Witold Waszczykowski’s public diplomacy seeks to explain Poland’s new government to critical world.
Image from article, with caption: A “false picture” of the country is being presented abroad, the Polish Foreign Minister said
By Jan Cienski
WARSAW — Poland’s new conservative government pushed a public relations counter-offensive this week, sending out its chief diplomat to rebut international criticism of its early moves.
Witold Waszczykowski, the foreign minister, sought to address concerns voiced in Brussels about judicial independence and media freedom and to win over Berlin and London. But his interventions ended up creating diplomatic headaches for Warsaw, and given its domestic opponents fresh ammunition for ridicule.
“We only want to cure our country of a few illnesses,” he told Bild, Germany’s largest circulation tabloid, in an interview published Monday. “A new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.” He blamed the rise of these ideological foes on previous government’s “left-wing politics.”
Law and Justice, which swept an opposition center-right party out of power in October elections, stands for “what moves most Poles,” he added. “Tradition, historical awareness, love of country, faith in God and normal family life between a woman and a man.”
In a separate interview with Reuters published on Sunday, Waszczykowski reached out to London. Warsaw was open to a trade-off with the U.K. that would allow Britain to cut the benefits of migrant Poles, he said, in return for London’s support for establishing a permanent NATO presence in Poland.
Waszczykowski said the world misunderstood the Law and Justice party.
While Waszczykowski’s statements were intended to explain Law and Justice to the world, he and the government subsequently scrambled to explain what he meant.
The foreign ministry has walked back his proposal on NATO. Waszczykowski on Monday sought to modulate his views on the threat from mixed-race vegan cyclists, telling Poland TVN television that he used a “lighter tone” in the interview with Germany’s Bild since it was a tabloid.
‘Common European values’
The pushback from Warsaw takes place against the backdrop of heightened concern and imminent scrutiny from its European allies. Waszczykowski said the world misunderstood Law and Justice but made no concessions to foreign criticism.
European Commissioner Günther Oettinger this weekend accused Poland of infringing “common European values” with a new law that gives the government greater control over the public media, and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has placed a first debate on the rule of law in Poland on the agenda of the Commission’s meeting on January 13. The European Parliament debates Poland on January 19.
Frans Timmermans, the Commission vice president in charge of issues involving the rule of law, has sent two letters to Waszczykowski, one expressing concern about a law that changes the makeup and procedures of the country’s highest constitutional court and another on the public media. Both were ignored.
Waszczykowski fired back that the Constitutional Tribunal was a “politically directed institution” and that Timmermans was an “EU bureaucrat” who had no right to be writing to a democratically elected government. “For me, Mr. Timmermans isn’t a legitimate partner,” he told Bild.
His NATO proposal, however, took his own diplomats by surprise. While Poland is generally an ally of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and his efforts to reform the EU ahead of a British referendum on whether to leave the bloc, Warsaw has been wary of Cameron’s push to cut benefits to migrants workers from other EU countries. Almost a million Poles have moved to the U.K. in the last decade.
But Poland is also pushing hard for a permanent NATO military presence in the country as a response to the Russian threat, something that many Western countries don’t want to do for fear of infuriating Moscow.
That led Waszczykowski to suggest a possible deal, according to Reuters. “It would be very difficult for us to accept any discrimination [against migrants],” Waszczykowski told the agency. “Unless Britain helped us really effectively with regard to the Polish defense ambitions at the [July NATO] summit in Warsaw.”
The Polish foreign ministry quickly released a statement Sunday night saying that in the interview Waszczykowski clearly said Poland would only drop its opposition to tougher benefits rules for EU migrants if that applied to all U.K. residents.
In the Monday interview with Poland’s TVN, Waszczykowski said that a “false picture” of the country is being presented abroad.
“Let’s not create some sort of huge consternation over what’s happening in Poland,” he said. “The Polish government, the Polish parliament are dealing with certain pathologies that have been growing for years in Poland.”