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Polish president likens EU to past occupations

March 15, 2018

Poland's president has drawn comparisons between his country's EU membership and its 123 years of partitions. The government, under pressure from Brussels, rarely misses an opportunity to bare its patriotic teeth.

Duda gestures during a speech
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Keplicz

Speaking on Wednesday in southwestern Poland at an event marking 100 years of Polish independence, the country's president, Andrzej Duda, compared EU membership with his country's previous occupation by Russia, Austria and Prussia.

"Very often people ask why we need Poland and say that the EU is the most important," he said. "But between 1795 and 1918, when Poles answered to occupying powers in faraway capitals, they made decisions for us [...] and in reality, we are [now also] working on behalf of others [...] they take the money we earn through our work."

Read more: Kaczynski: Poland will stand its ground in EU spat

Poland was divided by Austria-Hungary, Prussia and Russia in a series of partitions at the end of the 18th century and regained its independence in 1918 at the end of World War I, with the fall of all three empires.

Jozef Pilsudski, a Polish general and later leader of independent Poland after 1918
Jozef Pilsudski, a Polish general and later leader of independent Poland after 1918 Image: picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library

Duda, an ally of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won parliamentary elections in late 2015, said: "We have today a sovereign and independent Poland where I believe [...] we will live better and better. Talk about it to your children."

Brussels an easy target

The country has been an EU member since 2004 and since late 2015, when PiS came to power, has been heavily criticized by Brussels for alleged violations of democratic norms and institutions. 

Critics, including the EU, allege PiS judicial reforms put the courts under government control, thus undermining the separation of powers.

In December, the EU launched disciplinary proceedings against Warsaw, which could lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the bloc.

Poland is the largest beneficiary of funds from Brussels, netting some €10 billion ($12.4 billion) a year.

PiS argued it is articulating the wishes of a predominantly Catholic society that doesn't share many of the liberal social values of its western neighbors. Party members have said they are righting what they regard as the wrongs of the post-1989 political deal that saw ex-Communists enriched and many others impoverished.  

Mateusz Morawiecki on Conflict Zone

Duda persona non grata

Also on Wednesday aides to Duda confirmed to The Associated Press that Duda had recently refused to accept a call from now former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired on Tuesday by US President Donald Trump.

Tillerson was reportedly calling to discuss possible US action over a new Polish law that makes it a crime to falsely attribute the Holocaust crimes of Nazi Germany to Poland.

PiS has placed what it calls "History Policy" at the center of its self-proclaimed goal of reinstilling Polish patriotism in Polish society.   

Critics, including the US, fear it could violate free speech.

Duda has endorsed the law but also asked a top court to check it, with a verdict likely to take months.

Warsaw has confirmed media reports according to which the US told Poland recently that its president and prime minister should not expect meetings with Trump or the US vice president until the controversy is resolved.

Polish judges under pressure

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jbh/sms (AFP, AP)