Thursday

2nd Feb 2023

MEPs rally round Geremek in war on Warsaw

  • Mr Geremek: refuses to comply with the lustration law (Photo: Bronislaw Geremek office)

MEPs from the major political groups rallied round Polish liberal deputy Bronislaw Geremek on Wednesday (25 April), after Polish authorities threatened to strip his MEP mandate in a spat over lustration - Warsaw's hunt for Communist-era collaborators.

MEPs from the conservative, socialist, liberal, green and far-left parties reacted with noisy applause in Strasbourg plenary after liberal group leader Graham Watson called on parliament to use "all legal means possible" to protect Mr Geremek, with the legal affairs committee set to look into the case in the coming weeks.

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The events - described as "a rare moment of life in the chamber" by one liberal group official - come after Poland's National Elections Committee wrote to Mr Geremek, saying it will take away his MEP mandate if he does not submit a fresh lustration declaration in line with a new Polish law.

"To this imperative demand that urges me to subordinate to a humiliating procedure I have only one answer - I refuse," Mr Geremek fired back in a public statement, saying the law violates the Polish constitution on "respect for human dignity."

"[Lustration] threatens the freedom of speech, media freedom and the autonomy of the universities. It creates a kind of ministry of truth, or a police of memory," he added, calling for Poland's "democratic forces" to rally for the "protection of Poland's good name."

Poland's name has certainly taken a bashing in EU circles since the rightist-coalition government of the Kaczynski twins came to power in late 2005, with MEPs from the Kaczynskis' Law and Justice party heckling Mr Geremek's supporters in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

The Kaczynskis' lustration campaign is designed to usher in a Polish "Fourth Republic" by purging society and the post-Communist administration of collaborators with the old regime, recently targeting ex-Polish president, Wojciech Jaruzelski, on criminal charges.

Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski defended his policy in Brussels last week by saying that Spanish or Italian media which have called lustration a "witch-hunt" or a new "inquisition" do so "on the basis of a total lack of knowledge about Poland."

The lustration law is a hot topic inside Poland as well, with some popular support for exposing the hypocrisy of senior Roman Catholic clergy who passed information to secret police and for the Jaruzelski move - the ex-president is arguably responsible for up to 90 killings in the 1980s.

But Law and Justice's suggestion there is some kind of ex-Communist cabal secretly running the country and the extension of lustration to teachers and journalists is seen as ugly populism by others. "The 'Fourth Republic' idea is absurd," one senior Polish official told EUobserver.

Gambit could damage Kaczynskis

Mr Geremek's attack on lustration has the potential to further damage the Kaczynskis' reputation in the EU: as an ex-Polish foreign minister with strong Solidarnosc credentials, he has friends in high places. The professional historian is widely-respected in Brussels and was once tipped to be parliament president.

His attack also comes in the context of the Kaczynskis' ruling coalition partners, the League of Polish Families party, publishing anti-Semitic literature and tabling legislation to throw gay schoolteachers out of work or tighten further Poland's strict abortion laws.

But the Geremek gambit also takes him into uncharted legal territory, with one parliament contact saying the Polish lustration law works via an "automatism" that dictates Mr Geremek's mandate must be taken away. "We just don't know what will happen," the source said.

"It's a very complex, very delicate matter and it's too early to say anything," another European Parliament official said. "We've had cases before where national legislatures have withdrawn members, but never for such a reason. We'll have to see what the legal affairs committee says."

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