It may have been a foregone conclusion that Poland under the control of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party – because of its Euroskeptic and nationalist positions – would quickly join Viktor Orban’s Hungary as a “bad boy” of the European Union.
In recent months, especially since the Law and Justice Party’s electoral victory last October, Poland has stood out as a leading naysayer to the E.U.’s calls for sharing the burden of receiving the wave of refugees arriving from Syria and the Middle East. Polish criticism of the open borders policy championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been stinging.
For instance, before the election, Kaczynski raised alarms about the possibility that the Mideast refugees might carry diseases. “There are already signs of emergence of diseases that are highly dangerous and have not been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on the Greek islands, dysentery in Vienna. There is also talk about other, even more severe diseases,” he said, though European health authorities have not reported any widespread outbreak of infectious diseases connected to the migrants.
Poland also has been quick to take a “we told you so” stand on the New Year’s Eve mass violence and sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by youths from North Africa and the Middle East, including asylum seekers, outside the Cologne main train station in Germany. Polish media cited the five-day blackout in Germany on news about the New Year’s Eve violence to question the autonomy and social responsibility of German journalism.
There are other reasons behind Polish vehemence on the refugees. First, from the standpoint of its population, Poland is already overrun by refugees and economic immigrants from Ukraine, which has suffered from civil war and economic collapse since February 2014 when a violent putsch toppled the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and created a crisis with Russia.
Official statistics put the number of Ukrainian refugees in Poland at about 400,000, as of May 2015, but unofficial estimates are much higher, more than a million today. The Ukrainians are putting pressure on the local job market at a time when there is still a net outflow of ethnic Poles going abroad in search of work. Secondly, admitting Muslims runs directly against the new government’s stress on protecting and nurturing traditional Catholic religious values.