7 December 2023
Home » PO’s Nitras on Catholic Church: ‘We Have to Saw Off Some of Your Privileges’

Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments

Poland is not immune from the cultural conflicts that divide many nations. This week saw a sharp cystallisation of that conflict with the controversy surrounding remarks by a Platforma Obywatelska Sejm member who extraordinary said that some of the Catholic Church’s privileges might have to be ‘sawn off’. Such intemperate language will do nothing to help his party straddle the cultural divide, with the returned party leader, Donald Tusk, himself far more careful on such divisive questions. Tusk did, however, pledge to immediately introduce civil partnerships if he returns to power after the next election. Meanwhile, the government moved to declare a state of emergency along the eastern border with Belarus in the face of what it says is the policy of the Alexander Lukashenko regime to use migrants as political weapons.

The main news stories over the past week have included:

• political opponents slate remarks by a Platforma Obywatelska Sejm member about ‘sawing off’ Catholic Church privileges

• Donald Tusk pledges to immediately introduce civil partnerships if he comes back to power

• a State of Emergency is imposed in regions on the border with Belarus over the migrant crisis, and

• inflation hits a 20-year high of 5.4% amid warnings over increased social spending.

Poland’s main opposition party Platforma Obywatelska has this week found itself embroiled in unwanted controversary over cultural issues. It follows remarks by a prominent party figure that led Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek to claim that the opposition aims to ‘de-Christianise Poland’.

Above: Platforma Obywatelska Sejm member Sławomir Nitras.

Speaking at an outreach event for young people called ‘Campus Polska’ prominent Platforma Obywatelska Sejm member Sławomir Nitras said that he was uncertain if a ‘friendly division’ between church and state in Poland is possible as quote ‘in the last six or seven years the church has renounced its allegiance to the state and violated certain standards’. Using the Polish word ‘odpiłować’ which literally means ‘to saw off’ he added that ‘Catholics will become a minority in Poland, maybe even within this generation, and they have to learn to live with it. It would be good if this happened…on the basis that this is a fair punishment for what has happened, that we have to saw off some of your privileges’.  

Czarnek: Platforma Obywatelska Aiming to de-Christianise Poland

The remarks led to a storm of condemnation including but not only from Prawo i Sprawiedliwość politicians. Czarnek said the remarks echoed the stance of the former Communist regime which persecuted the Church. He tweeted that ‘One of the main goals of Platforma Obywatelska is obvious: to de-Christianise Poland following the example of what is happening in the West’.

Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński told public broadcaster TVP that Nitras’s ‘foolish words’ would offend ‘all people who are tolerant, who are for democracy and pluralism’. The Archbishop of Kraków, Marek Jędraszewski, referred to 1930s Nazi Germany saying ‘Back then they also tried to ‘saw’ Jews of their so-called privileges’. Nitras defended himself saying he ‘did not say anything wrong’ and was obviously not calling for ‘sawing people’s heads off’.

Tusk Makes Pledge on Introduction of Civil Partnerships

The remarks, simply badly worded or not, will make it all the more difficult for Platforma Obywatelska to navigate a politically astute path through Poland’s cultural divisions. At the same event the party’s new leader, Donald Tusk, said that introducing civil partnerships would be ‘one of my first decisions’ if he heads the next government. Some LGBT activists criticised Tusk for not being willing to go further and support the introduction of gay marriage.

Tusk said that he is ‘more cautious’ than others in the party regarding what he described as ‘these strong but necessary changes’ because he realises that ‘for many Poles it is still something that is not easy to accept’.   

Poland Maintains Strong Stance Over Migrants on Belarusian Border

The crisis on Poland’s eastern border with Belarus shows no signs of letting up. On Tuesday the government said it had asked President Duda to declare a 30-day state of emergency in border regions of Podlaskie and Lubelskie following hundreds of illegal border crossings into the EU, which Poland and the Baltic States claim are being orchestrated by the Alexander Lukashenko regime. Poland had already commenced building a barbed wire fence along the border to try to stop the influx of migrants from countries including Afghanistan and Iraq.

