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Posts tagged ‘Patient Land of Poland’

Open conflict triggers concern Poland might leave EU next

August 05, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Since British voters endorsed leaving the European Union, politicians and pundits have ruminated on which of the bloc’s remaining 27 nations could be next. “Grexit” and “Frexit,” for Greece and France, were two subjects of speculation.

Now, months of open conflict between Poland’s conservative nationalist government and the rest of the EU has some Poles wondering if their leaders are putting the country on a path that could take it out of the union.

“There is a question mark over Poland’s European future today,” European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who is a critic of the ruling Law and Justice party, said Thursday.

The EU is widely popular in Poland, so the idea of the country abandoning the bloc strikes many people here as farfetched. Several surveys have shown public support for the EU standing at over 70 percent, approval stemming from the economic boom and freedom of travel that came with membership in 2004.

But members of the opposition in Poland increasingly are voicing fears that the conflicts between Warsaw and Brussels could eventually lead to a parting of ways. They point to the defiant stance Law and Justice and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, adopted when the EU raised concerns about changes to Poland’s justice system and the extensive logging the government has ordered in a primeval forest that has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Government spokesman Rafal Bochenek insisted that Polish leaders intend to keep Poland in the bloc. “Poland is a member of EU and is going to be a leading partner to other member states within the structure,” Bochenek told The Associated Press on Friday. “We have got many ambitious projects and challenges to realize in the EU. We will cooperate with our European partners.”

Law and Justice has never publicly advocated leaving the bloc, but criticizes what it views as unnecessary EU bureaucracy and infringements on the authority of member countries to make their own decisions.

In that vein, Poland’s government aggressively pushed through legislation to put the court system under the ruling party’s control. The EU’s executive arm has said the moves violate democratic norms by reducing judicial independence.

With Warsaw refusing to give in to the bloc’s calls for it to respect the separation of powers, the European Commission is threatening steps that could lead to Poland losing its EU voting rights. The government also has continued logging in the Bialowieza Forest even though the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ordered it last week to stop felling trees immediately. If it continues, Poland could be hit with massive fines.

Katarzyna Lubnauer, a lawmaker with the opposition Modern party, said recently that because Poles are such “Euro-enthusiasts,” nobody in the ruling Law and Justice party would admit that leaving the bloc is their aim.

“But when we look at what is happening now, we have a deep sense that this departure is taking place,” Lubnauer said. “But it will happen in stages.” Tusk made a similar argument Thursday, saying he viewed the “arrogant” refusal to obey the EU court’s logging decision as an “attempt to put Poland in conflict with the European Union.”

“It seems to me like a prelude to an announcement that Poland does not need the European Union and that Poland is not needed for the EU,” he said. “I think such a moment would be one of the most dangerous in our history. I am afraid we are closer than further to that moment.”

Bochenek, the government spokesman, called Tusk’s statement one of the many “lies” the former prime minister has told about Poland. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sees the formal steps taken over Poland’s judiciary as a way to maintain dialogue with Warsaw and resolve the problems, spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said.

“We are working to keep this union together,” Andreeva said.

Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.

OSCE urges Poland show ‘restraint’ against critical reporter

August 04, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says it is concerned about legal steps the Polish government is taking against a reporter who alleges the defense minister has longstanding ties with Russian military agents and members of the Russian mafia.

Tomasz Piatek, an investigative reporter for the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, published his allegations about Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz in a new book, “Macierewicz and his Secrets.” The ministry filed a complaint with military prosecutors accusing Piatek of “using force or threats against a public official” and “public insults or humiliation of a constitutional body.” If Piatek is tried and found guilty he could face up to three years in prison.

The Vienna-based OSCE called on Poland on Thursday to show “restraint” in reacting to the book “in order to protect freedom of the media.” The OSCE said that its representative on freedom of the media, Harlem Desir, wrote to the Polish Foreign Ministry saying “authorities should not use the courts to silence the media, whose role it is to hold them to account.”

Ten other media freedom groups, including Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House, also wrote to Macierewicz last month urging him to drop the legal proceedings, saying, “this latest attempt to intimidate a journalist seems to be part of a broader two-year-old offensive against freedoms in Poland.”

Macierewicz, a communist-era dissident, is known as one of the most anti-Russian officials in Poland’s conservative government. For years he has promoted a theory that the Russians might have intentionally brought down the plane in which Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others died in a crash in Russia in 2010. Polish and Russian investigations determined it was an accident.

Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also alleged several days ago that Macierewicz has suspicious Russian contacts in an article titled “The other side of the Moscow hater.”

Poland ponders demanding WWII reparations from Germany

August 02, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland is looking into demanding reparations from Germany for the massive losses inflicted on Poland during World War II, an official said Wednesday. The Polish parliament’s research office is preparing an analysis of whether Poland can legally make the claim and will have it ready by Aug. 11, said Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a lawmaker with the ruling Law and Justice party who requested the report.

