‘Queer bashing, CIA torturing, Star Wars II anti-ballistic missile hosting American poodles’. Is Poland becoming a European pariah?
It’s not been a good couple of months for the image of Poland abroad.
The EU thinks that the new Polish parliament is a nest of Eurosceptics; headlines in the international newspapers scream at the injustice of gays denied the right to demonstrate, and get beaten up when they do - and British MEP, Sarah Ludford has called on Brussels to take legal action against the government; human rights campaigners suspect Poland is hosting secret CIA torture camps; and western Europeans fret that Poland might welcome, in the near future, American, Son of Star Wars, anti-ballistic missile systems on its soil.
The government has been warned by the EU that it has signed documents guaranteeing rights to sexual minorities; the Council of Europe is investigating the possibility of CIA camps and has warned that, if true, then Poland would be in breach of numerous international agreements and could face serious sanctions from Brussels.
But is Poland as bad as it’s being portrayed by some foreign journalists?
The charge of homophobia is certainly justified. Many here hold social attitudes more applicable to Warsaw in 1935 than 2005. For four decades communism stopped Poland’s development dead in its tracks. When the regime crumbled the nation’s economy, social structure and culture were stuck in the past. A can of worms opened and out spilled some antiquated and distasteful social attitudes.
A religious based homophobia is one of them. This is being expressed by the new PiS government, which reflects the backwardness of maybe 1 in 2 of the population who feel that freedoms of speech should only be for people ‘like us’ and not for people ‘like them’.
And that’s a very ‘1930s’ type of attitude.
Anti-ballistic missile base?
Still living in the 1930s, many Poles feel that Russia is the threat and that a defense shield should be put up to guard Poland from eastern threats.
“We will analyze everything thoroughly and at the appropriate moment say whether it is good or not for Poland,” PM Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz has said, admitting that talks about a US antimissile system have been going on with the Pentagon for years. He has promised that, before any final decision is reached, a thorough public debate will take place first.
But Poland is not alone in looking at this system. The Czech Republic and Hungary are also looking at the plans, and the UK has long supported the general idea of a system being set up in Europe.
I have argued on the beatroot before that the often hysterical claims about these camps do not match the evidence. Just because we know that planes used by the CIA for transporting terror suspects landed in Poland does not prove anything at all, apart from the fact that the planes have been using a northern Polish airstrip to land on.
We now know that the CIA has been using many countries to do this in, including Denmark, Spain, Holland, Italy, the UK…. But nobody has suggested, like one Turkish writer has done, that the UK or Holland are sites of a ‘US Auschwitz’.
I wonder why? Perhaps these writers are being informed by some 1930s prejudices of their own – if Poland and other Central European countries had a death camps on their soil once, could they have them now?
Last Friday, Dick Marty, the Swiss senator heading the investigation on behalf of the Council of Europe, said that the prospect of large clandestine torture camps in Central Europe was ‘highly unlikely’, though he did think that is possible that ”there were detainees that stayed 10, 15 or 30 days. We do not have the full picture." The Council of Europe is currently trying to get hold of satellite images of the airbases in Poland and Romania.
There is no doubt that many politicians affect an anti-European stance in much of their rhetoric. Again this reflects an almost pre-war distrust of Western Europe and an inability to deal the world as it is today. Two parties currently propping up the minority government in parliament – Self defense and League of Polish Families have indicated that they would like to re-negotiate Poland’s terms of entry into the Union.
But Poles in general are not as Eurosceptic as are many in northern Europe – particularly in the UK and Denmark. And the Polish government has said that the EU is essential for the economic development of the country. The torturous negotiations over the EU budget shows that it is not Poland who is holding up a resolution to the problem, but rather richer countries like the UK that want to reduce their contributions. Poland, on the other hand, wants to get its hands on those contributions in the form of subsidies and joint investment projects.
So though of the criticism of Poland recently rightly points out a backwardness of much of the population to issues that were settled in the nineteen sixties in the western Europe, a lot of that criticism is also based on a misunderstanding of the facts, a love of conspiracy theories, an ignorance of Central Europe, and lazy journalism.
But I still think that Poland needs a better PR manager, because the current Polish government is not doing a very good job at all – in fact, it’s very much part of the problem.
Monday, November 28, 2005
Posted by beatroot at 11/28/2005