BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Foreign Policy: turning up the heat on several fronts
HITS: 5649 | 10-01-2006, 02:06 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 1)

Perhaps the PiS government’s most significant appointment so far is that of Radek Sikorski as Minister of Defence. Sikorski has been based in the UK and US almost continually since 1982 although he was, briefly, a deputy foreign minister and deputy defence minister between 1992-3 in the first post-Solidarity government. Although he bought a country house in Poland in the last years of Communism[1], Sikorski’s journalistic and think-tank career was primarily British and then Washington-based. However, he returned to contest a seat in the Senate in the 2005 elections which he won with over 76,0000 votes, a significant level of support even though he must be something of an unknown quantity at local level in Poland.
Mr. Sikorski is, however, no stranger to the power elite in Washington, where he was Executive - Director of the New Atlantic Initiative, an arm of the neo-con American Enterprise Institute, (AEI) from 2002 until the eve of the polls in 2005. During that time he has chaired numerous appearances by and conferences with some of the United States closest allies and supporters. Many ex- Communist turncoats who have found it highly profitable to switch their allegiance from Big Brother in the Kremlin to pay obeisance to an even more powerful and wealthy patron in Washington have been hosted at the AEI, where naïve (or cynical?) Americans receive them rapturously as lifelong fellow travellers in the cause of freedom and the market economy.
However, under Sikorski, the AEI’s rhetoric has increased against Washington’s (or, in this case, the Republican party’s) bệte noires - especially Belarus - as well as ‘Old European’ countries like France and Germany. The AEI is always in the forefront demanding military action against America’s perceived enemies and, therefore, is a useful ally of the US defence industry.
In 2002, the AEI hosted a black coffee breakfast to examine the ‘case’ against Belarus at which various ‘dissidents’ recounted their woes – although despite the tyranny back home they seem to have had no problem in travelling to Washington to publicise their country’s ills and return home afterwards. Sikorski chaired the event and provided a menacing commentary. If a speaker paused for breath, he intoned: “Mr. Lukashenko – we are watching you”.[2] Could Big Brother hope to find a more energetic disciple?
Although Poland has always dutifully echoed criticism of Belarus’s alleged human rights violations, the temperature was raised in the summer of 2005 when it was claimed that the 400,000 strong Polish minority in western Belarus was being mistreated. In particular, Belarusian oppositionists said that the Lukashenko regime had imposed its own candidates to run the local Polish minority organization, the Union of Poles. Presidential candidates like Donald Tusk and Maciej Giertych visited the embattled Poles in the Belarusian regional town of Grodno, promising to release them from tyranny.
BHHRG visited Belarus in September shortly after the fracas and as tens of thousands of local Poles were celebrating the procession and coronation of the Virgin mass. The local police were prominent in attendance – clearing a path through the throng for the clergy and statue and closing otherwise busy main streets so that the procession could pass unhindered!
As the Group has pointed out on previous occasions, Poles in Belarus have full minority status: they enjoy all the rights demanded for minorities by the Council of Europe and EU since they are allowed to use their own language in public institutions and media and attend their own schools. In 2001, local Polish Belarusians told BHHRG that their situation had actually improved under Lukashenko’s presidency whereas under the previous regime of Stanislav Shushkevich (another AEI guest) they had been forced to speak Belarusian; Poles, like Russians, saw savage cuts in spending on their education. By contrast, under Lukashenko, new Polish language schools have been built, for instance, in the town of Vavkavysk, the site of the disputed congress of Poles in Belarus at the end of August, 2005. At the same time members of the Group also met Andzelika Borys, the wronged candidate for chairmanship of the Union of Poles in Belarus But, far from being silenced by persecution, she appeared to be a guiding force in the local media, surrounded by foreign journalists anxious to hear her unflattering opinion of President Lukashenko.

