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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Poland, witch-hunts and Solidarity

Anyone even slightly familiar of the chain of events that led to the fall of the Soviet Union and European communism will be aware of the importance of the Solidarity movement. Short version: it was one of the sparks that helped bring the entire system crashing down – a popular, grass-roots protest against the repression of the communist state that showed beyond all doubt that the dictatorship of the proletariat was little more than dictating TO the proletariat.

As such, you’d think that any suggestion that either Tadeusz Mazowiecki – one of Solidarity’s leaders, imprisoned for his crime of freedom of expression, and Poland’s first non-communist Prime Minister after the Second World War – or Bronislaw Geremek – another leading member of Solidarity who went on to become Poland’s Foreign Minister in the 1990s – would have pretty impeccable credentials as opponents of communism, right?

Not according to the current Polish government.

I’m late with this, and had been meaning to do something earlier – not least after Alex Harrowell called for a blogland attempt to show solidarity with Solidarity a few days ago.

In short, the Polish government has passed a law demanding – not for the first time – that “leading public figures” (journalists and academics as well as politicians) sign an oath stating that they are not, nor ever have been communists, and that they never “collaborated” with the old communist regime.

Yes, this is a way of disposing of political enemies. No, it should not be allowed. In fact, I’m pretty damn certain that under the terms of Poland’s EU membership, it isn’t.

That, however, has not prevented this controversial Polish law from depriving Geremek of his – democratically elected, please note – seat in the European Parliament – depriving not only his constituents of their democratic representative, but the EU as a whole from benefiting from his decades of political experience. This press release gives some of the background (and three cheeers to British MEP Graham Watson for being the one to bring up the question.

There are all kinds of potential ramifications for the working of the EU if this is allowed to go unchallenged – after all, it means that any member state could unilaterally decide to disqualify its sitting MEPs and keep replacing them until it has ones it likes, which is hardly democratic.

But Geremek is just the most high-profile tip of the iceberg, thanks to holding elected office (Mazowiecki is currently less prominent outside Poland, despite being co-founder of one of Poland’s most prominent liberal political parties and the author of the preamble to the current Polish constitution).

Hundreds – thousands, even – of Poles are also being forced to sign this declaration. Politicans, civil servants, journalists. Even ignoring the distasteful nature of such forced declarations and the stupidity of such a thing in a country in which anyone working in the public sector aged over the age of about 35 most likely had to work with the old communist authorities at some point, this law is spreading beyond Poland in its effect. It is not just a national issue.

Because not only has an MEP now been deprived of his seat thanks to devious and distasteful machinations within his own nation state, now people who are not even Polish nationals – indeed, who were not even in Poland during communist rule – are being forced to sign. How do I know? Because the chap who runs the Poland-centred Beatroot blog has been told he has to if he wishes to continue working as a journalist in the country.

Poland is in sore need of its own version of Edward Murrow at the moment. The web might be the answer. Clamp down on freedom of speech and freedom of association? No thanks, chum.

Poland is increasingly becoming a continent-wide problem – and if the current Polish government isn’t challenged soon, the damage may take years to fix. So, as the Beatroot asks, sign the petition in support of Geremek, and make some noise about what’s happening to both him and others in Poland. Write to MPs, write to MEPs, blog about it, whatever. We may all be powerless as individuals, but the whole point of Solidarity was that together we can achieve great things. It’s increasingly beginning to look like it’s time for a new, Europe-wide Solidarity movement in support of Polish freedom from the new lot of nutjobs they’ve got in charge.

Added Polish unpleasantness, just to emphasise the point:

“Police raided the house of ex-construction minister in the previous SLD government, Barbara Blida, investigating allegations she had been involved in corruption when allocating building contracts. Blida went to the toilet, accompanied by a female police officer, when, somehow, she put a hand in a drawer in the bathroom, pulled out a gun and shot herself dead through the chest.”

Nice lot, eh?