Polish politics and political homelessness

The stuff I stumble onto never ceases to amaze me, but I just learned about a right-wing Polish cabinet official who makes the Israelis so queasy that last year they officially decided to shun him:

Israeli officials have decided to refuse all contact with Poland's new education minister because he leads a right-wing party they consider anti-Semitic, a policy that could hinder cooperation in the area of Holocaust education, officials said Sunday.

Jerusalem is stopping short of a formal boycott of relations with Roman Giertych, but has decided instead to shun any dealings with him, said Tali Samesh, a senior official in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

"The Polish education minister is the president of a Polish party... that is an anti-Semitic party by definition, therefore we are not interested in having contacts with him," Samesh said. "We are not initiating anything with that minister."

Poland plays a pivotal role in Holocaust remembrance, because Nazi Germany's death camps such as Auschwitz, Chelmno, Majdanek and Treblinka, were set up on occupied Polish territory.

Under communism, Poland's authorities downplayed Jewish suffering in the Holocaust; but since the collapse of communism 16 years ago, the country has made great strides in promoting Holocaust education and building strong ties with Israel.

The League, known by its initials in Polish, LPR, is a small ultra-Catholic and nationalist party that joined the governing coalition in early May, sparking street protests in Warsaw and other cities.

The Jewish community is also concerned about the party's far-right youth wing, the All-Polish Youth, consisting of members who have used Nazi slogans and gestures.

It's regrettable that this guy managed to become such a prominent member of the Polish government, because the country really does have an unfortunate legacy, which they've been trying to overcome.

Poland's last pogrom took place in Kielce in 1946, when a mob attacked desperate Polish Jews who had managed to survive the Holocaust:

On 4 July, 1946, a mob armed with clubs, iron bars and firearms, and angered by rumours a Christian child had been kidnapped by Jews, attacked a building housing Jewish refugees. When the violence ended a few hours later, 40 men, women and children, many of them Holocaust survivors, lay dead.

The bloodletting in Kielce prompted thousands of Jews to flee Poland, with an estimated 60,000 leaving in the three months that followed.

To this day, and despite a formal apology from the Warsaw government, many Poles maintain that the massacre was conceived by Soviet intelligence, eager to discredit Poland in the eyes of the world; a stance regarded by some Jewish groups as evidence of Polish society's unwillingness to confront what they consider to be persistent and pervasive antisemitism.

According to the Jerusalem Post, similar post-war violence "claimed about 2,000 Jewish victims."

In addition to the Israelis, the ADL has also condemned the education minister and his LPF organization:

politics in Poland remains vulnerable to nationalist extremism, intolerance and anti-Semitism. The most worrying indication of this trend so far has been the formation, in May 2006, of a coalition government comprised of the Law and Justice Party in partnership with the extreme right-wing League of Polish Families (LPF) and the populist Self-Defense parties. Ministerial posts were awarded to Roman Giertych, leader of the LPF, and Andrzej Lepper, leader of Self-Defense. Lepper has expressed admiration for Hitler's policies and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from MAUP, a private Ukrainian university responsible for publishing the majority of the anti-Semitic newspapers and journals available in Ukraine.

The most disturbing outcome of the coalition's formation has been the appointment of Roman Giertych as Minister of Education. The political orientation represented by Giertych, whose Ministry's responsibilities include tolerance education and Holocaust education, has traditionally been anti-Semitic and xenophobic. The LPF's agenda has been resolutely hostile towards homosexuals and foreigners and many of its leading figures have made anti-Semitic remarks. Its youth wing, the All-Polish Youth, is named after a pre-World War II Polish nationalist movement which successfully campaigned for the introduction of a "Jews bench" in Polish universities to separate Jewish and non-Jewish students.

For his anti-homosexual efforts, LPF Founder Giertych does seem to have made friends in America. Concerned Women for America's Robert Knight (criticized infra for blaming Abu Ghraib on porn and homos) has praised Giertych's anti-gay efforts in the most glowing possible terms:
"We have taken our courage in what the Poles are doing," he said. "This is a nation that has suffered enormously over many decades. First from Nazism and then communism. They're a tough bunch of people who appear to have the strength to resist especially the homosexual agenda.

"If you've been victim of communists and Nazis, you're not going to run in fright from the forces from San Francisco."

