Matthew T. Meaney
In recent history, the world has been dealing with numerous border crises. The United States has had a problem for more than decade with immigrants hailing from Central America illegally crossing the southern border that America shares with Mexico. Currently, there is a growing crisis between Ukraine and Russia that is at the forefront of world news and politics. But there is another crisis in Eastern Europe that has received significantly less international attention: the border crisis between Poland and Belarus. The issue at hand between these two nations has been developing for a long time. To find why and how this situation came to be, we must start roughly thirty years ago…
In 1990, a man named Alexander Lukashenko was elected to the Belorussian S.S.R. Parliament. Prior to being elected to the Parliament, Lukashenko served in low-level roles within the Communist Party in Belarus. In 1991, Belarus declared independence from the Soviet Union. While in Parliament, Lukashenko created the Communists for Democracy, a faction that would lay the groundwork for his future endeavors in Belarusian politics. In 1994, following Belarus’ adoption of a new constitution, Alexander Lukashenko was elected President of the Republic of Belarus. Newly elected President Lukashenko got to work right away signing a series of agreements with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In 1996, Lukashenko took part in the creation of a new constitution for Belarus, one that would give him much more authority as the nation’s nearly autocratic leader.
For many years, Belarus remained as a single party state under the iron fist rule of Lukashenko. He is known for arresting political and journalistic opponents and dissenters, much to the dismay of the international community. In 2014, Lukashenko played a major role in securing the peace deal between Ukraine and Russia. For years, Lukashenko has been fixing and winning elections to remain in office. But after the 2020 election the Belarusian people felt that they had had enough of the corruption. Mass protests against Lukashenko broke out all over the country. The European Union took action against Lukashenko by imposing sanctions on Belarus. Lukashenko has made comments stating that he would be open to stepping down after constitutional reforms were enacted limiting the powers of the president. So far Lukashenko has made no action to attempt to make good on that promise. Lukashenko drew further international attention and western outrage in May of 2021 after he arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.
Recently, Lukashenko has begun to take action against the European Union. While he denies these claims officially, Belarus has been encouraging migrants to cross into other European nations, specifically Poland. These migrants have come as refugees from war-torn areas in the middle east seeking a better life in eastern Europe. Many migrants are actually being encouraged and in some cases even forced over the border into Poland by the Belarusian border security. When these migrants reach the other side of the border into Poland, Polish border security denies their entry into the country, thus leaving them stranded in the freezing cold with nowhere to go. According to the most recent data released, Poland has reported roughly 24,500 crossings from the Belarusian border. This number far exceeds last year’s data of only a few hundred crossings. Belarusian neighbors Latvia and Lithuania have also reported an increase in crossings since last year. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being the mastermind behind this border crisis, citing Putin’s relationship with Lukashenko. These claims, however, have yet to be confirmed by independent sources.
The overlooked, yet most important factor in this crisis is the human life that hangs in the balance. While this crisis, of course, was caused at its source by politicians and the inner workings of the global political system, many migrants are suffering because of these actions. Migrants are being beaten and forced, in some cases, over the border into Poland by Belarusian border security. The conditions that migrants face are brutal. Freezing, sometimes even sub-zero temperatures are common, and most people are ill-prepared to deal with such weather. For instance, many migrants lost their shoes crossing through the swamps, and their socks have since been torn. While no sources have been able to indicate a consistent and accurate death toll, it is known that there have been deaths recorded from the border. Some 14 NGOs (non-government organizations) have attempted to provide aid to the migrants that are suffering, but immediate relief does not appear imminent.
Poland has begun to take action against its neighbor state Belarus by beginning construction on an 18-foot high metal border wall. Two construction companies are working around the clock on this wall to the tune of 1.6 billion Polish zlotys (the equivalent of 394 million USD), and it is set to be completed in June of this year. Many have been critical of this border wall, claiming that it will fail to stop most of the illegal migration into Poland, while destroying the Bialowieza forest, one of the most beautiful woodlands in Europe. Polish border security continues to remain on high alert due to the unpredictable nature of Belarusian armed forces and Lukashenko himself. This crisis is a developing issue that will surely remain in the headlines for quite some time.