The Honorable Eliot L. Engel Chairman House Foreign Affairs Committee
The Honorable Michael McCaul Ranking Member House Foreign Affairs Committee
Dear Chairman Engel and Ranking Member McCaul,
We are responding to your press release from August 29, 2019 that expresses your concern about, as you call it, “corrosion of Polish democracy”. You accuse the current Polish government of curtailing the independence of judiciary, curtailing the freedom of speech and consolidating control of public broadcasters. These are accusations that are constantly brought up by the opponents of the current Polish government, but they either do not reflect the reality or are purposely misconstrued to paint the actions of the Law and Justice government as somehow divergent from prevailing democratic norms. As representatives of the Polish American community we feel obligated to provide you with a more balanced understanding of the decisions made by the Law and Justice government.
- The accusation that the PiS government is somehow exerting an undue control over the public broadcast media in Poland completely misconstrues the reality of the Polish broadcast industry where it is normal that decisions about publicly funded television and radio are made by bodies made by nominated public officials. This is not something new. It has been a common practice since the transformation from the Communist system in 1989 and the same type of control over public broadcasters was exerted by earlier governments. It is not different now then, when in power was the former government of liberal Platforma Obywatelska or earlier, the left wing Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej. PiS has not made any changes to the structure of bodies controlling the public broadcasters since it took power in 2015.
- It was not the intent of the so-called “Holocaust denial law” to curtail free speech. The sole purpose of the law was to challenge the hateful speech arising from extremely egregious terminology quite commonly found in foreign press that refers to “Polish death camps” or “Polish concentration camps.” These terms are quite simply evil, and, to Poles, represent an attempt to blame the Polish people for policies and crimes of a Nazi Germany. There was no one Polish death camp nor any Polish concentration camps. Such terminology, to us, is offensive, hateful, and evil. The law passed by the current Polish government was only an attempt to address the issues of this prevalent and hateful Anti-Polonism. The United States as well as other western countries also have statutes defining and punishing hate speech. This Polish law in no way passed the boundary of healthy democratic statute. Its goal was to protect Poles from hateful speech just as many groups are protected from such speech in other countries. Furthermore, this law was amended in June 2018 to the satisfaction of outside observers. To continue to use it as an example of so-called “assault on democracy” seems a gross stretch of healthy political discourse.
- Finally, as for the so-called attack on the freedom of judiciary. What is unreported and overlooked is that the Polish judicial system has been virtually spared any significant reforms since the fall of communism in 1989, especially with respect to personnel change. Due to the fact that the 1997 constitution was in large measure a child of two post-communist parties, SLD (the Democratic Left Alliance) and PSL (Polish Peasant Party), personnel changes in the judiciary have been very slow and often cosmetic. Not only there was no clean clear-out of former Communist judges during the 1989-1997 period, but the 1997 Constitution created a judicial caste within the system that elected its own judges with very little input or accountability from the democratically elected executive or legislative branches. This is system propagated a very unhealthy, undemocratic situation where there were virtually no checks or balances on judges from the sovereign, the people. This is something that would not be accepted in any healthy democratic society. In every western society, including the United States, the executive and the legislative have significant input in the nomination and approval process for new judges. The Polish judicial caste has been insulated from this input and it can be legitimately argued that today, 30 years after the fall of communism, it still is the last vestige of the old system – a branch of government that is unaccountable to the sovereign people. The goal of the judicial reforms by the current reform was in fact opposite to what the oppositions seems to maintain. It was to increase checks and balances from the democratically elected bodies and to remove the last vestiges of the former totalitarian system. Something that is 30 years overdue. It is also a reform that is consistently supported by large majority of Polish voters, who see the judicial system as corrupt and unaccountable.
Your letter to prime minister Morawiecki concerns us because it seems to accept a one-sided presentation of facts that paints the decisions of the current Polish government in worst possible light. We found your letter particularly disappointing for its timing. Your Committee has been vocal in criticizing the malicious actions of the Putin government in Russia. The current Polish government is possibly the most wary and critical of Russian encroachments on the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia and the threat it poses to world security out of all European governments. To undercut such a solid partner that can be counted on to stand up to Russian aggression on the eve of a 80th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland that started World War II is deeply hurtful to our community and is very misguided from the perspective of the United States interests. We respectfully ask that, in the future, you reach out and consult with representatives from all sides of the political spectrum of our community before undertaking decisions that seem to not be fully informed, are tendentious, and could undermine the very solid Polish-American friendship.
President, Coalition of Polish Americans