Announcing the move Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that ‘The situation on the border with Belarus is a crisis and is still tense’ and that ‘Lukashenko’s regime decided to push these people onto Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian territory in an effort to destabilise them’. Poland has faced criticism from some human rights groups for not doing more for the migrants stranded at the border, with Poland arguing they’re the responsibility of Belarus.

Surge In Illegal Border Crossing Attempts

Last Wednesday the border guard said that since the beginning of August their officers had detected 2,900 attempted illegal crossings of the border from Belarus into Poland. Over 2,000 such attempts were prevented and nearly 900 illegal immigrants were arrested.  

Despite their otherwise strained relationship, Poland has received strong support from the European Commission over the migration issue. A Commission spokesperson said on Monday that ‘This is an attempt by a third country to instrumentalise people for political purposes, which we strongly reject and describe as a form of aggression’. Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson commented that ‘This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.’.

Polish Inflation Rate At 20-Year High

There are increasing concerns about the rising rate of inflation in Poland. On Tuesday Głowny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) or Statistics Poland issued a flash estimate that annual inflation in Poland had risen to 5.4% in August, from 5% in July and higher than that expected by most economic forecasters. Poland has recorded either the highest or second highest rate of inflation in the EU every month since March 2020. The preliminary 5.4% figure is the highest recorded since June 2001 when the figure was 6.2%. 

Some economic commentators have blamed the government’s expansionary fiscal policies for fuelling consumption and hence contributing to higher inflation. ING Economics Poland commented that with inflation at its highest level for 20 years ‘some economic policy ideas are like extinguishing a fire with gasoline’. It said that the indexation of social benefits to chase inflation, along with the structure of GDP based on consumption and with weak investment, contributed to a high inflation rate.

The Polish economy overall is continuing to perform remarkably well. GUS said in a preliminary estimate that GDP grew in volume terms by a seasonally unadjusted 11.1% in Q2 of 2021 following a contraction of 0.9% in the first quarter.  

Duda Extends Sympathy Over Deaths in Kabul Airport Attack

The past week as witnessed more harrowing scenes arising from the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. President Andrzej Duda joined in the international condemnation of last Thursdays Islamic State – claimed terror attack outside Kabul airport in which an estimated 182 people including 13 U.S. soldiers died. In a Twitter post Duda said that ‘I condemn in the strongest terms the heinous attacks at Kabul airport that resulted in dozens of casualties, including US army soldiers, our Allies. My prayers go to the families of those affected by this act of cowardice. Poland stands with our U.S. and Afghani friends’.

Poland Marks Second World War and Gdańsk Accords Anniversaries

Poland on Wednesday marked the 82nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War on September 1st ,1939. President Duda attended commemoration ceremonies in the central Polish town of Wieluń and Prime Minister Morawiecki attended ceremonies in Gdańsk.

The country has also marked the 41st anniversary of the 1980 Gdańsk Accords signed on August 31st, 1980. The agreement between the then Communist government and striking shipyard workers enabled the establishment of Solidarność as the first independent free trade union in the Communist bloc. 

In a message President Andrzej Duda said that the events of August 1980 ‘were a great triumph of freedom and solidarity, two ideals forming the core of the Polish national and state ethos’. President Duda commented that ‘Those taking part in the strikes at the time demanded respect for fundamental workers’ rights, greater freedom and a say in managing their enterprises, and, above all, the possibility of creating free, independent trade unions’. He added that ‘Those demands captured the essence of democracy: nothing about us without us’.

Preparations for Beatification of Cardinal Wyszyński

Public broadcaster Polskie Radio has released a two – CD album in honour of the forthcoming beatification in Warszawa on Sunday, September 12th, of the late Cardinal and Primate of Poland, Stefan Wyszyński. Entitled Kardinał Stefan Wyszyński w służbie Kościoła i Ojczyzny the album provides a documentary record of key episodes in Wyszyński’s life intermingled with major developments in the history of the Catholic Church and Polish nation. Serving as Primate of Poland from 1948 until his death in 1981 Wyszyński was famously imprisoned by the Communist government between 1953 and 1956. Beatification is one step from being delayed a saint. 

That’s all for this week.

William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.

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