The war in Ukraine has had two main consequences in Poland. The first is a huge number of refugees coming to the country. The second is growing militarisation—supported by all parliamentary parties—as well as Nato and Western escalation.
Over two million refugees from Ukraine have entered Poland as a result of the Russian invasion. Some have moved to other countries, but many have not. Before the present war there were already between one and two million Ukrainian workers in the country, often very badly paid and working in bad conditions.
Alongside the official “Solidarity with Ukraine” campaign, there has been a massive outpouring of solidarity with the refugees. Not just NGOs, but people not affiliated with any organisation are now volunteering with material aid including providing housing and giving various kinds of advice.
This is very important historically. Ukrainians were the biggest minority before the Second World War and were brutally oppressed. Western Ukraine was part of Poland. The sympathy for the Ukrainian refugees is not automatic. Already some people are complaining. This is something the extreme right will try to exploit as the war continues.
In recent times, despite Poland’s right-wing government being very much in favour of Ukraine joining the European Union (EU) and Nato, it has from time to time pushed anti-Ukrainian propaganda. But now it is arguing that the Ukrainian refugees are good for the economy.
Today many of the newly arrived Ukrainians, who are supposedly supported by all classes in Poland, are being paid, unofficially, well below the minimum wage. We argue for solidarity between Polish and Ukrainian workers.
The government’s “open door” policy for Ukrainian refugees—but with black people being pushed to the end of the queue and not given the same rights inside Poland—is in marked contrast to the situation on the Belarusian border. Here repeated push-backs of non-European refugees are continuing. A wall is being built and 200 people are currently stranded between the two countries. At least 20 bodies of refugees have been found on the Polish side since August, and nobody knows how many others there are.
Meanwhile, the government has passed a law increasing military expenditure to at least 3 percent of gross domestic product and is doubling the size of the army. This went through parliament unopposed, even by the most left wing deputies from the Razem (Together) party. Razem is so nervous of being seen as not sufficiently pro-Nato that it recently cut ties to Yanis Varoufakis’ Diem25 movement because Varoufakis wants Nato withdrawal.
Troops from the Soviet Union, then Russia, were stationed in Poland until 1993—that is, after the USSR collapsed in 1991. Today Nato troops are seen by most people as a way to prevent war rather than a cause of war. Similar attitudes are common in other Western countries, but Poland is an extreme example of this.
At the same time, there is widespread anxiety about the possibility of the Ukrainian war spreading to Poland. This is very important. While all Polish parliamentary parties agree on the sanctity of Nato, the government is pushing things even further. Ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński announced in Kyiv that an armed “peace mission” of Nato soldiers should be sent to Ukraine. This proposed escalation is opposed by other parties.
Our socialist group has had several meetings on the Ukraine war and our monthly publication has met with a lot of interest on the streets and on the anti-racist and women’s demonstrations last weekend.
The demonstrations held for “Solidarity with Ukraine”, including outside the Russian embassy, have been dominated by calls for Nato and the EU to do more—more sanctions, more arms and a no-fly zone. Basically, they were organised by liberal or pro-government right wing forces. We argue for solidarity with Ukrainians. The guiding principle of inter-imperialist wars that “The main enemy is at home” means we argue against the growing militarisation of Poland and Nato/Western escalation. It does not mean we regard the Ukrainian side in the war as the main enemy.
We are planning to demonstrate along the lines of
Andy Zebrowski is a member of Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers Democracy), the sister organisation of the SWP in Poland.
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