Double-standards about nationalism typify the AEI’s approach: When it suits “New Atlantic” expansionism to promote radical nationalism then it is a plucky movement for freedom. When a multi-cultural society with extensive and expensive minority institutions funded by the tax-payer is in the firing line, then it is abused as “nationalist” or “xenophobic” regardless of realities. The indifference to the rampant anti-Semitism in the “New European” Baltic States and Ukraine is just one example of Washington’s double-standards. Imagine if Lukashenko’s supporters had published anti-Semitic diatribes accusing his opponents of Masonic ties while raising monuments to volunteers in the wartime Waffen SS? Would the AEI or the State Department be able to contain their contempt ? Yet, visit Latvia or Lvov and the deafening silence of the New Atlantic order’s proponents about anti-Semitism there is shocking.
The concern of the new regime in Warsaw for minority rights abroad would be more plausible, if Poland accorded its Belarusian and other minorities similar rights to those enjoyed by Poles in Belarus. So restrictive is the Polish regime’s control over the Belarusian minority there that its cultural institutions – it has no schools! – are subject to the Ministry of Interior! If Poland was not the darling of NATO, a country which subjects its largest ethnic minority to the police ministry would be a public scandal. Unlike, Poles in Belarus, Belarusians in Poland have no right to speak their own language in public institutions or set up their own schools. In fact the organization is intimidated, its newspaper censored and under regular police surveillance. Warsaw uses repeated financial audits as ways of intimidating and crippling Belarusian-language journals and NGOs. Yet the EU, the Council of Europe and US embassy are silent on this repression of an ethnic and religious minority. Meeting an ethnic Belarusian journalist in today’s Poland is rather like meeting an anti-Communist dissident a quarter of a century ago. In a tiny office, whispers are exchanged after a lengthy period of gaining trust. Who is to say that the inquisitive outsider isn’t an informer? What would the Interior Ministry say if it heard about any criticisms of the “New Europe’s” model state?
Belarusians don’t seem afraid to criticise their president despite his label as “the last dictator in Europe”. But Lukashenko faces elections in 2007 and the international community is determined he should go. The animus directed against Belarus under his leadership is wholly due to the country’s failure to embrace the kinds of ‘reform’ policies demanded by the West; human rights concerns are merely crocodile tears. Such ‘reforms’ have devastated neighbouring Poland. Crossing the border between the two countries reveals the extent of the problem: fields are cultivated in Belarus and filled with weeds in Poland. If Lukshenko’s Belarus collapses, the situation for large number of Poles who depend on it for cross border trade, including the importation of cheap, smuggled fuel, will deteriorate further.
But, 2007 is still some time away and the arrival of Sikorski could signal a more aggressive policy by Warsaw towards Minsk. He has called for “teeth” to be given to America’s Belarus Democracy Act (2004), the law modelled on the Iraq Freedom Act (1998) now being implemented there with the well-known consequences.[3] In fact, it can’t be ruled out that Poland might launch an attack on Belarus on the pretence of protecting its minority there – very much as Hitler did in Czechoslovakia in 1938 and in Poland itself in 1939. The Polish media is also ratchetting up the rhetoric: on 23rd November, two Polish newspapers blacked out their front pages as a dramatic commentary on the absence of a free press in Belarus.[4] The recent selection of an ethnic Pole, Alexander Milenkevitch, to be the opposition candidate for the presidency of Belarus against Lukashenko suggests that Polish interference in the elections there could surpass Warsaw’s open taking of sides in Ukraine’s “Orange” election. Will a casus belli be manufactured out of Milenkevitch’s candidacy?
Poland’s relations with Russia are set to deteriorate. Things started to go sour in the immediate post election period when Russia banned Polish meat imports, claiming that they were unsafe due to the use of falsified veterinary certificates. There are worries, already expressed in the German press, that relations with Poland could become complicated. The new chancellor, Angela Merkel, has stated that she supports the demands of post-war German expellees (Landsmannschaft) which includes large financial compensation.[5] As if to underscore future difficulties, English language Polish newspapers now contain advertisements offering large swathes of land and property for sale in former German areas of Poland. Perhaps the owners want to divest themselves of such real estate before it loses value under a sustained and possible successful assault from the Landsmannschaft.
Further a field, Sikorski pledged to rethink Warsaw’s commitment to the withdrawal of Polish troops from Iraq - despite the war’s unpopularity with the majority of Poles. However, lately Warsaw has stated that they will, in fact, leave in 2006. Whether Minister Sikorski will ignore the needs of his old friends and patrons in Washington is still open to debate.
In one of his last contributions to the debate about how to reinforce American forces abroad, Sikorski wrote in an AEI publication in the summer, 2005, “With the right incentives… Poland could field substantial forces in Iraq and Afghanistan that could relieve American troops at tolerable expense.” Sikorski emphasises the problems the US Army has at home in recruiting young people to serve in hostile environments like Iraq. Instead Central European states like his native Poland can provide “boots on the ground,” for instance, “it should be able to send over 10,000 men and women overseas.”
The situation there is growing urgent. “The Iraqi insurgency… in no mood to do the decent thing and go home in time for next year’s midterm congressional election… the United States needs to act soon if the [Central European] troops are to arrive on the battlefield in time”![6] It would be odd for an American commentator to put solving the Republican Party’s political difficulties as a US national security priority, but isn’t it even stranger that a Polish patriot only months from taking the oath of office as Defence Minister of the Polish Republic should have prefaced his strategic case for recruiting Poles to serve abroad by considerations of political expediency for Washington’s wobbling Republican majority?
Since Sikorski’s appointment, a proposal has emerged to build, at the behest of Washington, a star wars defence system on Polish soil but critics fear that instead of a genuine defence for the NATO alliance such a system could be used to cover pre-emptive strikes on real or putative rivals of the United States.
Before returning to active service in Polish politics Sikorski emphasised that the Polish Ministry of Defence should promote using “private contractors for managing bases and training on the scale of the United States.” He has also rushed to offer Poland as an alternative location for US forces should they leave ‘Old European’ destinations like Germany. Although the new Polish government has pledged an anti-corruption struggle to quash the cronyism so typical of post-Communist Poland, as late as the summer Sikorski was arguing that privatised services to the military would become popular with the bloated officer corps when “former officers learn that people like themselves will mostly administer them”[7]!

