19th Sep 2019

EU tweaks internet film after Polish complaint

  • The Brandenburg gate: Not an appropriate symbol for the fall of Communism, Poland says (Photo: wikipedia)

The European Commission plans to pad out Poland's part in an online video about the fall of the Iron Curtain, after a complaint from the Polish ambassador to the EU.

"If we find something from 1989 in Poland, we'll probably put that in," commission spokesman Joe Hennon told EUobserver on Monday (18 May). "It's likely to be a reference to Solidarnosc or the Gdansk shipyards. We're looking for a crowd scene."

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The 2-minute-47-second-long clip, entitled "1989-2009: 20 years of Liberty!" was made for the commission's You Tube page by Brussels-based media firm ESN and published last week, quickly attracting over 60,000 viewers.

The film shows the life story of a man born in 1989, with archive footage from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Baltic States and Romania. It culminates in a street scene in 2009 at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, symbolising the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But it gives undue weight to Germany's role in ending Communism, while underplaying Poland's contribution, the Polish ambassador said.

"The simplistic version [of history] presented in this clip could lead to unwanted controversies," the diplomat, Jan Tombinski, wrote in a letter to the commission on Monday. "The fall of the Berlin Wall was just one of the final accords in a chain of events."

The letter listed strikes by the Solidarnosc trade union in Gdansk, Poland's 1989 Round Table agreement to remove its Communist government and the political actions of Pope John Paul II as being central to the story.

The commission initially tried to draw a line between "artistic" and "historic" films, with officials taking a light-hearted view of the matter, despite Brussels' willingness to make changes.

"To make videos that are absolutely, 100 percent historically accurate - that's not the role of the commission," Mr Hennon said.

"You're not going to give the entire history of the fall of Communism in two and half minutes. Sometimes we're accused of being too politically correct. If we're not, we also come in for criticism."

Twentieth century history is highly sensitive in former Communist EU states, with issues which seem old or alien in the West still capable of impacting top-level foreign relations.

Polish-Russian diplomacy continues to suffer from Moscow's refusal to acknowledge the Katyn massacre in 1940, when Russian forces executed some 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals.

The commission video clip incident also risks waking World War II ghosts - some Poles fear that Germany dominates the EU institutions and uses them to its advantage.

Even in the more privileged West, the old antagonisms are never too far away.

When German politician Franz Muentefering earlier this year joked that Germany in the past would have sent soldiers to sort out tax-evaders in Luxembourg, the country's leader, Jean-Claude Juncker, hit back:

"We don't find it funny. We have been occupied before, and we suffered under German occupation. Thank God we no longer use soldiers to resolve our problems."

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU divided on how to protect rule of law

Poland and Hungary have argued that rule of law is purely a domestic matter and the EU should respect legal traditions, but Dutch foreign minister warned backsliding was a worry for all.

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