Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The cruelest game of Europe’s last dictator

This week, the European Union is facing a new geopolitical game in the hands of Aleksandr Lukashenko, who rules with an iron fist in Belarus, Europe’s last dictatorship. The most terrible thing in this context is that, once again, Lukashenko’s chess becomes especially cruel when he uses human beings for his political gains.

Thousands of migrants, some of them asylum seekers, coming mainly from countries in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Africa, have been tricked into Minsk, the capital of Belarus, with the promise of easy entry into the EU. Now they face a hellish corridor at the border with Poland. Also at the Lithuanian and Latvian borders. With guards and soldiers on either side, they try to cross the barbed wire. Blood is flowing. They do not know what to do. They are hungry during the day and very cold at night. There are already several deaths from hypothermia in the last weeks. Several dead at the European borders.

The dictatorial regime of Belarus, reaffirmed since August 2020 when it held fraudulent elections in which the opposition was persecuted and imprisoned, does not like the sanctions imposed by the European Union after the electoral farce for the serious violations of human rights that have taken place since then. And the best method of pressure he has found to reject them – he already put it in motion in July – is the illegal trafficking of people and the cruel manipulation of desperate human beings seeking a better life.

Taking advantage of the plight of migrants and asylum seekers, some of them transferred from nearby airports to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the Lukashenko regime uses official and semi-official channels such as consulates and travel agencies to dupe those yearning for a better life with the lure that if they travel to Belarus they will easily enter the EU.

Once arrived in Minsk by plane, migrants are taken to the border – with the Baltic countries or with Poland – and pushed to illegally enter the EU: they have told how Belarusian agents took away their phones and pushed them towards the border fence.

Poland, which has deployed 15,000 military personnel along nearly 400 kilometers of border, declared a state of emergency in the provinces bordering Belarus two months ago, preventing access for groups trying to help migrants caught in the crossfire. Some of these groups have complained that Polish soldiers are sending back to Belarus as many as they can, including the wounded, sick, pregnant women and children.

In this dramatic situation, and with winter approaching, Lukashenko threatens to cut off Russian gas passing through Belarus on its way to Europe, and Vladimir Putin, from Moscow, sends signals – and combat apparatus – to his ally in Minsk, at the same time, in the best tradition of organized lying and hybrid warfare, assures that they have nothing to do with what is going on and warns against possible sanctions hitting Aeroflot airline for its involvement in the massive deception of migrants transported to Belarus to be used as a weapon against the EU.

Europe cannot give in to this hybrid war, this geopolitical blackmail, this manipulation in which human beings are used as commodities to protest against sanctions that punish human rights violations in Belarusian society and acts of piracy such as the hijacking – including the forced landing of a plane flying between two European capitals – of activist Roman Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega, on May 23.

The European Commission must sanction the airlines involved in this human trafficking. The warning of its president, Ursula von der Leyen, in this regard, must be implemented and backed up by the 27 with measures that also punish the Minsk airport and cut off the flow of migrants from the countries of origin. Next week must begin with new pressure measures to let the dictator know that his cruel game will fail.

At the same time, the EU has to take care of those trapped at the borders. The urgent establishment of humanitarian corridors must be demanded. Polish borders are EU borders. And therefore we are with Poland. But Poland has to be with the EU. The EU of values cannot allow a member state to prevent the work of humanitarian aid organizations.

It cannot close its eyes to the degrading treatment of migrants and the pushing and shoving they suffer against barbed wire. Our values are what differentiate us from the Lukhasenko regime. It is not possible for an EU country not to share, and clearly apply, those values of respect for freedom, dignity and people’s lives. We cannot accept that Poland treats as enemies those people, trapped on its border, who are only victims of the misery of the Belarusian regime.

It has just been 70 years since the Geneva Convention on the Status of Forced Migrants, of refugees, created after the barbarism of the world war to help Europeans who had suffered from barbarism. Today love is death / and man stalks man, wrote Miguel Hernandez some years before, also in the midst of another terrible war. Today, those post-World War II Europeans are Syrians, Iraqis, Congolese and Cameroonians. Men stalked by men, pregnant women, children hungry and cold, homeless and without a country. Are we, Europeans, going to let the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Convention be celebrated like this?