government has of late curbed its earlier vitriolic attacks on the European Union.

Nevertheless, there are many questions as to whether Poland’s governing party, which relies on the support of anti-EU hardliners in parliament to remain in power, can actually quell its various long-running feuds with Brussels. .

With Europe being transfixed by horrific images from Ukraine last week, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, a body with law and justice loyalists, quietly resumed its attack on European law, ruling that on human rights. Some parts of the European Convention are incompatible with the Polish constitution.

Ukrainians, who have arrived in Poland since the start of the war, are amazed at how warmly they have been received in a country whose government has previously taken such tough crackdowns on immigrants.

The Polish government, led by Law and Justice, passed legislation last week that gives Ukrainians access to health care, education and other benefits. State-run railways allow Ukrainians to travel for free. The state is also providing a small daily allowance to Poles who have kept Ukrainians in their homes.

Most of the heavy lifting has been done by legions of volunteers who provide food, housing and transportation in places like Warsaw, and municipal governments, many of which are led by opponents of law and justice.

“It’s unbelievable how much they help. They give us everything they have,” said Victoria Shupovalova, who arrived in the Polish capital this week after taking refuge in a basement for six days in Kharkiv, her bombed hometown in eastern Ukraine, and by bus. To travel to the limit.

She came with her younger son, aged 11, but had to leave behind her 26-year-old brother and her husband because all men of military age were barred from leaving Ukraine.

Among those helping out at the Warsaw Sports Hall, now serving as a hostel for new arrivals, is Veronika Wodkowska, who took time off from her job in marketing to sort and distribute donations of food and other supplies. have taken.

“Our history and what happened to our grandfathers and great-grandfathers” during the previous Soviet and Nazi invasions of her country, she said, “made it impossible not to do anything to help.”

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