EU in Stress: the German-Polish Clash

The strains on Europe from neocon-devised policies of “regime change” in Syria and Ukraine are resurfacing historical divisions and reviving old animosities among European states, including a war of words between Angela Merkel’s Germany and Poland’s new right-wing government, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

It may have been a foregone conclusion that Poland under the control of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party because of its Euroskeptic and nationalist positions would quickly join Viktor Orban’s Hungary as a “bad boy” of the European Union.

In recent months, especially since the Law and Justice Party’s electoral victory last October, Poland has stood out as a leading naysayer to the E.U.’s calls for sharing the burden of receiving the wave of refugees arriving from Syria and the Middle East. Polish criticism of the open borders policy championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been stinging.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with her hands in the characteristic Merkel-Raute position. (Photo from Wikipedia)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with her hands in the characteristic Merkel-Raute position. (Photo from Wikipedia)

For instance, before the election, Kaczynski raised alarms about the possibility that the Mideast refugees might carry diseases. “There are already signs of emergence of diseases that are highly dangerous and have not been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on the Greek islands, dysentery in Vienna. There is also talk about other, even more severe diseases,” he said, though European health authorities have not reported any widespread outbreak of infectious diseases connected to the migrants.

Poland also has been quick to take a “we told you so” stand on the New Year’s Eve mass violence and sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by youths from North Africa and the Middle East, including asylum seekers, outside the Cologne main train station in Germany. Polish media cited the five-day blackout in Germany on news about the New Year’s Eve violence to question the autonomy and social responsibility of German journalism.

There are other reasons behind Polish vehemence on the refugees. First, from the standpoint of its population, Poland is already overrun by refugees and economic immigrants from Ukraine, which has suffered from civil war and economic collapse since February 2014 when a violent putsch toppled the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and created a crisis with Russia.

Official statistics put the number of Ukrainian refugees in Poland at about 400,000, as of May 2015, but unofficial estimates are much higher, more than a million today. The Ukrainians are putting pressure on the local job market at a time when there is still a net outflow of ethnic Poles going abroad in search of work. Secondly, admitting Muslims runs directly against the new government’s stress on protecting and nurturing traditional Catholic religious values.

But Merkel’s allies are hitting back against Poland’s new leadership for its apparently anti-democratic actions to tighten government control over the public news media. A controversial new law allows the Polish government to appoint the directors of the public TV and radio services, as well as civil service directors.

This control of public media will be the subject of a European Commission examination into Poland’s possibly violating the E.U.’s Rule of Law provisions, scheduled for Jan. 13 in Brussels. The charges are being pressed by a German commissioner-designate, Guenther Oetttinger, who is taking charge of European Digital Economy and Society.

If a determination is made that Poland’s law violates Europe’s rules, the penalty could be to suspend Warsaw’s voting rights in the European Council. That would be particularly awkward because Poland’s own former premier, Donald Tusk, from what’s now the opposition party, happens to be the Council’s president.

To be sure, such an outcome would come only after a period of “supervision” during which Poland’s conduct of affairs would be subject to ongoing review by the Commission. But the notion of such European supervision raises hackles in Warsaw, as reported by the country’s leading daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.

It also should be noted that suspension of Poland’s voting rights is unlikely given the vocal support for Poland now coming from Hungarian President Viktor Orban.  Resolutions in the E.U. institutions must pass unanimously, which Orban’s veto threatens.

The more likely penalty that Poland could face is a cutback in E.U. financial assistance to the great variety of Polish infrastructure projects now benefiting from the largesse of Brussels. Poland is, in fact, the single largest beneficiary. Any cutbacks could be made simply as an administrative matter.

Poland also was scolded by President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat and thus representative of Merkel’s ruling coalition. He decried the new Polish government in Russophobic terms, meant to insult Poland’s leaders by comparing them to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In statements about Poland’s new press laws, quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Jan. 9, Schulz hurled the following grenade: “The Polish government treats its electoral victory as a mandate to subordinate the wellbeing of the state to the interests of the victorious party, including personnel. This is controlled democracy à la Putin, a dangerous Putinization (Putinisierung) of European politics.”