On 25th November, Sikorski held a dramatic news conference to reveal

1, 700 previously secret Warsaw Pact documents, including maps, that detailed how the Soviet Union planned to launch a nuclear war on Western Europe that would have caused, according to military experts in Warsaw, the annihilation of Poland.[8] It was admitted that this plan was a putative counter- offensive to a possible NATO nuclear first strike. In other words, NATO could have obliterated Poland before the Warsaw Pact responded - logic that seems to have escaped the new Minister of Defence. Mr Sikorski’s contempt for Communist-era politicians and commanders ready to sacrifice young Poles for their Superpower patron’s security would ring less hollow if he had not set himself up in the recent past as a potential recruiting sergeant for a Polish occupation force in Iraq.
Sikorski also issued veiled threats against former Communists and those who had participated in Warsaw Pact activities, like the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, saying that it was important for citizens “to know who was the hero and who was the villain”. One such ‘villain’ is General Jaruzelski who has fallen in and out of favour since 1989. Most Poles probably regard him as a ‘villain’ but, for handing them over to the ravages of shock therapy rather than pre-empting (to use a favoured AEI term) a bloody invasion by Soviet troops in 1981. In his memoirs, although Sikorski finds General Jaruzelski “personally decent… by comparison with Walesa’s buffoonery” he condemns him for “helping the Soviets control Poland.” As Jaruzelski’s successor in the Warsaw Defence Ministry, Sikorski damns his predecessor, the author of martial law in 1981, for a strategic blunder: “Holding absolute power, he could have introduced bold market reforms”![9] What kind of society would “bold market reforms” without democracy have produced? Perhaps the growing electoral apathy of Poland’s marginalized people is beginning to reveal it.
Sikorski’s threats of retribution against the former Soviet-backed regime is echoed by PiS and Kaczynski who have vowed to sweep away the “old communist forces that have remained hugely powerful” in Poland.[10] But several of Kaczynski’s ministerial appointees once held prominent posts in the Party. The new Foreign Minister, Stefan Meller, was First Secretary of the Socialist Youth (ZMS) in the 1960s. His parents spent the war in Vichy-occupied France but were so devoted to the Leninist cause that they returned to Poland at the height of the Stalinist period in 1946 with the young Stefan. Until 1968, Meller worked in Polish military intelligence. When the new Deputy Minister of Justice, Andrzej Krize, was a judge he “sentenced opposition activists to imprisonment for from one to three months for having participated , in a demonstration on 11 November 1979 on Independence Square in Warsaw”.[11] However, unlike other “relics” of the old regime, such people (including former president Kwasniewski) transferred their allegiance from one Big Brother to another and are, therefore, exempt from PiS and Sikorski’s ‘lustration’ campaign or examination by a future Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Conclusion

