Refugees. Freedom, comfort and solidarity.HIA Konstanty Gebert on stage

‘’Will you stand for your comforts or for your freedom?’’ – Konstanty Gebert 15th of April during his lecture on the Refugee Crisis.

Konstanty Gebert was invited by Humanity in Action to hold a lecture on the refugee crisis. He is a well-known Human Rights-activist and an acclaimed journalist from Poland. His lecture was titled “A deficit of solidarity: Poland and the refugee crisis, or how to defend Europe against itself”.

During this event, journalists, Polish activists residing in the Netherlands, and members of the Humanity in Action community were eager to interact with Mr. Konstanty Gebert. Senior Fellows, staff-members and prominent members of our board of recommendation were all present during this lecture. The intellectual capacity and the expertise of Mr. Gebert in European Affairs set the stage for an interesting exchange of ideas between him and our guests.

In short, this lecture explained the historical and cultural factors that contributed to the current hostility against refugees in Poland, and provided pragmatic reasons for Poland to change its course. Against this historical and cultural backdrop Konstanty explained the importance of a common understanding of the issue at hand. The decision to deny refugees a safe haven would drastically change the values upon which the European Union is based.

After the Brussels Attacks the Polish Prime Minister declared that it was not possible for Poland to honor the European Refugee Deal that would allow 7000 refugees to come to Poland. Which is surprising if we consider that most Polish families have experienced a history of repression and persecution. As recently as 25 years ago large parts of the Polish population fled the country. According to available statistics 116,000 Polish men women and children fled to Iran, seeking refugee from the Soviet repression in Poland.

According to Konstanty Gebert, countries that welcomed the refugees counted on the solidarity of other European countries including the solidarity of Poland. Solidarity is what makes the European Union possible, a failure to reciprocate on a basis of solidarity would mean the end of the peace and stability that the European Union has brought after the Second World War.

As a matter of self-interest Poland should have accepted the 7000 refugees in order to be prepared for a potential influx of refugees from Ukraine. Acceptance of the 7000 refugees would illustrate the willingness of the Polish Government to show its solidarity with the Members European Union. This number of refugees could have easily been accommodated by the Polish Government..

Konstanty Gebert talks to senior fellows HIAIn contrast, the potentially massive influx of refugees from Ukraine will not be easily accommodated by the Polish Government, and because of its recent decision it will not be able to count on the solidarity of other European Member states to accommodate this large influx of refugees. Konstanty recognizes the cultural difficulties for Poland to welcome refugees into its community, but as long as the conflicts in the Middle-East continue the refugees will keep on coming.

Poland is currently the most ethnically homogenous country in Europe. Introducing new cultures could therefore be very discomforting for the Polish population. Ethnic differences have long been a source of conflict in Eastern Europe, and is therefore considered undesirable by the majority of the Polish population. In Germany, the party Alternative für Deutschland recently suggested shooting refugees that illegally cross the external borders of Europe.

Which brings us to the core of his message ‘’If we accept violence as a solution for our political problems, we will lose our freedom’’’.  If we accept violence as a means to solve our political problems, there is no assurance that this trend will not continue in the future, not just against refugees but as a tool of oppression. This framework of understanding accurately describes the implications of the refugee crisis on a regional scale. Konstanty Gebert concluded his lecture with the remark that he would prefer sacrificing a part of his comfort for his freedom.

Report by Huseyin Sakalli