Dis­il­lu­sioned young Poles lend refugees a help­ing hand

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WAR­SAW: An­gered by their coun­try’s foot-drag­ging on Europe’s refugee cri­sis, 30 young Poles are lend­ing a help­ing hand to refugees in the Balkans, breath­ing new life into a “Sol­i­dar­ity” ethic made fa­mous in Poland in the 1980s. “We’re head­ing to the Balkans this week with cloth­ing for refugees,” says Ma­ciej Bu­landa, 26, one of four friends who launched the aid drive on Face­book by cre­at­ing the Do­browolki (“vol­un­teers” or “good­willers”) page. “We’ve got eight cars and around 30 vol­un­teers,” he told AFP as stu­dents and ac­tivists stuffed garbage bags full of warm clothes, shoes and blan­kets into ve­hi­cles.

Soon they will set off on the 2,000-kilo­me­tre jour­ney south to Croa­tia, Mace­do­nia and Ser­bia. “The re­sponse of or­di­nary peo­ple was incredible,” Bu­landa said as he loaded a shiny new lux­u­ry­brand van that a car rental com­pany loaned them free of charge. “Every­thing we’re do­ing is also a way to voice our protest against the in­ac­tion of the coun­tries in our re­gion re­gard­ing the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the Balkans.” More than 750,000 peo­ple have crossed the Mediter­ranean this year, many flee­ing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Euro­pean Union has strug­gled to craft a uni­fied strat­egy to deal with the in­flux.

In east­ern Europe, a po­tent mix of fear, ig­no­rance and Is­lam­o­pho­bia is fu­elling wide­spread op­po­si­tion to tak­ing in refugees, de­spite the EU’s adop­tion of a quota sys­tem to re­dis­tribute the new ar­rivals around the 28-mem­ber bloc. But the young vol­un­teers are de­ter­mined to press on with their mis­sion to help the new ar­rivals. “We’re go­ing to Slavon­ski Brod in Croa­tia first. We’ll drop the clothes off and then the group will split up: some will go to Slove­nia and oth­ers will head else­where in Croa­tia,” says Monika Pron­czuk, who re­turned two weeks ago from her first aid trip, to Berka­sevo in Ser­bia. “We’ll get spe­cial ID cards in Slavon­ski Brod al­low­ing us to work as vol­un­teers,” she adds.

‘Cholera’, ‘par­a­sites’

Like Poland, Croa­tia is a mem­ber of the 28-state Euro­pean Union, while Mace­do­nia and Ser­bia are not. Pron­czuk ex­plains some Pol­ish vol­un­teers then plan to head to Pre­sevo, a small Ser­bian town near the Mace­do­nian bor­der that host­ing a refugee and mi­grant re­cep­tion cen­tre. The en­thu­si­asm dis­played by the young Poles stands in stark con­trast to the words of a lead­ing Pol­ish politi­cian, dubbed by some Poland’s new “king” due to his party’s con­trol over the pres­i­dency, the par­lia­ment and soon, the cen­tral bank.

Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski’s push for power in last month’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions preyed on fears aris­ing from Europe’s worst mi­grant cri­sis since World War II. An­a­lysts be­lieve his vic­to­ri­ous Law and Jus­tice ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment will likely try to re­verse the de­ci­sion of the out­go­ing cen­trist ad­min­is­tra­tion to ac­cept refugees un­der an EU quota plan. Kaczyn­ski claimed refugees were bring­ing “cholera to the Greek is­lands, dysen­tery to Vi­enna, var­i­ous types of par­a­sites”, in com­ments that crit­ics said re­called the Nazi era. He in­sists War­saw should fi­nan­cially sup­port EU ef­forts to tackle the cri­sis, but not take in refugees-a view sur­veys sug­gest is shared by nearly 60 per­cent of Poles.

In their de­ter­mi­na­tion to defy the gov­ern­ment and do what they see as the right thing, the Do­browolki have re­minded some Poles of the Sol­i­dar­ity move­ment of the 1980s. Led by then Gdansk ship­yard elec­tri­cian Lech Walesa, Sol­i­dar­ity spi­raled into the big­gest op­po­si­tion move­ment be­hind the Iron Cur­tain, trig­ger­ing the peace­ful demise of com­mu­nism in Poland by 1989.

In­sist­ing there is too much “in­dif­fer­ence” to the plight of refugees and mi­grants, one of the vol­un­teers, 33-yearold Jacek Kaste­laniec said he had post­poned a dream trip to the Caribbean in or­der to help refugees in the Balkans. “This drama is hap­pen­ing here and now in Europe, close to us. Dur­ing World War II, too many peo­ple said the same thing: ‘It’s not my busi­ness’,” said Kaste­laniec, di­rec­tor of a spe­cial fund aimed at pre­serv­ing the site of the Nazi Ger­man twin death camps, Auschwitz-Birke­nau-now a state mu­seum in south­ern Poland. “As a Pole, I want to feel that I have done some­thing for th­ese peo­ple, to ease their plight.” — AFP

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