The Washington-based Sikorski has set out an ambitious agenda for a future, “reforming” Polish Defence Minister. However, despite his new and demanding portfolio, it is unlikely that the political ambitions of someone as formidable are yet fulfilled. He will have his eyes on the next presidential election which, at the moment, is five years away. Yet, if Kaczynski falters or ‘corruption’ scandals appear to dog him like other previous Polish leaders, Radek Sikorski’s prospects could be answered sooner rather than later. Whether ordinary Poles fully realise where the aggressive neo-con policies which he represents could lead them remains to be seen. Poland has enjoyed the mixed blessing of being the original laboratory for the Post- Communist reform agenda. In the 2005 pre-election period lavish ceremonies took place to mark the 25th anniversary of Solidarity. But many of the leading actors in the Gdansk events have long felt betrayed by the high-jacking, as they see it, of what was originally a workers’ movement; they refused to take part in the official celebrations and organised their own ‘fringe’ events. As for ordinary Poles, rather than beat the Solidarity drum many now bask in the nostalgia of a time when there was full employment, proper health care and free vacations.
Such a revelation comes as a surprise to many visitors to Poland who have been exposed to propaganda painting Poles as unreconstructed patriots who will endure any hardship to ensure that their powerful neighbours, Germany and Russia, never again hold sway. This distortion has enabled the ‘reformers’ to downplay the malaise that grips the country. The signs are that Mr. Kaczynski and his PiS led government will further intensify the patriotic myth as they fail to revitalize the economy and cut unemployment, like all previous post-1989 governments. Radek Sikorski has already set the scene for an aggressive policy involving military expansionism, witch hunts for ‘reds under the beds’, and confrontation with perceived enemies like Russia. Could it be that totalitarianism, under a new kind of regime but in a familiar guise, is returning to Poland?


[1] See Radek Sikorski, The Polish House. An Intimate History of Poland (Weidenfeld & Niocolson: London, 1997),
[2] “Belarus – next target in the “axis of evil”? – News item, www.oscewatch.org 27th November, 2002,
[3] See “Interview with Radek Sikorski” in Belarusian Review 16/4 (Winter, 2004): http://www.belreview.cz/articles/2876.html,
[4] Adam Easton “Polish press in Belarus protest” BBC, 18th November, 2005 http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/4463658.stm,
[5] “Merkel to prioritize Expellee Center – Deutsche-Welle, 18th November, 2005 www.dw-world.de,
[6] See Radek Sikorski, “Defense Reform in Europe: The Case of Poland” The American Enterprise Institute/New Atlantic Initiative (July/August, 2005),
[7] See Radek Sikorski, “Defense Reform in Europe: The Case of Poland” The American Enterprise Institute/New Atlantic Initiative, July/August, 2005,
[8] See “Stephen Castle “Soviet plans to annihilate Europe revealed” The Independent, 26th November, 2005, www.news.independent. co.uk/europe/article329452.ece,
[9] See Radek Sikorski, The Polish House. An Intimate History of Poland (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: London, 1997), 211. Although Sikorski lavished praise on Jaruzelski’s nemesis Lech Walesa when he was guest of honour at an AEI bash in Gdansk to celebrate 25 years of Solidarity on 31st August, 2005, in his memoirs he compares Walesa unfavourably with “Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the murderous leader of Afghan fundamentalists,.. and Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan guerrilla leader accused of burning his enemies at the stake” but “I was appalled by the atmosphere around him [Walesa] in the presidential palace. The language was that of the beer-hall: the ambience that of a gang of racketeers…” In summary, interviewing the founder of Solidarity was “the worst experience of my journalistic career.” Ibid., 199,
[10] Marek Matraszek “Lobbying in a new democracy – Poland” www.riskoffreedom.com issue no. 24, July 2005. Here Matraszek, a PiS supporter, puts forward the weird theory that former Communists (not the reformed Communists who are allowed into government) wield more power in Poland than ‘puny’ foreign investors,
[11] “Controversy over past of new Polish deputy minister of justice”, TV Polonia, 4th November, 2005.

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