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Posts tagged ‘Patient Land of Poland’

Poles pray en masse at border; Some see anti-Muslim agenda

October 07, 2017

GDANSK, Poland (AP) — Polish Catholics held rosaries and prayed together Saturday along the country’s 3,500-kilometer (2,000-mile) border, appealing to the Virgin Mary and God for salvation for Poland and the world in a national event that some felt had anti-Muslim overtones.

The unusual “Rosary to the Borders” event was organized by lay Catholics but was also endorsed by Polish church authorities, with 320 churches from 22 dioceses taking part. The prayers took place from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the mountains along Poland’s southern borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and all along the border of this country of 38 million where more than 90 percent declare themselves Roman Catholics.

Organizers say the prayers at some 4,000 locations commemorated the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima, when three shepherd children in Portugal said the Virgin Mary appeared to them. But the event also commemorated the huge 16th-century naval battle of Lepanto, when a Christian alliance acting on the wishes of the pope defeated Ottoman Empire forces on the Ionian Sea, “thus saving Europe from Islamization,” as organizers put it.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo showed her support by tweeting an image of rosary beads with a crucifix and sending greetings to all the participants. While organizers insisted the prayers Saturday were not directed against any group, some participants cited fears of Islam among their reasons for praying at the border.

Halina Kotarska, 65, traveled 230 kilometers (145 miles) from her home in Kwieciszewo, central Poland, to express gratitude after her 29-year-old son Slawomir survived a serious car wreck this year. She described it as a miracle performed by St. Mary.

She said she was also praying for the survival of Christianity in Poland and Europe against what she sees as an Islamic threat facing the West. “Islam wants to destroy Europe,” she said. “They want to turn us away from Christianity.”

Poles also prayed in chapels at airports, seen as gateways to the country, while Polish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan prayed at Bagram Airfield there, the broadcaster TVN reported. A leading Polish expert on xenophobia and extremism, Rafal Pankowski, saw the prayers Saturday as a problematic expression of Islamophobia coming at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Poland, a phenomenon occurring even though the country’s Muslim population is tiny.

“The whole concept of doing it on the borders reinforces the ethno-religious, xenophobic model of national identity,” said Pankowski, who heads the Never Again association in Warsaw. At the Polish-Czech border near the town of Szklarska Poreba, hundreds of pilgrims arrived in buses and cars to pray at the Karkonosze mountain range. The procession, which included young and old and families pushing children in strollers, was made up of pilgrims who held rosaries and prayed to the Virgin Mary, braving the cold and rain.

“It’s a really serious thing for us,” said Basia Sibinska, who traveled with her daughter Kasia from Kalisz in central Poland. “Rosaries to the border means that we want to pray for our country. That was a main motive for us to come here. We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate.”

In the northern city of Gdansk, people prayed on a beach lapped by waves as seagulls flew above. Krzysztof Januszewski, 45, said that he worries Christian Europe is being threatened by Islamic extremists and by a loss of faith in Christian societies.

“In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians,” said Januszewski, a mechanic who traveled 350 kilometers (220 miles) to Gdansk from Czerwinsk nad Wisla.

“Today Islam is flooding us and we are afraid of this too,” he added. “We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith.”

Janicek reported from near the town of Szklarska Poreba at Poland’s border with the Czech Republic.

This story corrects the spelling the name of the town of Kwieciszewo.

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Media ownership, courts on agenda for Poland’s lawmakers

September 12, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s parliament gets back to work on Tuesday following its summer break, launching what is widely expected to be a raucous autumn of political change under the ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party. These are some of the main issues the party has promised to tackle:

NATIONALIZING THE MEDIA

After communism collapsed in 1989, publishers and broadcasters from Germany and other Western countries established a dominant role in Poland and media markets elsewhere in Central Europe.

Law and Justice says the number of foreign-owned media constitute a dangerous monopoly that Western European nations would never allow. The party is working on a law that would drastically limit foreign ownership of newspapers, magazines and other news outlets. A “de-concentration” is needed “for the good of Poland and the good of citizens,” party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

Among the companies at risk are Swiss-German venture Ringier Axel Springer Media, which owns the widely read tabloid Fakt and the Polish versions of Newsweek and Forbes; German media houses Bauer Media Group, Burda and Verlagsgruppe Passau; and the American company Scripps Networks Interactive, owner of TVN, which produces independent and popular news programming. Scripps itself was recently bought by another U.S. company, Discovery.

Critics fear that Law and Justice — after turning public media into a party propaganda organ — is trying to seize control of private media to silence critical voices.

TAKING CONTROL OF THE COURTS

Law and Justice already achieved a partial overhaul of Poland’s court system, an effort it said was needed to make the courts more efficient and remove “many pathologies” left over from communism. Opponents see a power grab as the changes give the party greater control over the courts.

So far, the party has packed the Constitutional Tribunal with its loyalists in a legally dubious way. It has also given the Justice Minister, who is also the Prosecutor General, the power to name the heads of all the ordinary courts in the country.

Further changes, however, were blocked in July by President Andrzej Duda, who was elected on the Law and Justice ticket in 2015 but has since been at odds with party leaders.

This fall both the parliament and the president are expected to present new versions of the two vetoed bills. One of the key issues at stake is whether the party will also be able to assert its control over the Supreme Court, whose responsibilities involve confirming election results.

NEW SCHOOLS, NEW PATRIOTS

Law and Justice is promoting a reorganization of the educational system to instill greater patriotism in young Poles. The Education Ministry says it wants to encourage the values of “fatherland, nation, state,” among others. One proposed change would remove ancient Greek and Roman history from the 4th grade curriculum to focus exclusively on Polish history at that stage.

The multi-year transition also would phase out middle schools and return to a system of eight years of primary school followed by high school. Some teachers and principals fear they will lose their jobs, while critics worry the patriotic curriculum will create a more inward-looking and less tolerant mindset among Polish youth.

The party is still hammering out changes to the high-school curriculum. Many are expected to be contested.

RELATIONS WITH EUROPEAN POWERS

As the party pushes its domestic legislative agenda, it also must manage relationships with other European powers that have become strained in recent months.

The main standoff pits Poland against the European Union. Key areas of dispute are Law and Justice’s judicial changes and approval of large-scale logging in an ancient forest. Poland’s refusal to accept any refugees under an EU-wide resettlement plan also has further inflamed the tension.

Polish leaders also have bickered with French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants to stem the flow of lower-paid workers from other EU countries to France. And the government in Warsaw has threatened to bill Germany in coming months for Nazi’s destruction of Poland during World War II.

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.

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