While I understand the idea behind coalition politics, considering the LPF youth wing's use of Nazi slogans, Poland's regrettable past, and the Israelis' present concerns, I probably wouldn't have likened Nazis to "the forces from San Francisco." But maybe Knight sees a different overall picture than I do. Invoking Jesse Helms, Knight thinks it comes down to the principle of "stand up and be attacked by the left":
Knight said observing Poland reminds him of a principle he learned from watching former Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina "stand up and be attacked by the left."

"His courage gave others the excuse to move toward his position even if they didn't vocalize it publicly," Knight said. "We need that kind of leadership. ... It's far easier to isolate someone and make them out to be a crank or far-right if nobody else is talking the way they are."

Poland, he said, isn't "waiting to see what others are doing, they are taking leadership."

"Others will come to them because they are the rallying point," said Knight. "So our hats have to go off to the Poles."

I've stood up and been attacked by the left too, but that doesn't mean I agree with Knight. Or Giertych.

It may be true that they're "standing up to the left," but that alone does not mean that everything they say is right. According to this recent analysis, Giertych's party is supported by fewer than five percent of the Poles, and the LPF has stood up not just to "the left," but to Poland's conservative president, and his wife:

The League of Polish Families has also refused to distance itself from anti-Semitic statements made by the Reverend Tadeusz Rydzyk, the founder of Radio Maryja, a nationalist Roman Catholic radio station. Rydzyk has called Poland's first lady "a witch" and her husband, President Lech Kaczynski, "a cheat who lets himself be influenced by the Jewish lobby."

Giertych's policies have won him little public support. Were elections to be held now, his party would fail to jump the 5 percent hurdle required to enter the Sejm, Poland's lower house of Parliament.

Not surprisingly (according to this Forbes analysis), conservative Prime Minister Kaczynski finally concluded that he can no longer work with LPF or the Lepper's "Self Defense" party:
WARSAW, Poland - Poland's governing party is pushing for early elections after the prime minister said he could no longer work with his two coalition partners.

Poland has been bogged down for weeks because of infighting between Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's ruling Law and Justice party and the two junior parties in the nationalist government.

More on the difficulties within the coalition here. No question about it. LPF is a fringe group with very little support, and they've made a lot of trouble for Poland's rightist president.

In the latest unsurprising development, Giertych was reported as "sacked on Monday." (I guess Knight's support didn't help him much.)

Forming coalitions with fringe ideologues carries political risks.

No doubt the Polish left has benefitted enormously from Roman Giertych, via the principle of blowback.

I've long suspected that Hillary Clinton and her supporters are thinking along similar lines.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that the "Giertych Republicans" (if that's not too harsh a term) would probably consider me an "anti-family interloper." That's OK; I don't want to think about what the Democrats might call me if I went back to being a Democrat.

Geez. It's been a year since I last characterized myself as "politically homeless."

How time flies.

posted by Eric on 08.17.07 at 06:59 PM


I think that this provides another example of how people who feel squeezed by rapid change (which often disfavors them) turn to reactionary and xenophobic 'leaders'.

Not a majority of Poles voted for this yahoo, else he'd be PM not Education Minister. But a sufficient number did to ensure his party's place at the ministerial table.

I'm sure you can find other examples of the syndrome with a quick glance across the globe. Start with the Middle East....

John Burgess   ·  August 18, 2007 11:27 AM

Meanwhile, as reported at Gateway Pundit, Poland refuses to go to an EU Conference that is anti-Israeli in nature. It appears that no matter how little appeal the actual government has, it actually has more guts than most of the EU on this.

Yes, Poland does have wackos... but they somehow always end up surviving them, even the ones imposed on them from the outside. Culturally they know that much has been done wrong in Poland and the current government has tried to make sure those aren't repeated.

We could all learn something from tiny Poland, committed to fighting with us in Afghanistan and Iraq, and wanting to work its way from totalitarian rule to freedom, while not betraying their religion, their morals or themselves in that process. Hard thing to do, that. Much to learn from such a stalwart, plain spoken folk. If we could learn to *listen*.

ajacksonian   ·  August 18, 2007 11:39 AM

John that's a good insight into the Mideast.

AJ, I agree with you on the need to support Poland (especially for standing behind us in Iraq), but I think it's worth noting that Giertych's LPF is described as supporting the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq:


The Polish government is better off rid of them.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 18, 2007 12:59 PM

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