Friends

“The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” The words of Ronald Reagan. Or, for those of a more classical disposition, there’s Euripides, “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” Which perhaps much sums up Law and Justice’s (PiS) view of Germany at the moment given that Germany is more liberal than Poland and is (or was in more recent times) Poland’s friend. Apparently, Germany knows something about the state of democracy in Poland under PiS that isn’t so and, in this time of trouble facing Europe, a little more love and a little less criticism wouldn’t go amiss.

Friendship is certainly in the mind of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who told Der Spiegal online that Germany and Poland should openly discuss differences of opinion, but should do so as friends. “We are not excluding, of course, existing controversial issues, but we are discussing them like you should talk with friends – with trust,” he said. .” A German foreign ministry spokeswoman told Poland’s PAP news agency that Steinmeier would pay a visit to Warsaw “in the near future”.

Steinmeier’s words are hardly a charm offensive, but they are much less offensive than the critical comments about the PiS government emanating from other German politicians. Gunther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner for the digital economy, told Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper that “many reasons exist for us to activate the ‘Rule of Law mechanism’and for us to place Warsaw under supervision.” The European Commission rule of law mechanism is designed to address threats to the EU’s core values.

Meanwhile, the recidivist president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz (please see Coup d’ État) told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “The Polish government considers its [October] election victory a mandate to subordinate the interests of the state to the interests of the winning party…..That’s democracy carried out in the style of Putin and a dangerous Putinisation of European politics.” A German telling Poles they are (mis)behaving like a Russian – nothing could be more calculated to cause offence.

In response, Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski summoned the German ambassador to a meeting on Monday for talks about “anti-Polish” remarks, after which he said that German politicians should come to Warsaw and witness Polish democracy at first hand. The Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro sent a stiff letter to Gunther Oettinger. Ziobro wrote in his letter, quoted by the PAP news agency, “You demanded that Poland be placed under supervision. Such words, spoken by a German politician, have the worst possible connotations for Poles. For me, too. I am the grandson of a Polish officer who, during World War II fought in [Poland’s] underground Home Army against ‘German supervision’ ”, Ziobro said. He added that he felt he had to speak out after the large number of sexual assaults on women during New Year celebrations in German cities. These events “were for several days hushed up by the German media…I came to the painful conclusion that it’s easier for you to talk about fictitious threats to media freedom in other countries than condemn censorship in your own country.”

Be that as it may, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, former Polish prime minister, and no friend of PiS, told members of a Green group at a hearing in the European Parliament that while he is critical of many actions taken by the new government he would not like “the criticism coming from the European capitals, the EU institutions, the European Commission, the EU Council to be seen as an attack on Poland and Poles”. “Exaggerated opinions can be counter-effective.”

And that’s certainly true, the main point at issue – whether democracy is under threat in Poland – being obscured by the fog of World War II, as PiS bravely defends Poland from German interference once more. Even legitimate criticism now runs the risk of being dismissed as simple anti-Polish rhetoric. Thus the hysteria, which at times has had the flavour of the old joke about the East German government dissolving the people and electing a new one, has probably strengthened PiS’s hand. The government was democratically elected, it has gone faster, further and deeper than prior governments in the post-election re-arrangement of the furniture, but democracy is not dead. What is more at issue is respect for the rule of law, and it takes much longer than 26 years for that to develop, especially when for too long in Poland’s history the law ruling was simply not worthy of respect.

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