The disturbing scene along the Polish-Belarusian border has turned the problem of illegal migrants into political ammunition. This has changed attitudes with probably long term implications for immigration to Europe.
Immigration has become an increasingly passionate subject dividing Europeans. Generally speaking, the Establishment (what I call the 6Ps: the police, politicians, the press, priests, teachers and prosecutors) welcome immigration, legal or not, as a source of vitality. for an increasingly aging continent, an engine of multicultural diversity and a means for the former imperialists to appease their conscience. In contrast, a growing number of dissidents view immigration as a source of crime and disease, a challenge to traditions and a threat to civilization.
This debate culminated in 2015–On the 16th, when Angela Merkel, the powerful German Chancellor, unilaterally opened her country’s borders to migrants, taking much of Europe with her. As the illegals became legal, the division of attitudes among Europeans became more pronounced, with a Willkommenskultur– or welcoming culture – emerging in Germany even as barriers have been erected around Hungary.
And in mid-2021 Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, perhaps with Turkish help, had a clever idea. To overturn the European Union (EU) economic sanctions imposed on him in retaliation for a rigged election, he increased visa fees, called on everyone from around the world to travel legally to their country and to be transported by bus to the border with its EU member neighbors. : Poland, Lithuania or Latvia. Once there, the estimated 7,000 migrants – mostly but not exclusively Muslims from the Middle East – rushed over the barbed wire fence, sometimes wielding wire cutters provided by Belarus, sometimes pushed through by the forces. Belarusians, and threw debris, stones and stun grenades at Polish police.
But the numerous security guards on the other side arrested them with tear gas and water cannons, backed by fervent determination. “This border is sacred,” said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. “The Polish state border is not just a line on the map. Generations of Poles have shed their blood for this border.” Warsaw also passed a law allowing it not only to ignore asylum claims from illegal migrants, but even to forcibly expel them from the country.
Lukashenko exploited the illegals as pawns in a tactical game against the EU. He also used them to earn money, as the Belarusian state tourism agency charged between $ 1,800 and $ 12,000 per migrant and local traders overcharged ($ 1,000 for a hotel room, no. anyone ?) ; perhaps Lukashenko was also hoping for a bribe, as EU members paid Turkey and Libya. Meanwhile, the migrants languished, cold and hungry, adults and children, in the foul forest, a dozen of them dying.
The lasting importance of his bellicose gesture will be even more acidic for Europeans on the immigration of Muslims. Now armed by Belarus, more and more Europeans see the Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans as hostile elements determined to do harm. As inaccurate as this generalization is, it corresponds to an existing set of biases. Shouts in the streets of Poland called on border guards to shoot potential intruders.
The EU’s unequivocal support for Poland shows how far this change has already taken place. Despite persistent serious tensions with Warsaw, Brussels quickly and unreservedly sided with Poland in its dispute with Belarus. The border issue has pushed tensions between the EU and Poland – and $ 41 billion in suspended aid – to the margins.
Fortunately, the resolve of Poland and the EU led Lukashenko to back down. The illegals have abandoned the immediate border area and are either crammed into a giant Belarusian warehouse (a fitting symbolism) or flown to Iraq. Ironically, Lukashenko’s bet to create a migrant crisis in the EU backfired; Belarus, which until this tragedy had almost no Muslim migrants, now hosts a significant number of those who refuse to return home. “I’d rather die here in the cold than go back to Iraq,” said a 32-year-old Iraqi Kurd.
I predict that Belarus’ provocation will significantly affect European attitudes towards migrants, especially illegal migrants, for the worse. Willkommenskultur is now dead, with little possibility of resurrection. The guilt for racism, imperialism and fascism has faded somewhat in the face of the determination not to be portrayed as fools by an iron hat dictator.
So a tragic incident could lead to a new resolution and positive long-term results. Europeans are more aware of the need to protect their borders and to decide democratically on the composition of their population. That it takes a European dictator to push this point once again confirms the whim of history.
Daniel Pipes (DanielPipes.org, @DanielPipes) is President of the Middle East Forum.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.