Last week three United States Senators (Mssrs. Cardin- MD, Durbin- IL, and McCain- AZ) sent a public letter to Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo “expressing concern about recent actions taken by the Polish Government that threaten the independence of state media and the country’s highest court and undermine Poland’s role as a democratic model for other countries in the region…”
This letter of admonishment dressed as “concern” was woefully lacking in substance behind a pair of allegations that consist solely of the talking points belonging to the recently-vanquished, Eurocentric opposition party, Civic Platform (PO- Platforma Obywatelska), which was founded by current European Council head Donald Tusk.
This communiqué makes no reference to the important contextual fact that this new Polish government, led by the Law & Justice party (PiS), swept into power this past October with an unprecedented, unilateral mandate to govern without coalition (a first in modern post-1989 Poland) in an election with no voting irregularities.
Having also won the presidential election by outright majority in a heads up second round run-off earlier in the 2015, when Law & Justice European Parliamentarian Andrzej Duda defeated incumbent President Bronislaw Komorowski, this government’s definitive mandate cannot be in doubt. One would not think this to be the case reading the missive from Mssrs Cardin, Durbin, and McCain.
For this triumvirate of Senators to trumpet this line with no due diligence, or requisite deftness in dealing with the government of an integral and stalwart NATO ally, is nothing short of stupefying. The “facts” they cite are only accurate in the eyes of a vocal minority of self-interested concerns. This opposition has found itself ejected from political leadership due to two main factors: brazen, well documented, institutionalised, post-communist corruption, and Brussels-centred political postures anathema to the voting Poles on the ground.
Also vociferously spouting the talking points of the opposition have been their friends in the Western media who have maintained close relations with this political class, socially and ideologically.
The third cohort pushing this false narrative is the Brussels/Berlin Eurocracy that is apoplectic in having been rebuked (once again) by a rightward shifting, mildly Eurosceptic electorate on the ground. The leading voices peddling these agitprop charges of a brewing “coup” (often ludicrously coupled in EU circles with the word “fascist,” despite the broad empirical electoral mandate) are Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt – two legendary opponents of European nation-state sovereignty.
The first post-election machination attempted by those looking to destabilise the new government’s position and to undermine its sovereign, decision-making capacity was in reference to the actions undertaken by Law & Justice in December in reforming the Constitutional Tribunal. This body is the Polish equivalent of the United States Supreme Court and is responsible for constitutional oversight and the highest level judicial review. It is also a heretofore unreformed vestige of Communist governance dating back to the pre-1989 era (constructed in 1986 as a kangaroo court to optically give the appearance to the West of liberalisation behind the Iron Curtain).
Immediately preceding the parliamentary (“Sejm”) elections, the ruling PO party stacked the bench to neuter the court’s supposed independence ahead of the well telegraphed expected change in government leadership. PO installed new judges before the retiring jurists terms were up in a brazen attempt to rob the incoming government of their statutorily granted right to appoint the judicial replacements. This is akin to President Obama circumventing the Senate confirmation process and appointing recently departed Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court replacement by Executive Order.
The reforms to the Tribunal in Poland, though dramatic; nullifying the last government’s illegal appointments, modifying the structure and procedure of the court, and appointing their own jurists to bring a semblance of balance to the hyper partisan judicial composition (14 of 15 judges appointed by PO and the remaining one appointed by their coalition partner PSL) that was so oblivious to constitutional rule of law that one of their last acts before the election was in rubber stamping a retroactive approval of the brazenly illegal nationalisation of the private sector managed pillar of the pension system (OFE) in a naked money grab by the PO incumbents. The three Senators now crying foul over perceived violations of “rule of law” said nothing and raised no objections over any of these acts that did in fact severely undermine Polish democracy and actual rule of law.
The second allegation of Poland’s recent “creeping fascism” is in the new media law passed after the New Year.
This law gives the right to the Polish Treasury to appoint the heads of Polish public state funded media and has zero effect on privately owned media (the vast majority of which is foreign owned, in predominantly German hands, and covers the news with a pro-Berlin/Brussels “zeitgeist”.
This public media law sets a standard that even the EU’s leading critic of Poland, Guy Verhofstadt, had to admit was de rigeur in many European Union member states where a public media funded by the taxpayer is prevalent. Moreover, the Civic Platform government, upon taking control eight years ago did not hesitate to eject any public media employees that were not politically “inline” with their philosophy. It did not help Mr. Verhofstadt’s argument that he was forced to admit how common this practice is during the recent Strasbourg inquisition of Prime Minister Szydlo (which was convened expressly with the goal of enforcing an unprecedented “Rule of Law Framework” censure on Poland- to which the Senators’ letter alludes).
This charge that press freedom will be curtailed and censorship will now be rampant could not be farther from the truth, especially when a comparison is made to the Polish media’s track record over the last decade, as most Poles on the ground readily attest. Under the last government the public media (and much of the private media complex being economically aligned with the ruling party through taxpayer subsidy) became a permanent public relations and propaganda wing of the incumbents. Scandals of every stripe were spun and swept under the rug; protests against corruption, voting irregularities, and opposition journalist harassment and arrests not covered; and during the run ups to multiple elections the media functioned as a non-stop advertising campaign for PO and its coalition partners.
The culture of censorship was so egregious that criticism of government officials was met with defamation lawsuits or the threat thereof in order to intimidate and silence those who would speak truth to power. I was on the receiving end of one of these threats by Radek Sikorski (former Foreign Minister) and his legal proxy Roman Giertych (a former Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister) for merely questioning and condemning examples of well documented wasteful procurement practices and nepotistic behaviour (in this case: regarding third party contracting of proof reading services at inflated and non-competitively bid rates doled out to those with personal connections to the Minister) at Sikorski’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Again, over the last eight years, despite many truly legitimate reasons, given how rife the censorship and corruption was in Poland, to intercede on behalf of rule of law and the so-called “democratic norms” that maintain the EU’s “fundamental values,” at no point did Senators Cardin, Durbin or McCain voice opposition to the freedom undermining behaviour of the last government.
Nor do they do so currently despite the recently uncovered coordination by the German government with media both public and private (and even with private American social media concerns such as Facebook) to cover up, censor, whitewash, or ignore the plethora of newsworthy systemic criminal activities sprouting up all over Germany by perpetrators belonging to a refugee class that the German political machine, in high minded progressivism run amok, evidently values more than its own citizenry. I would direct the Senators to write a letter about recent events in Cologne and the media coverage therein if media censorship in European sovereigns is now part of their U.S. Senatorial mandate.
With the preamble to each allegation being “We understand…” the Senators, in classic political duplicitousness, have given themselves an “out” to walk back these ridiculous charges. I suggest they do so, and in the future, before chastising one of America’s most important allies, whose democracy is among the healthiest and most robust in contemporary Europe, they actually attempt to really understand the facts on the ground.
Given Poland’s strategic geographic position, long history of comity dating back to the revolutionary period, and steadfast loyalty to this bilateral relationship it is not only prudent but necessary.
I also urge the Senators not to believe everything they pick up from Eurocentric think tanks (frequently funded by the EU), media platforms with political agendas (economically and ideologically incentivised by a more integrated EU), or the vanquished opposition Polish politicians (economically aligned personally in a big way with the EU) no matter how good these long term relationships with former Foreign Ministers and fellow DC habitués may be.
Matthew Tyrmand is a dual Polish & American citizen who contributes frequently on Polish politics and economics to many Polish and American news and opinion platforms. (Twitter: @MatthewTyrmand)