In Poland, the war in Ukraine upsets the priorities of opponents of power

People await the arrival of US President Joe Biden at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

they marched against Tougher abortion law –it entered into force in January 2021–, shouted the questioning of the judiciary, warned of the climate danger or even denounced the fierceness of the leaders against the LGBT community. They are activists or simple progressive citizens, and for seven years they have been worrying and fighting tirelessly against the ultraconservatives of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), in power in Poland since 2015. But the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the hated enemy , has suddenly reversed priorities.

Since February 24, Poland, which already had more than a million Ukrainians on its territory before the war, opened its arms wide to its closest neighbors. A collective and remarkable boost: more than 2.3 million Ukrainians arrived in the country in one month, 300,000 of whom chose Warsaw. In big Polish cities, we hear Russian or Ukrainian spoken on every corner, the blue and yellow flag adorns the buses and trams. “With all my heart with you”, say the four by three meter urban billboards. Here, Cyrillic signs offer tests for Covid-19; there, telephone operators make free chips and kits available to newcomers. In the countryside as in the city, the Poles have opened their sofa beds. Gymnasiums, theaters and concert halls have been transformed into dormitories, schools have educated more than 80,000 Ukrainian children.

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Power encouraged these initiatives. While, since the summer, the border guards between Poland and Belarus, applying the new legislation to the letter, relentlessly reject immigrants from the Middle East, the conservative national government has given in a few weeks a formal framework to all expressions of hospitality towards Ukrainian refugees. It has just authorized the residence and work of the latter for a period of eighteen months and grants them the same benefits as Poles thanks to a number called “Pesel”, an essential sesame for any administrative procedure in the country. “We do not call Ukrainians ‘refugees’, but ‘our guests’, ‘our brothers’, ‘our neighbors from Ukraine'”, explained the president, Andrzej Duda, on March 25. These chosen words pulled the rug out from under their opponents.

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Russia’s entry into the war on February 24 meant a truce in the domestic political scene. Since March 2, President Duda has vetoed a reform of the education system that deeply divided Poles. The next day, he appeared with Rafal Trzaskowski, the progressive mayor of Warsaw, his great rival in the 2020 presidential elections, to consult him on the aid that would be given to the refugees from Ukraine. The Diet also experienced a rare unity: on March 11, 450 deputies voted to increase the defense budget (another 5 abstained and the last 5 did not participate in the vote), and the Senate did the same a few days later.

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