The step comes after Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s most powerful politician, said the “Polish government is preparing itself for a historical counteroffensive.” “We are talking here about huge sums, and also about the fact that Germany for many years refused to take responsibility for World War II,” Kaczynski, the leader of the conservative ruling party, told Radio Maryja last week.

The massive suffering inflicted on Poland has been a topic of public discussion as Poland marked the anniversary Tuesday of the start of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The doomed revolt against the Nazi German occupying forces resulted in the killing of 200,000 Poles and the near-total destruction of Warsaw, the Polish capital.

Amid the observances, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said Germans need to “pay back the terrible debt they owe to the Polish people.” World War II, which began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, killed nearly 6 million Polish citizens and inflicted huge material loss on the country, including the destruction of churches and other cultural treasures and entire cities.

Kaczynski also called for reparations from Germany when he was prime minister more than a decade ago, creating tensions between Poland and Germany, which are important trade partners and allies in NATO and the European Union.

Germany has paid billions of euros over the years in compensation for Nazi crimes, primarily to Jewish survivors, and acknowledges the country’s responsibility for keeping alive the memory of Nazi atrocities and atoning for them.

Poland’s former communist government, under pressure from the Soviet Union, agreed in the 1950s not to make any claims on Germany. Macierewicz said Tuesday that communist-era Poland was a “Soviet puppet state” whose decision is not legally valid today.

Protests across Poland over law to control judiciary

July 22, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Outrage over plans by Poland’s governing party to put the judicial system under its political control sparked another day of nationwide protests Saturday, with some people gathering outside the home of ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and accusing him of being a dictator.

Polish democracy icon and former President Lech Walesa addressed a protest in Gdansk, urging young Poles to fight to preserve the separation of powers that his Solidarity movement helped to achieve more than a quarter century ago when Poland threw off communist rule.

Later, thousands of government opponents gathered in Warsaw, Krakow and other cities to urge President Andrzej Duda to reject legislation that would give Law and Justice, the conservative ruling party, control of the Supreme Court and the judiciary.

“We are all in danger. Every citizen is in danger now,” said Tomasz Gromadka, a 32-year-old playwright protesting in front of the home of Kaczynski, who is the power behind the government and presidency. “Because now they are taking the courts, then they will take the media, they will take everything. But we still have the streets. This is our power. I think we should do whatever we can.”

The European Union and many international legal experts say the changes would mark a dramatic reversal for a country that has been hailed as a model of democratic transition over the past quarter century, and move Poland closer toward authoritarianism.

The party “is about to finish democracy,” said Ewa Krasucka, a 32-year-old photographer. “Honestly I don’t think we will stop him now, but at least in 10 years, in 15 years, when we will still be with these people in the government I will feel good with myself for being here now.”

Many of the protesters then moved to the Supreme Court, where people sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” and held up candles. Law and Justice won parliamentary elections in 2015 with nearly 38 percent of the vote, which translated into a slim majority in the parliament. It has maintained support of about 35 to 40 percent of voters, according to recent polls, with many supporting its cash handouts for families and its conservative and pro-Catholic worldview.

The party says the changes are needed to reform a justice system that Kaczynski says was never purged of former communists after that system collapsed in 1989. In Warsaw, 29-year-old lawyer Marzena Wojtczak disputed that logic, saying many judges working today had actually been anti-communist dissidents and others are too young to have been communists.

Demonstrations have taken place almost every day in Poland over the past week as lawmakers pushed forward with the legislation to impose greater control over the courts. “This will sound strange, but this is the worst and best moment in Poland since 1989,” Tomasz Lis, the editor of Newsweek Polska and an outspoken government critic, said on Twitter. “A great nation is defending democracy and its own freedom.”

The Supreme Court’s powers include ruling on the validity of elections, and government critics fear the ruling party could use friendly judges to falsify future elections. They also fear the courts, under political pressure, will prosecute political opponents.

After winning power in 2015, Law and Justice has acted quickly to cement its power, prompting numerous street protests. The party has asserted control over government-owned media, purged the army of most of its leadership and has neutralized the power of the Constitutional Tribunal to block any new legislation that might violate the constitution.

On Saturday, presidential spokesman Krzysztof Lapinski said Duda sees some flaws in the new legislation on the Supreme Court. But he stopped short of saying whether the president would reject the bill or seek the opinion of the Constitutional Tribunal.

Duda has 21 days to sign the bill into law. The European Commission has expressed its concerns about Poland’s judicial changes and recently threatened to strip Poland of its EU voting rights, but has so far proven powerless to do anything. Any sanctions would require unanimity of the remaining 27 EU members.

EU executive branch files complaint against Poland

July 29, 2017

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s executive branch has launched a complaint alleging Poland has limited judicial independence in the country in violation of EU laws. The European Commission said Saturday it sent a “letter of formal notice” to Poland to raise concerns that the independence of Polish courts will be undermined by the new “discretionary” powers the overhaul gives the country’s justice minister.

The commission says it is especially concerned the justice minister now is entitled to extend the mandates of judges and to dismiss and appoint court presidents. Warsaw has one month to reply to the notice warning it is infringing on EU laws. The commission may then take further steps.

