Professor Robert Frost at the University of Cambridge in 2015.
By Andrzej Nowak and Robert Frost
This week, prominent historians Professor Andrzej Nowak (Jagiellonian University) and Professor Robert Frost (University of Aberdeen) wrote a public letter to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on the recent controversy over the new law regulating historical discourse in Poland. Earlier this year, the two historians won prestigious prizes from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the best books promoting Polish history. They first published their letter in Polish on conservative news websites wPolityce.pl and Do Rzeczy. The letter emerged from the participation of both professors in a lively discussion of the new law at the recent Belvedere Polish-British Forum in London, in which the Notes from Poland team also took part. Notes from Poland is pleased to publish the official English version of the letter here.
By Daniel Tilles
Poland’s proposed law deserves to be criticised, but the country is not the only one that should be asking itself questions about its actions during the Holocaust. The United States and Britain have largely ignored this shameful episode in their own histories.
The last few days have seen a bitter dispute over the Polish government’s decision to push ahead with a law that would criminalise those who falsely assign the Polish nation or state responsibility for the crimes of the German Third Reich.
Debate has focused on the use of the phrase ‘Polish death camps’ and, as I’ve written on this blog before, I fully support efforts to discourage the term, which is not only factually inaccurate but also deeply offensive, given that Poles were, after Jews, numerically the greatest victims of the German Nazi camps. More broadly, Poles justifiably feel that their experience of and actions during the war are little recognised, and sometimes misrepresented, outside their own country.
A cabinet reshuffle suggests that the new prime minister is no puppet and indicates a new direction of travel at home and abroad – one with potentially great rewards for PiS, but also significant risks.
By Daniel Tilles with Stanley Bill
Poland’s cabinet, which has remained almost unchanged in the two years since Law and Justice (PiS) returned to power, underwent a major reshuffle today, with a third of its ministers replaced. While all of the individual decisions had been rumoured, some for quite a long time, the scale of the overall change, and the decisive manner in which it transforms the nature of the government, still came as something of a shock.
Previously, Jarosław Kaczyński, the country’s unofficial but de facto ruler, has carefully and successfully balanced the various factions within the ruling camp (which, as well as his own PiS party, includes the smaller Solidarna Polska and Porozumienie). But he has now granted clear dominance to the more moderate, business-friendly wing. Meanwhile, major figures associated with PiS’s traditional national-conservative and religious base have been demoted or removed entirely. Continue reading
By Stanley Bill
After two years of finger-wagging, the European Commission has finally taken decisive action against Poland’s government for undermining the rule of law. Today the Commission triggered the “nuclear option” of Article 7 in response to two recent judicial reform bills. If four-fifths of the EU’s member states support the move – which seems possible given earlier declarations from both Germany and France – then Poland will receive a formal warning for the ‘clear risk of a serious breach’ of EU law. The next steps in the process could eventually lead to the suspension of EU voting rights, though such a move would require a unanimity that remains unlikely in the face of a promised Hungarian veto. Nevertheless, the Commission’s unprecedented decision represents the most serious of many recent blows to the country’s international image and standing. A shining symbol of transformational success only a few years ago, Poland is now officially a major internal problem for Europe.
The March of Independence, 11 November 2017, Warsaw. Source: PAP.
By Stanley Bill
Last Saturday, the annual March of Independence (Marsz Niepodległości) exploded onto the streets of Warsaw in a storm of controversy and scandal. International reporters and commentators described a “white supremacist march” and “60 000 Nazis” marching on the capital. The Polish state media, conservative columnists and the government dismissed the criticism as exaggerated slander, calling the event a “great march of patriots.” A deputy-minister even suggested – without evidence – that racist banners referring to “white Europe” and “pure blood” may have been an intentional provocation to compromise the march. Media reports of another banner calling for an “Islamic Holocaust” turned out to be false (though such a banner had appeared on a bridge in Poznań in 2015). The controversy gathered further steam in a furious confrontation in the European Parliament, after which a Polish conservative MEP described Western criticism of his country as “an anti-Polish orgy.”
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło. Source: PAP.
By Daniel Tilles
If you follow international news about Poland, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the country’s politics consist exclusively of an authoritarian government – intent on silencing critics, bringing state institutions under party control, destroying the environment, denying women their rights, and leading the country into conflict with its European partners – facing off against mass street protests in defence of democracy.
While serious struggles over such issues are taking place, and rightly receive attention, a vital part of the story has got lost in this coverage: despite the occasional photogenic street protest, the government is extremely popular. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s poll numbers are currently at their highest level since it returned to power almost two years ago. At around 40%, its support is equal to the next three parties combined. Continue reading
By Tom Diserens
Białowieża Forest in northeastern Poland is the last of the vast primeval forest that once stretched across the European lowlands. Strictly protected for centuries by royalty as a private hunting ground, it is now a living museum of ancient natural processes replete with species extinct elsewhere. But the serenity of this fairy-tale forest has recently been disrupted by a bitter environmental conflict triggered by a huge spruce bark beetle infestation.
The State Forests Service, backed by the environment minister, argues that the only way to save the forest from oblivion is to cut out the million infected trees – a plan that is now around a third complete. Scientists and environmentalists, on the other hand, have roundly condemned the plan, arguing that it has no chance of halting the bark beetle, and will in itself cause untold damage to critical protected habitats. The issue has also become another front in the multiple conflicts between Poland’s national-conservative government and the EU, with the European Commission suing Poland over the logging at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and the Polish government refusing to comply with an ECJ order to immediately halt logging.
Who should we believe in this complex and politicised debate? Continue reading