The underlying resentments and condescension expressed by Schulz’s remarks come from historically tense relations between Germany and Poland, even if those conflicts now play out not on battlefields but in the non-violent universe of European institutions in Brussels, a system that many Member States view as German-controlled.  Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission (from Luxembourg) and Donald Tusk, the ex-Polish premier at the Council, both owe their positions to the strong backing of Angela Merkel. And Schulz at the European Parliament comes from her coalition.

But the image of German hegemony in Europe is something that Berlin strongly rejects. On Monday, Merkel’s spokesman explained to journalists that the Chancellor hopes for continued good working relations with Poland and looks forward to the forthcoming visit to Berlin of Poland’s new prime minister. Any differences over policy are with the European Institutions, he said, where Germany is just one of 28 Member States.

Both founders of the 14-year-old Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw KaczyÅ„ski and his brother Lech, the Polish president who died in a plane crash outside Smolensk in 2010, often vented publicly their bitter feelings towards Germany going back to World War II atrocities. Relations with Berlin were fraught under their administration last decade, and their party’s return to power in 2015 was based on campaign promises to free the Polish economy from foreign, meaning German, domination.

The net result of the growing public row may be to unravel one of the key foreign policy achievements of Merkel’s 10 years in power consolidating her country’s hold over Central Europe. It also has implications for the E.U.’s current anti-Russian stance and sanctions, all of which have depended on Germany’s explicit support for adventurous Polish-written policies to woo Ukraine at the expense of Russian interests.

The passions of the Old World also have spilled over to the United States, where Polish-Americans have taken a close interest in the contest of wills between Warsaw and Berlin and Brussels. One political association in New York, the Polish Patriotic Discussion Club, issued Open Letters to the presidents of the European Institutions, and to Dr. Oettinger, sounding the alarm over what they see as “interference in the matters of the Republic of Poland as a sovereign country.”

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? (August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to eastwestaccord@gmail.com © Gilbert Doctorow, 2015

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10 comments for “EU in Stress: the German-Polish Clash

  1. alexander
    January 11, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    It seems, Mr Doctorow, that the “Neocon” gift of “regime change” is the gift that just keeps on giving, spreading heartache, tragedy, suffering and chaos the world over.

    May we all thank the “Neocon”s, and all the wonderful work they do ….making the world so much better a place, today, then it was yesterday.

    Hip, Hip, Hooray !

    • JoeKing
      January 12, 2016 at 6:46 pm

      I wouldn’t put this solely on the backs of neocons. There is enough blame to go around.

  2. Zachary Smith
    January 11, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    I learned a lot reading this essay. For example, this:

    “Poland is already overrun by refugees and economic immigrants from Ukraine…”

    The “sexual assaults” In Germany have conflicting explanations in the stories I’ve read.

    “Poland also has been quick to take a “we told you so” stand on the New Year’s Eve mass violence and sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by youths from North Africa and the Middle East, including asylum seekers, outside the Cologne main train station in Germany.”

    One version dumps the blame on the wicked and shameless refugees from the Middle East. Another is that the local criminals use all sorts of techniques – including groping women – to divert the victims from the fact they’re being robbed. I’ve always understood that a bit of ‘jostling’ helps with pick-pocket work.

    “For instance, before the election, Kaczynski raised alarms about the possibility that the Mideast refugees might carry diseases. “There are already signs of emergence of diseases that are highly dangerous and have not been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on the Greek islands, dysentery in Vienna. There is also talk about other, even more severe diseases,” he said, though European health authorities have not reported any widespread outbreak of infectious diseases connected to the migrants.”

