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Editorial: Challenging racist repression at Poland's border matters in Britain too

TOMORROW’S protest at the Polish embassy in solidarity with refugees in the freezing forests of the Poland-Belarus border sends an important message.

Its backing by Stand Up to Racism, Stop the War and CND emphasises the connection the horrific scenes we are seeing in eastern Europe have with racism and Britain’s wider foreign policy record.

For Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, this is a “manufactured migrant crisis.” She echoes the liberal conspiracy theories that the big bad Kremlin is somehow responsible for every unwelcome development in Western politics, from Brexit to Donald Trump, before adding a dollop of cold war rhetoric about Poland being “on the frontiers of freedom.” 

Actually the authoritarian, homophobic, sexist Polish government has more in common with its counterpart in Moscow than either would care to admit.

The assumption that Russia must be behind every shift in Belarusian policy is not evidenced either, but such matters are ultimately beside the point. Neither Putin nor Lukashenko has manufactured a “migrant crisis.” 

There is a global refugee crisis. And Britain and the EU have played a prominent role in causing it: as Communist Party leader Robert Griffiths notes, “Western imperialism’s military intervention and super-exploitation created the conflict and deprivation that has compelled millions of people … to flee their homes and communities.”

Politicians’ dedication to continuing a catastrophically aggressive foreign policy is matched by their refusal to take responsibility for the consequences. 

When the 20-year US-led occupation of Afghanistan collapsed in a humiliating retreat this summer, MPs and politicians across Europe waxed lyrical about the shame of abandoning Afghans to the mercy of the Taliban. 

At the same time the EU held a summit on how to strengthen its borders and keep refugees out, with French President Emmanuel Macron worrying that the US defeat meant action was needed to “protect ourselves from significant irregular migratory flows.”

Austria proposed EU funding for holding camps in countries bordering Afghanistan. The EU looked back to its own illegal deal with Turkey to hold millions of refugees in return for money — but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was no longer willing to help out, being at loggerheads with the EU in the Mediterranean and north Africa and facing increasingly strident anti-refugee rhetoric from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

When British and European leaders talk of Belarus waging a “hybrid war” they mean that Minsk has deliberately allowed refugees to reach the EU for a hostile purpose. But Belarus has not created the desperate people concerned. The EU’s real concern is that a neighbouring state has stopped co-operating with the policing of its border. 

Its answer is to back Poland’s militarisation and repression: violent attacks on refugees, illegal pushbacks across barbed wire, massive troop deployments (from a Warsaw government that announced last month it was more than doubling the size of its army). 

Britain sends troops to help and says it will assist Poland with building a border wall. It is a depressing indication of the rapid normalisation of the far right that a policy which saw Trump mocked and excoriated by liberal opinion is now seen as reasonable when deployed at “the frontiers of freedom” to preserve Europe from the savages beyond.

It is the left’s duty to challenge this toxic shift. That is as important in Britain as in Poland: we too have a deeply authoritarian government seeking to rip up international law to keep out refugees while cracking down on protest, and Britain is even more closely involved in the series of US-led wars that has fuelled the refugee crisis. 

Solidarity with the victims of that crisis is a matter of life and death — at least 12 people have died during the standoff with Belarus, the youngest a one-year-old baby. It is also to take a stand against repression and racism everywhere — including on the streets of this country.

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