Amid protests, Poland’s ruling party and nationalists clash

Written by By Staff Writer


(CNN) — The crisis was escalating steadily. Real political statements were being fired out of the highest levels. Demonstrations continued, and legislators were openly pushing for punitive action. We were covering it in Poland — a country currently, and for the most part, peacefully, at peace.

Then, suddenly, overnight, Polish media began suggesting that the Warsaw government’s commitment to membership in the European Union may have been hiding a secret agenda. The Ukrainian crisis was coming into focus. A public rally organized to organize counter-demonstrations was just a few miles from Independence Square. Law and Justice activists, many of them nationalists, rushed to Budapest’s red-light district to protest what they perceived as Polish self-censorship.

“This government has suppressed the truth,” said Walid Akhmetowicz, one of the protest organizers. “If the Poles allow something like this in their country, Hungary will have no choice but to do the same in our country.”

The story that both culminated and began on June 26 is not complicated. It’s this: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a man whose only previous political experience was nearly 25 years as a member of parliament, elevated Andrej Babis, a small business man, to prime minister. There has been no cabinet reshuffle. Mr. Babis does not have any significant qualifications for the position.

He resigned five days later, which an opposition politician interpreted as evidence that the government had no idea what it was doing. Next to a glass of water on the top of his desk, Babis said, “My actions were an act of transparency. It was the only choice I had — to be as transparent as possible. Politics is about choice. I have a wife and two kids, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way.”

This all shook out in a way that was not noticed by all. One week after the government reshuffle, a loud outcry erupted over the presence in parliament of activists from the ultranationalist National Radical Party (NRP). A day after the young protesters were hired to harass NRP members in parliament, and after the NRP did the same to the Polish Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the row gained momentum. Though protesters were in fact opposing the NRP, the government immediately claimed it was “anti-Polish.”

“Of course I feel the blood of the martyrs,” said NRP’s head, Marek Sarzynski, referring to the victims of the conflict in Poland’s divided historical regions. “But this is provocation from the nationalists. It is a grotesque provocation, an attack on my pride and the pride of Polish people, people who fought for freedom and for democracy. This is wrong and it shows where the nationalists have been coming from. They said we were anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, and I didn’t care.

“I went to Warsaw to defend the Ukrainian position, and for Poland’s sake, even if I have to die, I’ll be there. Poles will follow them. Those who are complaining now — it’s all political theater.”

But now the opposition is coming after the government. For the first time, the presidency of the house (the lower house of parliament) was shut down in protest. Earlier, the mayor of Warsaw publicly declared that he would serve as the city’s mayor in the event that Kaczynski declares for president, thus paralyzing government operations. And on July 6, former president Lech Walesa announced he would organize a mass opposition rally against the government, with the central theme “No to governments that violate the law.”

Many scholars are now reconsidering their views on the reasons the Polish government is in power.

What was once viewed as an “unadulterated” nationalist administration, is now criticized for its recent pro-European stance. Like every government, the current one — and this one too — contains a silent minority. And every government stands for a specific set of beliefs. The recent popular outbreak of nationalism gives evidence to this fact. The citizens of the largest neighboring country feel that their values are at stake, that their very way of life is being endangered.

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