The last time Poland briefly appeared in the US presidential campaign was in 2004. Then my country was praised by incumbent president George W. Bush for supporting America during the War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq. During this campaign, the overtones on Poland are negative. During recent town hall event in Pennsylvania, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned against growing anti-democratic tendencies in Central Europe and blamed the foreign policy of President Trump for supporting it. “You see what is happening from Belarus through Poland and Hungary,” Biden said. He was right.
The situation in Belarus, where the regime massively uses violence to suppress unprecedented anti-governmental upheaval, can’t be directly compared with Poland where, at the moment, the nationalist-conservative government is still struggling to take control over few remaining democratic institutions and to silence critics among independent journalists, artists or scholars. However, Poland, for the last five years, under the Law and Justice Party’s rule, has been following the same authoritarian path that Belarus went along years ago. The Freedom House, a US think-tank that monitors the shape of democracies around the world, stopped considering Poland as a consolidated democracy. According to other analyses, Poland’s democracy is “flawed”.
Donald Trump and his foreign policy advisers must have been aware of this dangerous process and its consequences for the most important US ally in the region. They even encouraged it.
The White House must have known about the almost complete capture of an independent judiciary in Poland. The State Department – during the Trump’s presidency – reacted to another attempt by the Polish government to put judges on a short leash and issued a clear statement calling on the Polish government to respect judicial independence, separation of powers and rule of law. US diplomacy reacted alongside the European Union. These voices were ignored by the Polish ruling party and by the US President who last year said that he had no worries about the democracy in Poland. Effects? Several European countries officially doubt that judges in Poland are independent and refuse to collaborate with the Polish judicial system. There are repressions against most vocal critics of the government within the judiciary. Recently, Judge Beata Morawiec, who dared to oppose Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro was stripped of her judicial immunity and suspended. She is to be charged with corruption.
Attorney Roman Giertych, a lawyer of many opposition politicians, has been detained and charged with fraud. These two examples of blatant abuse of power show the path the Polish government is following.
The White House must have been informed about the pressure being exerted by the government on the independent media in Poland. The disobedient Polish outlets were cut off state founding, flooded by with dozens of lawsuits from the government, ranking members of the ruling party and state-owned companies and finally being threatened with forced takeovers by the state. US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher passionately reacted to these developments, urging state and party official to stop harassing journalists and respect the independence of media companies.
There is no doubt that she extensively lists all the hardships the Polish government brings to media outlets in her routine reports to Washington. It seems, however, that her reports are ignored.
Ambassador Mosbacher also defended the Polish LGBTQ community, harassed by the government and the ruling party since 2019. Under the guise of the fight to preserve traditional social values and to prevent corrupting children, the government consequently incites hatred against sexual minorities in order to cement the support among its conservative voters. The LGBTQ people are presented as members of a conspiracy who plan to impose immoral social policies In Poland, such as homosexual marriages and children adoption by gay couples. At the same time, homosexuality in state media broadcast is being linked with paedophilia. The rise of homophobic remarks occurred during the presidential campaign in Poland this summer. One of most outrageous words were spoken by the incumbent president, Andrzej Duda, during a rally in southern Poland in June. Duda said that the LGBTQ community isn’t people, but an ideology that is worse than communism.
Such harsh homophobic rhetoric is spreading around the country. Many Polish communities, counties and ever entire voivodeships ruled by the Law and Justice Party decided to adopt special proclamations to protect traditional families against the so-called “LGBTQ ideology”. The message is clear – LGBTQ people aren’t welcome in those part of Poland. The range of so-called “LGBTQ free zones” covers one-third of the Polish territory
Joe Biden has condemned such a discrimination, tweeting that “LGBTQ+ rights are human rights” and that such zones “have no place in the European Union or anywhere in the world”.
Donald Trump embraced that policy and ostensibly invited Andrzej Duda to visit the White House as the first head of foreign state during the coronavirus pandemic. Duda was in the middle of the presidential campaign to win a second term. This gesture by the US president helped him win the election. It was also a clear sign of support for the anti-democratic policy of the Polish nationalist-conservative government.
Already four years ago, the Polish government didn’t hide the fact that was keeping its fingers crossed for Trump’s victory, and after his victory it adopted a servile approach towards the new US administration. Especially President Duda emphasised the ideological similarities with President Trump. The US president wanted to rebuild America’s greatness; the ruling Polish party announced that the “humiliated” country would rise from its knees. They shared distrust towards independent judiciary, free media, liberals and the European Union that Trump ultimately wanted to disrupt. Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who during his last trip to Warsaw in June 2016 openly criticised Polish authorities for violating the rule of law, the current US president embraced the anti-democratic change.
However, Trump's friendliness was won not only by flattery and convergence of political views. Polish taxpayers paid a lot for it. Under US pressure, the Polish government abandoned its plans to tax digital giants and was publicly thanked by Vice-President Mike Pence during his trip to Warsaw last year. Poland decided to buy brand new military equipment, including F-35 fighters, from the US without any bargaining. American soldiers deployed in Poland will no longer be subject to Polish law.
We bought US military equipment before, but our relations were based on common democratic and liberal values. After the fall of communism, the US supported Poland’s transformation from a failed state to a thriving democracy that joined NATO and the EU. Poland became an example to other countries in transition. Today, Poland has lost its credibility within the European Union as the national conservatives harassed independents judges, journalists and LGBTQ people during their five years in power. But the country also showed the path to other European populists who also want to run their countries without any interference by the judiciary or media. They see that the current US government accepts such a perspective.
This erosion of democracy in Central Europe is the result of the terrible foreign policy of Donald Trump. The democracy in the region will not survive unless this tolerant and friendly policy of the US government towards populists changes.
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