EU neighbour Poland worried by deadly Ukraine protests
Deadly violence in Ukraine is drawing huge concern in ex-communist Poland, and a leading proponent of its neighbour's entry into EU.
WARSAW - The deadly violence in Ukraine is drawing huge concern in ex-communist Poland, itself no stranger to anti-government protests and a leading proponent of its neighbour's entry into the European Union.
The EU member is keeping close watch on Kiev, where several people have died this week amid clashes between the pro-Europe opposition and the security forces of the Russia-backed government.
"The situation in Ukraine is very reminiscent of Poland right before martial law," said Zbigniew Bujak, who was denied entry into Ukraine on Wednesday for his support of the opposition.
Bujak was a leader of the freedom-fighting trade union Solidarity that Poland's last communist leader, general Wojciech Jaruzelski, tried to crush in 1981 by ordering the military crackdown.
"In the days of Solidarity, the (Polish) government also fired at people," added Dawid Dabrowski, a Warsaw security guard in his thirties.
"But Poles weren't as divided as the Ukrainians," he told AFP of the days when 10 million Poles joined Solidarity virtually overnight.
"Western Ukraine wants EU entry while the east says no," he added.
Polish television has been streaming round-the-clock footage of the Kiev protests and newspapers of all political stripes have splashed concern across their pages.
"The regime has passed the point of no return," wrote Polish historian Adam Michnik, editor-in-chief of the Gazeta Wyborcza daily and a legendary anti-communist opposition figure.
He wrote on the paper's front page that Poland is rooting for Ukrainian sovereignty and democracy at a time when the country finds itself at the edge of a precipice.
Maria Przelomiec, a Warsaw expert on former Soviet republics, said Poland's interest in Ukraine stems from a shared communist past as well as the considerable Ukrainian presence here.
"Some Poles are also worried over what would happen if the situation deteriorates in Ukraine and Poland has to welcome its refugees," she told AFP.
At the moment around 200,000 Ukrainians work in Poland -- a country of 38 million people -- of whom a majority work low-paying jobs.
Poland's Catholic Episcopate on Thursday released a letter of solidarity saying, "We're following our Ukrainian brothers' fight with deep concern."
The political class has closely monitored Ukrainian developments for years.
In 2009, Poland and Sweden launched the Eastern Partnership programme, focused on strengthening ties between the EU and countries on its eastern flank that remain in Russia's orbit.
It was after a partnership summit last November that the Ukraine demonstrations first began. Protestors were upset over Kiev's 11th-hour decision to scrap plans for an association accord with the EU.
The protests had appeared to be tailing off but burst violently back into life after President Viktor Yanukovych pushed through tough curbs on the right to assembly and others earlier this month.
"Poland will always work to draw Kiev closer to the European Union because that would stabilise the country and weaken Russia," Warsaw-based political scientist Andrzej Szeptycki told AFP.
But he added that Poland "will remain cautious in its response and careful not to encourage strong reactions so as not to burn bridges".
For now Polish officials have not gone beyond calling for a halt to the violence.
"We call on both sides to exercise restraint," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told reporters Wednesday.
"But the main reason for what happened is a departure from the path towards Europe and reforms and the (Ukrainian parliament's) adoption of repressive laws," he added.
Ukraine "is clearly moving away from the European Union and nothing seems to suggest it will turn around."
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski meanwhile spoke with Yanukovych on the phone.
According to his advisor Jaromir Sokolowski he is "deeply concerned that Ukraine's internal conflict would escalate, he called for an end to the bloodshed."
Dabrowski, the Warsaw security guard, expressed frustration that Europe has not levelled sanctions against Ukraine, despite calls to do so.
"The Polish government, like all of the EU, is doing nothing for Ukraine, as if they're not sure whether they really want Ukraine in the EU," he told AFP.
Another Warsaw resident, who wished to remain anonymous, argued there was little Poland could do.
"What do you want us to do? Send over tanks? Russia has its interests there and will never let go."
"Poland can't just interfere in Ukraine's internal affairs -- only if the Ukrainians ask us for help, whether it be financial, mediatory or other," added bank employee Piotr Kaczor.
"It's up to Ukrainians alone to make their own choices, and even to make mistakes."
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