Eastern Europe feels vindicated by the Brussels attacks | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.03.2016
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Eastern Europe feels vindicated by the Brussels attacks

Initial Eastern European reactions to the Brussels attacks were also characterized by compassion. But no one in the region differentiates between refugees and terrorists. They simply see things in a different light.

First there were words of condolence for the citizens of Belgium. People in Warsaw, Prague and other Central- and Eastern European capitals seemed shocked by the attacks. "All of the values that we think of as the foundation of our society are beginning to lie in ruins," said Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. It sounded heartfelt when she said it, but it also sounded as if she had more to say.

And indeed, a mere 24 hours later, Szydlo announced that in light of the events she could see no way that "refugees can come to Poland." Some 100 Syrians were scheduled to be relocated to Poland by the end of March, and 400 by the end of the year.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo

No refugees in Poland, says Prime Minister Szydlo

In 2015, the previous government had committed to accepting 11,500 refugees and the new government was intent on honoring that commitment. Szydlo also assured Berlin of that fact.

Pro-refugee people see Poland's backtracking as a lack of solidarity.

"With a paltry number like 400 refugees, no one need be concerned that a parallel society could evolve," according to Kai-Olaf Lang, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin.

The fact that Poland has shifted so quickly into reverse gives the appearance that they are simply using the attacks as an excuse, says Lang.

Eastern Europe ticks differently

Poland is no exception,."Following the attacks in Brussels, East Europeans feel vindicated that there is a connection between refugee immigration and the threat of terrorism," explained the SWP expert. Reactions from the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and beyond confirm that statement.

Visegrad Group meets in Prague

The Visegrad Group is united against Chancellor Merkel's refugee policies

In Budapest, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto explained to the country's state-run news agency that the threat of terror has increased due to uncontrolled illegal immigration. The official statement released by the FIDESZ parliamentary group went so far as to claim that: "Europe is now paying the price for its refugee policies with the lives of its citizens."

"Such statements are intended to be domestically provocative on the one hand, and to send a message to Berlin and Brussels on the other," says Jakob Wöllenstein of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in Berlin. He says that it is no coincidence that Hungary, of all countries, feels that they are in the right. "They have pointed to security policy in the refugee debate from the very start, and now they feel more than vindicated in their position," says Wöllenstein.

Bulgarian Premier Boyko Borissov

Bulgaria's PM Borissov: impossible to integrate terrorists

There is no differentiation between refugees and terrorists in the Czech Republic, or Slovakia either, nor in Bulgaria. Following the attacks, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, speaking in Sofia, stirred resentment against refugees by proclaiming: "It is impossible to integrate terrorists, [and] it is not fair that we are paying billions for these people, and then they strike us right in the heart."

Domestic signal

That is why Sofia, which actually seeks to become a full-fledged Schengen state, has now instituted total border controls and has drastically increased police presence. In other Eastern European countries security measures were also initiated immediately. Prague increased police presence at its nuclear power plants at Temelin and Dukovany, and has also stationed army units there. Greatly increased police presence is visible in Poland, Romania and Slovakia - above all, at airports, train- and subway stations, and near diplomatic missions.

One Europe, two worlds

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico

Slovak Prime Minister Fico, a Social Democrat, is hostile to Muslim immigrants

"Eastern Europe's reactions are the result of two contradictory European narratives," says Kai-Olaf Lang. "Western Europeans want to keep their open society, and not be forced by terrorists to implement major security measures - and they are prepared to accept a certain amount of risk to that end," says Lang. Eastern Europeans on the other hand, says the security expert, are doing all they can to avoid even getting into that situation.

That becomes crystal clear on Eastern European social media sites. But also in their parliaments, as was recently the case in Slovakia. Since a few days ago, 14 rightwing extremists are now seated in the country's 150 member body. The former and current Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico - well-known for his hostile attitude toward Muslim immigrants - wants to set a new tone in the refugee debate in the near future. His country will take over the EU Council Presidency in July.

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