    Blaming the refugees for potential or actual epidemics is totally shameless. What did they expect from the German rape of Greece – health care to improve? I don’t know anything about dysentery in Vienna, but I’d wager that it’s more connected to privatization of the water supplies (and possibly slack government oversight) than it is to any refugees. Private companies are concerned only about profit, and they’ll blame anything and everybody rather than take the blame themselves. Of course that’s just a conjecture, but consider the corruption in Flint, Michigan and how it ended with lead in the water supply. Corrupt penny pinching government has the same harmful effects as its private mirror image. Neither gives a damn if somebody else can be blamed.

    The efforts in Britain to destroy the national health care system so it can be privatized have had dramatic effects on the health of the citizens there.

    “”There has been a huge rise in scarlet fever — 14,000 [suspected] cases in the last year, the highest since the 1960s,” says Dr. Nuria Martinez-Alier, a London immunologist. “We have seen a rise in the cases of tuberculosis, we’ve seen a rise in cases of whooping cough, we have seen more measles in the last 10 years than in the last 10 years before that,” she warns.”

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/22/health/victorian-diseases-england-comeback/

    Turns out in Pennsylvania it’s a State Policy to deny some expensive health care to prisoners.

    “Political Prisoner Sues For Being Denied Hepatitis C Treatment”

    Remember the VA hospitals in the US who kept rescheduling sick veterans for their appointments until (hopefully) they died? Just another way to save money.

    Blaming every single ill which strikes Europe on the germy & criminal & terrorist-inclined refugees is a swell way to divert the blame from the people who are really doing the damage – the top .01% Elites.

    • J'hon Doe II
      January 12, 2016 at 12:39 pm

      Zachary Smith —
      Turns out in Pennsylvania it’s a State Policy to deny some expensive health care to prisoners.

      “Political Prisoner Sues For Being Denied Hepatitis C Treatment”

      Remember the VA hospitals in the US who kept rescheduling sick veterans for their appointments until (hopefully) they died? Just another way to save money.

      Blaming every single ill which strikes Europe on the germy & criminal & terrorist-inclined refugees is a swell way to divert the blame from the people who are really doing the damage – the top .01% Elites.
      .

      (the death and re-birth of Mr. Fascism is clearly in effect these days…)
      .
      The Man Who Sold the World
      David Bowie

      We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
      Although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend
      Which came as some surprise I spoke into his eyes
      I thought you died alone, a long long time ago

      Oh no, not me
      I never lost control
      You’re face to face
      With The Man Who Sold The World

      I laughed and shook his hand, and made my way back home
      I searched for form and land, for years and years I roamed
      I gazed a gazely stare at all the millions here
      We must have died alone, a long long time ago

      Who knows? not me
      We never lost control
      You’re face to face
      With the Man who Sold the World

    • Abe
      January 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm

      I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
      Visions of swastikas in my head
      Plans for everyone

      David Bowie, “China Girl” from Let’s Dance (1983)
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3gHgP-Evqs

  3. Abe
    January 11, 2016 at 10:49 pm

    The two parts of the US colony: Poland and Ukraine

    Poland […] has been intended for a logistic and military base for Ukraine in the fight against Russia. As a result of this, it cannot have its own policy and for example be a neutral state. Poland must be what it is now – the base for war with Russia. Therefore, in the meantime we will have to deal in Poland with impending ‘democratic processes’ by Ukrainian standards which, like Soros states, should be followed as an example. The typical symptoms of those ‘democratic processes’ are: destabilization, bankruptcy and depopulation of the country, what we can observe in Poland now.

    If Poland had its own foreign policy, the US would lose its important military, social and economic facilities. Thus, despite the protests of a large part of Polish society the government claiming to be Polish does not care too much about its own citizens. The question should be put rather in a different way: why was not one colony of the United States to send support to the other colony of the US in the fight against another enemy of the US?

    In this context, a part of the Polish society protesting against the Polish involvement in the conflict in Ukraine are of no greater importance. Both governments: in Ukraine and in Poland do not represent the will of their citizens, instead of this they follow the instructions of their superiors from the other side of the Ocean

    This is what can be expected in Poland and other Baltic countries: the process of deepening instability and eventually open warfare to which Poland is already being prepared through a series of new laws that have been implemented within just 6 weeks.

