Thursday, February 22, 2018

Religion, Patriotism, Fatherland in Poland

At the New York Times, "Poland’s Nationalism Threatens Europe’s Values, and Cohesion":
SNIADOWO, Poland — The young mayor of this small town deep in eastern Poland is extremely proud of its new Italian fire engine, which sits, resplendent, next to a Soviet-era one. Nearby, the head of the elementary school shows off new classrooms and a new gymnasium, complete with an electronic scoreboard.

All of this — plus roads, solar panels, and improved water purification and sewer systems, as well as support to dairy farmers — has largely been paid for by the European Union, which finances nearly 60 percent of Poland’s public investment.

With such largess, one would hardly think that Poland is in a kind of war with the European Union. In recent months, the nationalist government has bitten the hand that feeds it more than once.

The European Union has accused Poland of posing a grave risk to democratic values, accusing it of undermining the rule of law by packing the courts with loyalists. Western leaders have also criticized Poland’s governing party for pushing virtually all critical voices off the state news media and for restricting free speech with its latest law criminalizing any suggestion that the Polish nation bore any responsibility in the Holocaust.

The tug of war has intensified as Eastern Europe becomes the incubator for a new model of “illiberal democracy” for which Hungary has laid the groundwork. But it is Poland — so large, so rich, so militarily powerful and so important geostrategically — that will define whether the European Union’s long effort to integrate the former Soviet bloc succeeds or fails.

The stakes, many believe, far outweigh those of Britain’s exit from the European Union, or Brexit, as the bloc faces a painful reckoning over whether, despite its efforts at discipline, it has enabled the anti-democratic drift, and what to do about it.

The growing conflict between the original Western member states of the bloc and the newer members in Central and Eastern Europe is the main threat to the cohesion and survival of the European Union. It is not a simple clash, but a multibannered one of identity, history, values, religion and interpretations of democracy and “solidarity.”

“It’s yes to Europe, but what Europe?” said Michal Baranowski, the director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund, noting that Poland’s support for European Union membership runs as high as 80 percent but can be shallow.

The Polish government, which is dominated by the Law and Justice party, itself dominated from the back rooms by the party chief, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, seems to have its own answer to the question.

It is more than happy to take European Union economic support, but worries that Poland’s share could dwindle if the member nations use the budget to pressure Poland to fall in line. The country is to get nearly 9 percent of the European Union budget for 2014 to 2020, around 85 billion euros, or $105 billion.

But the vague threats to apply the brakes to the gravy train are unlikely to push the Kaczynski government to change. It has responded to European criticism by accusing Brussels and Germany — until recently Poland’s greatest ally in Europe — of dictating terms to newer members and trying to impose an elitist, secular vision. It has also positioned itself at the forefront of central and eastern European nations opposing migration quotas, saying it is acting in defense of Christian values.

The governing party has campaigned on Polish national pride and “getting up off our knees;” it has also portrayed predominantly Roman Catholic Poland, which traditionally sees itself as a victim of history, as the “Christ of nations.”

After being squeezed between empires and occupied in turns by fascism and communism, Poland is ready to take its place as an equal, Mr. Kaczynski asserts, no longer relegated to serfdom or secondary status...
Still more.