Thursday

19th May 2022

Poland offends US and Israel with media and Holocaust laws

  • Warsaw is being criticised by the US and Israel for its new media law and for blocking property claims by Holocaust survivors (Photo: Kamil Porembinski)

Poland has caused fresh harm to its international image by voting to dismantle a US media firm and, separately, to block property claims by Holocaust survivors.

"Large US commercial investments in Poland tie our prosperity together and enhance our collective security. This draft legislation threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland's strong investment climate," US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Wednesday (13 August) on Poland's new media law.

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He also voiced "deep concern" over the Holocaust-claims decision and urged Polish president Andrzej Duda to "not sign the bill into law", in an extraordinary rebuke by Poland's principal security ally.

"I condemn the legislation that was passed in the Polish parliament today, which damages both the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims," Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid said.

The media law passed by 228 votes against 216 on Wednesday.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party won by poaching MPs from minor parties, despite having lost its coalition majority in a political row one day earlier.

But it won in an air of farce when Polish MPs first postponed the media vote, then the parliament speaker, Elżbieta Witek (PiS), overturned the postponement.

Witek's reversal was "absolutely illegal", Borys Budka, an MP from the opposition Civic Platform party, said.

The media law will force US firm Discovery to give up control of TVN - Poland's largest independent broadcaster.

PiS says it is designed to lock out potentially hostile foreign investors from China and Russia from Poland's media sector.

"We have the right to regulate questions about capital in a way the Polish parliament deems appropriate," PiS spokesman Piotr Müller said.

But critics see it as a blow against free press, in a nasty climate in which PiS has also attacked independent courts, molested Poland's LGBTI minority, and fulminated against the EU.

"This law clearly violates the principle of media freedom," and it would "push us toward a confrontation with the United States, which is our most important ally", Jarosław Gowin, a former deputy prime minister in the PiS coalition, who was fired for opposing the media bill, said on Wednesday.

Poland was "dismantling democracy inside a member state of the EU", British historian Timothy Garton-Ash told The Guardian newspaper.

"The outcome should ... be deeply concerning to any enterprise investing in Poland," TVN owner Discovery said.

Daylight robbery?

Meanwhile, the anti-restitution law, passed also on Wednesday, is to impose a 30-year moratorium on property claims, blocking Jewish cases from World War 2, as well as Polish communist-era ones.

It was called "a daylight robbery that desecrates the memory of the Holocaust," by Mickey Levy, the Knesset speaker, who decided not to renew an Israeli-Polish parliamentary friendship group in reaction.

"Poland's decision to pass this immoral law harms the friendship and bilateral relations between Israel and Poland," Levy said.

And it was "equally unfair for both Jews and non-Jews," Gideon Taylor, the chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, noted.

PiS was turning Poland into "an anti-Western dictatorship", for Radosław Sikorski, a Polish centre-right MEP and former foreign minister.

But the fact PiS had lost its parliamentary majority by defenestrating Gowin and his party from its coalition meant its days in power could be numbered, Donald Tusk, a Polish centre-right opposition leader and former prime minister, said.

"The [PiS] parliamentary majority, glued together with the mud of corruption and blackmail, is crumbling before our eyes. It may go on for a while but it is no longer able to govern," he said.

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