Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Polish president attacks EU court on eve of divisive march

  • Andrzej Duda: "We don't agree to forced relocation of anybody here, whether migrants or refugees" (Photo: 41WHC UNESCO)

The EU court went too far in ordering Poland to halt its judicial purge, but Poland will heed its verdict to avoid a fine, the Polish president has said.

Poland will not bow to EU pressure to take in Muslim migrants, Andrzej Duda added, however.

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  • Far-right groups mingling with ordinary Poles at previous Independence Day march (Photo: Piotr Drabik)

He gave his remarks to a right-wing religious broadcaster on Thursday (8 November) - 48 hours before neo-Nazi groups plan to march through Warsaw on Sunday, making Poland look even worse on the EU stage.

"The European tribunal went too far. I think it's expanding its jurisdictional competences, but the verdict is there," Duda said.

"We have a problem, because if we don't heed it [the verdict], then Poland would probably suffer draconian financial penalties," he added.

The EU court issued an injunction last month for Poland to pause its forced retirements of Supreme Court (SC) judges pending its final verdict on whether that amounted to illegal meddling.

Poland would not back down from its judicial reforms, but might need to "introduce some changes" to its scheme to strike "a balance" with EU institutions, Duda said.

The fact the Polish government had already installed a new cadre of judges on two SC disciplinary panels showed that the reforms were moving ahead, he added.

"They're relatively young, so they're from a generation that was educated in a fully free and sovereign Poland ... they have no links to the previous establishment, from communist times," he said.

He also fudged the status of Malgorzata Gersdorf, the SC president and a fierce government critic.

He said he had studied the EU injunction, which, for him, said Poland had to suspend its new SC laws, but that since the Polish parliament had not yet done so, Gersdorf's forced retirement was "still binding".

Red line on migrants

Poland is facing a second EU court case over its decision to boycott the outcome of an EU vote, back in 2015, on migrant-sharing quotas.

But Duda drew a red line around that Polish policy.

"We don't agree to forced relocation of anybody here, whether migrants or refugees," he said.

"We're a free country, a European Union country, a Schengen zone member, we have open borders and we want them to remain open," he added, referring to the EU's passport-free 'Schengen' travel area.

The migrant-sharing quotas were introduced to help deal with the mostly Muslim people coming to Europe from the Middle East and Africa.

Duda did not say directly that their religion or ethnicity was unwelcome in Poland.

But he defended the fact Poland had admitted one million Ukrainian migrants on grounds that many of them had "Polish roots" and that their Orthodox Christian faith would not change "our religious and social structure".

"They're not creating ... any dangerous organisations, not creating any terrorist threat," he also said.

The president spoke in an interview with Radio Maryja - the private broadcaster of Tadeusz Rydzyk - a right-wing Roman Catholic preacher and a close ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Independence march

He gave his interview two days before a Polish neo-fascist NGO, the National Radical Camp (ONR), and its sympathisers planned to march through Warsaw on the 100th anniversary of Polish independence on Sunday.

Warsaw's mayor had previously banned the rally, but a Polish court overturned the ban on Thursday.

The mayor had "not proved" that the ONR had "invited extremist groups" to take part in the event, the judge, Michal Jakubowski, said.

The ban was "based on assumptions" and would have created "a dangerous precedent - going along those lines, one could forbid any kind of assembly," he added.

He spoke one day after Rydzyk, the Radio Maryja owner, had called the ban "a stab in the back" for "Polish patriots".

The Warsaw mayor can still appeal the verdict before Sunday, but if the ONR march goes ahead, then Warsaw risks seeing similar scenes from last year, when neo-Nazi groups from all over Europe unfurled racist banners and chanted anti-semitic slogans, fired smoke bombs, and vandalised cars.

Poland's image

Duda told Radio Maryja he would lead his own official march on the same route that the ONR planned to use.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Moraiwecki and PiS chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski would also lead the parade, he said, which would include military vehicles and soldiers.

"I invite everybody who can come with a red-and-white [Polish] flag to come to Warsaw for the official celebration," he told Radio Maryja's right-wing listeners.

"I want everybody to stand together ... to show that we're united above all our divisions," he added.

But if the ONR gets its way, then the neo-Nazi banners could, on Sunday, be unfurled among the Polish flags and military hardware in a column led by PiS chiefs, reinforcing Poland's new image as an anti-European state.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

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