The Russian bikers' trip was cut short after they reached the Polish-Belarusian border early Monday, where Polish border guard services, beefed up by Polish security services, subjected them to several hours of checks before ultimately refusing them entry, either collectively or individually, despite the fact that all the participants had valid Schengen area visas. Poland's heavy reinforcement of the border crossing at the Belarussian-Polish border at Terespol to meet a few dozen bikers seemed like a bit of an overreaction, to say the least.
The Polish Foreign Ministry has offered a stream of flimsy excuses for why the Night Wolves would not be allowed to enter Poland. Last Friday, the Ministry said the bikers would not be allowed to enter because they did not provide authorities with a list of their activities in Poland, including their exact routes and rest stop locations. Then, as the bikers reached the border, border services claimed their visas were 'filled out incorrectly'; a border services spokesman stated categorically that "these people will not cross into Poland." A Pole who witnessed the sideshow later told Sputnik that the bikers were given documents stating that they were personae non gratae in Poland.
Rounding out the affair, officials from the Czech Republic stated that the Russian bikers would not be allowed through their country either, citing the Night Wolves' failure to apply for official permission to enter.
Political Considerations Above the Law, Apparently
The politicized nature of the European countries' decisions to ban the Night Wolves from staging their victory ride seems obvious to everyone involved. Many Western media sources have focused heavily on the fact that the bikers' leader, Alexander Zaldostanov, is a friend of President Vladimir Putin, as if that somehow justifies the politicized decision not to allow the bikers, who possess valid Schengen visas, to enter Schengen area.
However, many Poles, Czechs and Germans have thrown the politics of the Night Wolves aside, noting that they sympathized with the bikers aims regardless or even in spite of their political allegiances. Most stated that the bikers' aims –to visit memorials and cemeteries and to pay respect to their forefathers, who defended the world from fascism, was a noble aim worth supporting.
This was particularly true in Poland, where biker and Katyn Raid commander Wiktor Wegrzyn raised a lot of noise over the past couple weeks by vowing that Polish bikers would ensure the Russians hospitality and safety while on Polish territory. Wegrzyn was indignant over authorities' arbitrary decision not to allow the bikers to enter, telling Sputnik that he couldn't understand why the Russians were banned, and noting that he felt that they were being used "to create a Polish-Russian conflict." Wegryzn's own group of bikers had visited the site of the infamous Katyn massacre in Russia over a dozen times; not only had they proceeded without incident, they were openly welcomed in the Russian cities they visited.
Other Polish commentators were similarly disappointed by what they saw as politicization of a memorial event. Mateusz Piskorski, a local political expert who went to the border to see the Russians enter Poland, told Sputnik that Polish authorities' decision not to let the bikers in "caused great disgust amongst the crowd of several hundred" that had gathered "to welcome the Russian motorcyclists in Poland." The expert added that he hopes that the Russians would understand that the decision was made by the government, and not by ordinary Poles.
Bernd Schade, a German biker priest, recently told Sputnik that he had no doubts that the incident was "sharpened in connection with 'high politics' tension…between West and East," adding that he and other German bikers welcome the Russians and "do not see anything provocative about their planned route."
Politics Aside, the Show Must Go On
On Thursday, the Night Wolves reported in their blog that a group of bikers had successfully made their way into the EU, despite attempts by authorities to prevent their passage. "In spite of the orders given at all the border posts 'don't let in the Night Wolves,' we have managed to cross the border!" The bikers vowed to continue their trip, vowing that politics will not get in the way of historical memory.