WARSAW—Poland will seek to further support its neighbor Belarus by opening its borders and labor market while providing financial support to civil society, Poland’s Prime Minister said on Friday, after a violent crackdown on post-election protests.
The protests in Belarus pose the biggest challenge yet to strongman President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. The protesters accuse Lukashenko of rigging last Sunday’s presidential election to win a sixth term.
Poland’s multi-step plan, which would also provide scholarships for academics and funding for the independent media, will initially cost around 50 million zlotys ($13.45 million), Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the Polish parliament.
“Empathy is not enough—we need to take concrete action,” he said.
Poland’s support program comes after it demanded the European Union host a special summit on Belarus. Morawiecki called for the EU to take further action.
“In this moment, you can’t don the mask of neutrality or indifference. If we don’t take steps as a united Europe now, then we will let it be known to all of our neighbors that when they are threatened, one can only count on oneself,” he said.
Earlier on Friday, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said Poland was bracing for an influx of Belarusian migrants.
“You need to consider support for people who need to pass the border quickly, but we must be responsible for our European partners, that is, the Schengen border,” Przydacz told the Catholic radio station Siodma9.
Because Poland belongs to the EU’s Schengen area, anyone who enters legally from Belarus can travel freely within the other 25 Schengen countries.
EU foreign ministers on Friday discussed their response to the crackdown, and diplomats and officials say new sanctions are likely to be imposed as early as this month.
Morawiecki reiterated his government’s demand that Belarus rerun its elections with foreign observers present, echoing his Czech counterpart, Prime Minister Andrej Babis.
Poland shares a close history with Belarus, a country of 9.5 million people including between 300,000 and 1.2 million of Polish origin, according to different estimates.
By Marcin Goclowski, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Joanna Plucinska, and Alan Charlish