Poland is in the center of international criticism due to a number of aggressive policy moves, which according to officials is just a media creation by the left-wing opposition’s propaganda.
Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS) surprisingly managed to win the majority in the senate and parliament last October, after already clinching the presidential election earlier in 2015. The victories marked one of the first instances where Europe’s recent nationalistic movements came to power. (RELATED: Poland’s Parliament Has Literally Zero Liberals Now)
The party wasted no time in implementing its eurosceptic, anti-Russia agenda, in ways the European Parliament call a “threat to democracy.”
Headlines of a raided NATO office, unconstitutional appointments to the Supreme Court and refusals to share the refugee burden have backed up the image of a broken democratic state. (RELATED: Polish Government Raids NATO Office To Replace Leadership)
Secretary of State Anna Maria Anders made one of the first international appearances by a PiS politician since the party came to power when she spoke at a luncheon June 21 in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
PiS’s negative reputation is solely the creation of the media, which has decided to go on a witch hunt for no apparent reason, according to Anders.
“We in Poland are very disturbed about what we see in the international press,” Anders said. “Suddenly everything that we did was wrong.”
The “constitutional crisis” took off when PiS moved to appoint five judges to the Constitutional Tribunal — the equivalent to the Supreme Court in the U.S. — arguing that last-minute appointments by the previous government were unconstitutional. PiS pushed an amendment to the existing law through the parliament days after its inauguration, and President Andrzej Duda swore in new judges two weeks later.
The situation in many ways mirror the political chaos that erupted following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in February, and the debate on when, and by whom, a replacement should be appointed.
“That is an ironic situation,” Anders said. “Even in the United States we see President Obama really being discouraged in appointing another judge before the end of his term, whereas we had a president to the left and [then-President Bronisław] Komorowski had specifically asked no to appoint any judges before the end of his term, and yet he did.”
Protests on the streets of Warsaw drew 50,000 people. Former President Lech Walesa said the country was on the brink of a civil war as PiS’s proceedings didn’t amount to an “open and democratic process.”
The next controversy facing PiS was a move to take control of the country’s public media outlets. Duda signed a law Jan. 7, which gave the government the right to fire any person on the editorial boards of the state television and radio networks and replace them with their own candidates.
“The only thing that has happened is that public television has now changed hands,” Anders said in defense of her party. “But that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can watch. You can read what you want. You can watch what you want. We got [liberal daily newspaper] Gazeta Wyborcza, which still does a good job with a lot of lies trying to destroy the government and nothing happens to them. This is totally absurd.”
Anders argues the practice of influencing the media is something every Polish government takes advantage of. She said she experienced first-hand what it feels like to have the media against her during the election last fall.
“From my own experience I ran for the senate in the fall,” Anders said. “The media at that time was controlled by the opposition. I did not get the opportunity to have a single decent interview on television. If I or any of the candidates were invited, it was just a program where we would be put alongside somebody else.”
Poland is also one of the EU countries most opposed to taking in Syrian refugees. The Brussels establishment blamed xenophobia as to why Poland placed an embargo on its refugee influx, which Anders again dismissed as “rubbish.”
“Poland has been severely criticized and the slander is still going on for the fact that it has not agreed to accept the number of migrants that Brussels wanted us to accept,” Anders said. “Nobody takes into consideration that 300,000 Ukrainians came into Poland last year. They are living and working in Poland. Nobody takes into consideration that even though we are 26 years after the fall of communism there are still [Polish] people in the east who have been unable to come back to Poland.”
The situation in Poland damaged the country’s relations with the EU, which has threatened sanctions and even suspension from taking part in the lawmaking process.
What hurts the most, according to Anders, is not the response from Poland’s European neighbors, but rather the feeling of “under-appreciation” from the U.S. government.
The Poles are particularly fed up with a bipartisan letter in February signed by Democratic Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Richard Durbin, as well as GOP Sen. John McCain. The senators expressed concerns that PiS has undermined Poland’s “democratic model” by placing “public media and prosecutors under direct government control.”
“I think the letters from Senator McCain and others talking about Poland being non-democratic was received very, very badly,” Anders said. “The media has been inspired, I think, by the people who were shocked to be booted out of office after eight years.”
The U.S.-Polish divide is extra sensitive in a time when Poland feels added aggression from bordering Russia. While most European countries are reluctant to boost defense spending, PiS has made a stronger NATO one of its main priorities.
“We rely on the United States because it would be nice to think that if something happened to Poland, or happened in Crimea with the build-up of forces in Donbass, that the European Union would come to Poland’s defense,” Anders said. “That looks more than unlikely at this point. The European Union is not able to agree on anything at this point as we can see with the migrant crisis.”
Defense is particularly important to Anders because of her father, Władysław, who fought the Polish-Bolshevik war during World War I, and served as lieutenant general during the German Invasion of Poland in World War II.
Poland hosts this year’s NATO summit in Warsaw in July and Anders’ ambition is to get a higher NATO presence in Poland permanently.
“Poland would dream of a NATO base in my district, but the chances of that at this point are probably unlikely,” she said.
Part of PiS’s success, and Poland’s rapid right-wing shift, is its the liberation from communism just 26 years ago. The older generation still has the memory of a 20th century dominated by war and oppression fresh in their minds, shifting the country’s priority towards domestic strength.
Anders compares the situation to the rise of Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“I think what he’s trying to say: ‘Make America great again,’ perhaps is because the United State have done so much to help countries around the world, and yet you seem to be hated you know, under-appreciated,” Anders said. “I think he feels where we should be concentrating are on ourselves.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, on the other hand, is unpopular after his Sept. 17, 2009 announcement to abandon plans for a missile base defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. The decision was symbolic in the eyes of the Poles due to the day it was announced — the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.
“They have not really forgotten that,” Anders said. “The idea of Republicans in government is more popular in Poland than the idea of another Democratic president.”