    This is a consequence of the information war that has already led to a situation in which the meaning of the words democracy, freedom, European values etc. has been appropriated by those who control the narrative doing so through their corporate media. Today no one is surprised by neo-Nazis, racists and Islamic extremists fighting alongside the Ukrainian forces, no one even asks why, while others still do not believe it. And if they do so, they are fighting for “democracy and European values’ after all as in the past ISIS used to. The meaning was already appropriated by those who control the narrative.

    The conflict between a large part of the Polish society and the Polish government claiming to be Polish and the government of Ukraine will increase. The Polish government openly supports neo-Bandera regime in Ukraine. Meanwhile, a large part of the Polish society, after all, does not want to die for the people who officially worship those who not so long ago murdered their families – for example, I mean Volhynian Massacres in which Ukrainians killed around 200,000 Polish civilians in such a savagely atrocious manner that it is even hard to imagine. The perpetrators of the massacres in Volhynia are now officially honored as heroes.

    Therefore, the gap between the people and their government claiming to be Polish will increase, which could lead to overthrowing it, or putting on the political scene a completely new political movement that will change the Polish foreign policy. The symptoms of this are already visible. The dissatisfaction of Poles because of Polish foreign policy is manifested through the establishment of new political parties and the formation of mass social movements. Both of them postulate overthrowing the current government in Warsaw. As a result of pulling Poles by this government to open war with Russia, as well as due to the deteriorating situation in the euro zone, these movements and parties will be growing in strength.

    This discrepancy between Polish society and the Government is the price of being a US logistics facility. Although as I mentioned earlier this is not so important right now because both the Polish government and the Ukrainian government do not represent national interests of their countries being only one of the two mating parts of the US strategic colony in the war with Russia.

    The legitimacy of neo-Nazism and neo-Banderism in Ukraine and now in Latvia (not without reason these are the countries in which we have now US military bases) is not accidental. Without the legitimacy of the extremists who after all fight for ‘democracy and European values’, the war in Ukraine would be over within two days. Without the oligarch money, propaganda, troops from the US, without the Poland’s support, rearming Ukraine and the support for neo-Nazis and neo-Bandera extremists everything would have ended within a week. None of the so-called normal Ukrainians would go to any war, which can be seen even after the failure of general mobilization. Without inspiring the nationalist flame, Ukraine would very quickly cease to burn and could get back to normal. This scenario, however, does not suit those who now bring there ‘democratic processes’ such as before in Libya and Syria etc.

    The neo-Nazi and Bandera ideology is needed to be able to continue the war and therefore must be legitimized. Although in the long run it is unnecessary and harmful for the US. Poland in this context must remain an aid base for the US performing ‘democratic processes’ on Ukraine known from the Middle East. It is entirely secondary whether Russia is a threat to Poland. Poland represents the interests of the US

    Poland: NATO’s Logistics Base
    By Konrad Stachnio
    http://journal-neo.org/2015/03/31/poland-nato-s-logistics-base/

    • Abe
      January 11, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      Post-coup Kiev’s ethnic cleansing actions against the ethnic Russian population of eastern Ukraine parallels the purging of Polish civilians from western Ukraine during the Second World War.

      Ivan Katchanovski, Ph.D. was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. His research focused on comparative politics in post-Communist countries.

      In “Terrorists or National Heroes? Politics of the OUN and the UPA in Ukraine” (2010)
      http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2010/katchanovski.pdf Katchanovski concluded the following:

      “The issue of political rehabilitation and heroization of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army became one of the central political issues in Ukraine after the “Orange Revolution.” It provoked major political controversies and debates among historians in Ukraine and other countries. President Yushchenko, nationalist parties, and many Ukrainian historians attempted to recast the OUN and the UPA as a popular national liberation movement, which fought both against Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and to present OUN and UPA leaders as national heroes. They either denied or justified by its pro- independence struggle, the involvement of the OUN and the UPA in terrorism, the Nazi genocide, and the ethnic cleansing.