The Euroskeptic Polish government has said that reforming the justice system is an internal Polish matter.

Poland 1st: Why Trump visits ex-communist nation before UK

July 02, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — President Donald Trump is breaking with tradition by visiting Poland, an ex-communist country in central Europe, before making a presidential visit to longtime allies Britain, France or Germany.

The White House has stressed Poland’s importance as a loyal NATO ally and its potential as an energy partner as reasons for the visit, which he will make Thursday just before attending a Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. But there are several other reasons that make Poland a logical early destination for the new U.S. president.

POLAND FIRST FOR A POPULIST WELCOME

Trump will be welcomed in Poland by populist leaders who are closely aligned with his worldview and who gained power in 2015 with the same brand of nationalistic, anti-Muslim rhetoric that has put both the new U.S. leader and the Poles in conflict with leaders in Western Europe. Like Trump, Poland’s leaders seek to restore more national sovereignty and weaken international institutions like the European Union. Some political observers worry that the visit could further deepen divisions between Poland and its Western European partners. There is also concern Trump’s visit could embolden the Polish government and encourage what the EU sees as an erosion of the rule of law in Poland.

WARSAW CAN PRODUCE CHEERING CROWDS

Trump can probably count on large enthusiastic crowds to greet him in Warsaw, where he is expected to give a major televised address to the nation. In fact, according to Polish media reports, that is exactly what Poland’s government promised the White House in its invitation. To make good on that pledge, ruling party lawmakers and pro-government activists plan to bus in groups from the provinces to hear Trump’s speech. A warm reception would certainly be a plus for Trump after his somewhat awkward debut in Europe in May. He also could get a frosty reception at the G-20 due to his recent decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord and other policies. Some NATO allies have also been annoyed by Trump’s repeated calls for them to increase military spending.

POLAND SEES U.S. BOOTS ON THE GROUND

Poles, on the other hand, can expect only praise from Trump on their defense expenditures. A U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, Poland is one of the five NATO members that spends the expected 2 percent of gross domestic product on its military. The Poland-U.S. security relationship has also gotten a boost this year with the deployment of some 5,000 U.S. troops to Poland as part of two separate American and NATO missions. The deployments are meant to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank that the alliance is serious about protecting them from Russian aggression.

Many across the region hope to hear Trump commit himself to NATO’s Article 5, which says an attack on one member is an attack on all. After months of waffling on that defense pact, Trump finally did so in June standing alongside the Romanian president in the Rose Garden. Still, it would mean a lot to an anxious region to hear those words spoken on soil closer to Russia.

POLISH-AMERICANS VOTE IN U.S. ELECTIONS

The hundreds of thousands of Polish-American voters in the United States represent an important constituency in several battleground states, and last year they helped give Trump the edge he needed in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. They will certainly be grateful for Trump’s visit to Warsaw, especially since he has chosen to address Poles at Krasinski Square, a location that symbolizes Polish heroism during World War II. That large square has a memorial to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a courageous but doomed uprising against Nazi Germany that resulted in more than 200,000 Polish deaths and the destruction of Warsaw.

ENERGY TIES

During Trump’s visit to Warsaw, he will also attend a summit devoted to the Three Seas Initiative, an effort to expand and modernize energy and trade links among 12 countries located between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black seas. One driving purpose of the initiative is to make the region less dependent on Russian energy. Under the project, U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which began arriving in Poland in early June, would have the potential to supply more of the region. The visit coincides with efforts by Trump’s administration to become a net exporter of oil, gas and other resources to boost U.S. revenues and influence.

Trump to speak to Poles at site that honors nation’s heroism

June 22, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump has chosen to deliver a speech during his upcoming visit to Poland at the site of a memorial to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Germans, a Polish official says.

Krzysztof Szczerski, an aide to Polish President Andrzej Duda, said late Wednesday that it is an honor for Poles that Trump will give a major speech at Krasinski Square, “a site which symbolizes Polish heroism.”

The speech will come during a brief visit that Trump will make to Warsaw on July 6 before he attends a summit of Group of 20 leaders in Hamburg, Germany. In Warsaw, Trump will also attend a summit devoted to the Three Seas Initiative, a relatively new effort to expand and modernize energy and infrastructure links in a region of Central Europe from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Adriatic and Black seas in the south.

The Warsaw Uprising, the largest act of resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, saw insurgents and civilians fight the German occupiers for more than two months. The revolt was brutally crushed and resulted in the death of more than 200,000 Poles and the destruction of Warsaw.

Today, it stands for Poles as one of the most heroic episodes in their history, an act of courage against a brutal occupier. The presence of a U.S. president on that spot will be a welcome gesture to many Poles, including Polish-Americans in the United States, a constituency that tends to be conservative and that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

It is also clearly a diplomatic success for Poland’s conservative government, which has made it a key policy aim to increase knowledge abroad of positive episodes in Poland’s past, part of an effort to improve the country’s image internationally.

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