Michal Kamiński is the Polish MEP who leads the new European Conservatives and Reformists grouping in the European Parliament, of which the British Conservatives form the largest national delegation. Writing exclusively for ConservativeHome, here he rebuts the allegations of racism and anti-Semitism made against him and his party, in particular by former Conservative MEP, Edward McMillan-Scott.
When my party, the Law and Justice Party of Poland, the British Conservative Party, the Czech Civic Democrats and our other allies decided to break the mould in the European Parliament by creating for the first time a mainstream, centre-right, non-federalist group there, we knew we would meet opposition.
The European Parliament’s establishment was full of people committed to a federal European Union. Since the group’s creation changed the parliamentary positions available to its members, the new group would also inevitably mean good outcomes for some but personal disappointment for others.
Edward McMillan-Scott has served as an MEP for many years, recently in the senior position of vice-president of the European Parliament. He was known to like the Conservative Party’s old arrangement of sitting with the European People’s Party (EPP), even though the EPP is committed to exactly the kind of federal Europe the Conservative Party opposes. No one expected him to be pleased that the new arrangement meant that our new alliance could not support his continuation as a vice-president.
Even so, my British colleagues and I have been shocked by his behaviour. What he has said about me, my beliefs and my Party, accusing us of being racist fascists, is completely untrue and he knows it. No country suffered more from the Nazis than Poland. Nowhere was their Holocaust of the Jewish people more murderous and more terrible than Poland. My grandfathers fought the Nazis. Many of my colleagues’ parents and grandparents were killed by them. Mr McMillan-Scott’s accusations are beyond offensive.
Mr McMillan-Scott has dressed up his conduct as an act of high principle. Yet all those who know him best think it is simply pique at thwarted ambition and a political manoeuvre to damage a new force in the European Parliament which, it is now clear, he always meant to scupper. His slurs are now being enthusiastically spread by the Conservatives’ political opponents in Britain.
Mr McMillan-Scott has not taken much care to link his attacks to real facts. He accused my Party of taking MEPs from ‘the ultra-Catholic Motherland Party’. Yet there is no ‘Motherland Party’ in Poland, nor has there ever been one. He quotes a well-known Polish left wing paper to back up his claims – hardly likely to give fair comment on a conservative Polish party. He accuses my party – one of Poland’s two major political parties and the party of the President of Poland – of ‘respectable fascism’. Anyone who knows anything about Poland knows that is nonsense. As Britain’s last ambassador to Poland has said, the truth is that Polish Law and Justice has ‘marginalise[d] politically the populist parties in Poland, and so create[d] a much more mainstream political space there’.
When I was born, Poland was a totalitarian Communist dictatorship. You could be imprisoned for speaking out against the Government. You had no say in choosing the Government. Like millions of other young Poles, I longed for freedom. I grew up in the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as my political heroes. However controversial at home, east of the Iron Curtain they were loved because they had no hesitation in condemning the evil of Communist tyranny or calling for democracy in our countries. In 1987, when I was 14, I joined an anti-Communist dissident group, National Revival, so I could fight for freedom. It was a typical small dissident movement in those days. When Communism crumbled in 1989 we were at last able to form political parties and have a democracy. I left NOP and helped create one such party as its youngest member. A couple of years later, NOP was taken over by extremists who turned it into what it is now: a very small and very nasty far right party. It is on this that Mr McMillan-Scott has manufactured his smear of fascist links.
Next Mr McMillan-Scott makes the disgusting allegation that I tried to cover up an anti-Jewish atrocity. The facts are these: in 2001 a book came out that raised new questions about the involvement of local Poles in a horrific massacre of Jewish villagers in a place called Jedwabne in 1941, when the Nazis occupied my country. In 2001 I was the MP for the area. I have always said that we could not just blame the pogrom on the Nazis: shamefully, there were local Poles involved. I backed the Government’s establishment of an historians’ inquiry so that everything about this terrible episode in our history could be found out.
Like the Polish Prime Minister of the time, though, I did not think it right that our then President should apologise for the whole Polish nation. I argued that responsibility lay with those Poles who had committed that cruel crime. I thought his apology on Poland’s behalf might diminish the Nazis’ ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust. People may or may not agree, but I think it a legitimate argument to make.
I am proud of my record in combating anti-Semitism. I have used my seat in the European Parliament to highlight how it still festers in parts of Poland. I am active in the European Friends of Israel. I am equally proud of my Party’s record. Our most senior figure, Lech Kaczynski, as mayor of Warsaw, donated city land to help found Poland’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Now President of Poland, he has the privilege of being the first Polish head of state ever to attend a Jewish religious service in a Polish synagogue.
I want a real debate about the politics of the European Union. If people disagree with the European Conservatives and Reformists’ chief principle – that we should aim for a Europe of nation states, not a European superstate – let them make their case. People in the Brussels establishment may disagree, but I think it right that there should be an official alliance in the European Parliament championing the tens of millions across Europe who believe in our vision of Europe’s future. I am honoured to have as my colleague the Yorkshire Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, without whose selflessness and leadership our new alliance to bring change to Europe could never have succeeded.
Let us argue vigorously about what kind of European Union we want. But political disagreements must never excuse employing smears, like false allegations of anti-Semitism, as political weapons. The danger of anti-Semitism, like other kinds of racism, is too serious to be misused for partisan attacks.