      “However, historical studies and archival documents show that the OUN relied on terrorism and collaborated with Nazi Germany in the beginning of World War II. The OUN-B (Stepan Bandera faction) by means of its control over the UPA masterminded a campaign of ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volhynia during the war and mounted an anti-Soviet terror campaign in Western Ukraine after the war. These nationalist organizations, based mostly in Western Ukraine, primarily, in Galicia, were also involved in mass murder of Jews during World War II.”

      The massacres of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia (Polish: rzeź wołyńska, literally: Volhynian slaughter; Ukrainian: Волинська трагедія, Volyn tragedy) were part of an ethnic cleansing operation carried out in Nazi German-occupied Poland by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)’s North Command in the regions of Volhynia (Reichskommissariat Ukraine) and their South Command in Eastern Galicia (General Government) beginning in March 1943 and lasting until the end of 1944.

      The peak of the massacres took place in July and August 1943. Most of the victims were women and children. The actions of the UPA resulted in 35,000-60,000 Polish deaths in Volhynia and 25,000-40,000 in Eastern Galicia.

      The killings were directly linked with the policies of the Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and its military arm, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, whose goal specified at the Second Conference of the Stepan Bandera faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) during 17–23 February 1943 (or March 1943) was to purge all non-Ukrainians from the future Ukrainian state. Not limiting their activities to the purging of Polish civilians, the UPA also wanted to erase all traces of the Polish presence in the area.

      There is a general consensus among Western and Polish historians that Polish civilian casualties from the UPA in Volhynia range from 35,000 to 60,000.

      According to Katchanovski, “the lower bound of these estimates [35,000] is more reliable than higher estimates which are based on an assumption that the Polish population in the region was several times less likely to perish as a result of Nazi genocidal policies compared to other regions of Poland and compared to the Ukrainian population of Volhynia.”

    • Abe
      January 12, 2016 at 12:59 am

      The mention by Stachnio of the “Volhynian Massacres in which Ukrainians killed around 200,000 Polish civilians” is probably a reference to the higher estimates of the massacres of Poles in both Volhynia and Eastern Galicia in 1943-1944 published by Polish historians Lucyna KuliÅ„ska in 2009 and CzesÅ‚aw Partacz in 2010.

  4. Piotr Berman
    January 12, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    Abe: “The symptoms of this are already visible. The dissatisfaction of Poles because of Polish foreign policy is manifested through the establishment of new political parties and the formation of mass social movements. Both of them postulate overthrowing the current government in Warsaw. As a result of pulling Poles by this government to open war with Russia, as well as due to the deteriorating situation in the euro zone, these movements and parties will be growing in strength.”

    It is more complicated and ambiguous. Political movements and parties in Poland have complex mixes of principal planks. The only party that resolutely opposed the support of nationalistic government of Ukraine (and anti-Russian policies) did not make to Sejm (parliament), mostly because of outright wacko aspects. One party, Modern, capitalized on the anti-democratic moves of the current government, but they are pro-American “liberals” (in Europe, that means economic liberalism which is unpopular in Poland).

    Anti-democratic nature of recent reforms in Poland is unquestionable. Constitutional court was practically disabled by packing and changes in the procedure, and subsidized media were given direct partisan control. I guess it is still far less than Hungarian reforms where Orban went “full Putin”

    • Abe
      January 13, 2016 at 11:45 pm

      In the article cited above, Stachnio is not presenting a detailed analysis of the political spectrum in Poland. This does not invalidate his assertion that the “discrepancy between Polish society and the Government is the price of being a US logistics facility”.

      Aggressive NATO “collective defense” measures require oppressive anti-democratic “reforms” in Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. National sovereignty will not be tolerated.

Comments are closed.