Jarosław Kuisz

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An anti-government demonstration in Warsaw in June. Kacper Pempel/Reuters

“Of all the arts, the most important for us is the cinema”, Vladimir Lenin supposedly said. It’s not often that his words feel apt in Poland, a post-Communist country once traumatized by Soviet propaganda. But in recent weeks, as the country has been convulsed by controversy centered on a film, Lenin’s declaration has acquired a surprising resonance.

“Green Border”, by the Oscar-nominated director Agnieszka Holland, tells the story of the tragedy of migrants and those helping them at the Polish-Belarusian border. Awarded the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival, it is refined, thought-provoking and full of nuance — exactly the opposite of politics in Poland today.…  Seguir leyendo »

“Why is the election campaign so fierce?” a Scandinavian journalist asked me recently. His face reflected genuine amazement at the aggressive rhetoric of Polish politicians, towards each other and their counterparts aboard, in the run-up to the general election on October 15th. At the time, the world’s media were full of stories about a conflict over Ukrainian grain, which the Polish government was refusing to allow to cross its border, and reports that Poland was no longer sending weapons to Ukraine.

The deterioration in Polish-Ukrainian relations was dramatic. A few months earlier Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, had bestowed the Order of the White Eagle—one of his country’s highest honours—on Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelensky.…  Seguir leyendo »

Police officers at a protest against restrictions on abortion access in Poland. Jedrzej Nowicki/Agencja Gazeta, via Reuters

The war in Ukraine has thrown up many paradoxes. One of the most peculiar is that Vladimir Putin’s invasion made autocratic politicians in neighboring countries look, all of a sudden, like the good guys.

Nowhere was this more the case than in Poland. As the war shifted the global geopolitical focus to Eastern and Central Europe, Warsaw reveled in the attention. Previously reluctant to accept refugees, the country took in millions of Ukrainian women and children, opening its arms in an impressive display of solidarity. As Poland began to play an important role in Ukraine’s defense — giving major aid to Kyiv, including over 2 billion euros’ worth of military equipment — observers in the West seemed to believe that something fundamental had changed in the country.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘‘The collective fear reawakened across eastern Europe by this war is visceral.’ Photograph: Wojtek Jargiło/EPA

If the history of central and eastern Europe is being rewritten by the conflict in Ukraine, then so is the history of the north Atlantic alliance.

Two people were killed on Tuesday evening in Polish territory, struck, it seems, by a Russian-made missile. The US president, Joe Biden, and the Warsaw government sought to dial down the tension, saying on Wednesday that the missile most probably came not from Russia but from Ukrainian air defence.

The question for Poland, however, remains, as it would for any Nato member state, and especially one living in Russia’s shadow: what if this, or a similar incident, turned out to be a deliberate Russian operation after all?…  Seguir leyendo »

Territorial Defense Forces in Koden, eastern Poland, at the Belarusian border. Wojtek Jargilo/EPA, via Shutterstock

The symbolism was striking. On March 12, two weeks into Russia’s brutal bombardment of Ukraine, the leaders of France and Germany held a joint call with President Vladimir Putin. Just days later, three prime ministers from post-Communist Europe — Polish, Czech and Slovenian — traveled to Kyiv by train, despite the danger.

This divergence exposed a sharp divide in how Eastern and Western NATO member states view the war in Ukraine. For Western countries, not least the United States, the conflict is a disaster for the people of Ukraine — but one whose biggest danger is that it might spill over the Ukrainian border, setting off a global conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

Civilians in combat training with the Kyiv Territorial Defence unit on Saturday. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Two points about the Ukraine crisis are crystal clear. First, Vladimir Putin wishes to reimpose Russian control over Ukraine, whatever the price. His political dream of restoring the Soviet sphere of influence is echoed in a wishlist of “security guarantees” presented to western governments by Russia in December 2021. Nato, he maintains, should return to the pre-1997 state of affairs; Russia, apparently, need not.

Second, whatever Putin decides in the current crisis, there are real fears in central and eastern Europe that settled borders are now under threat. These fears are grounded in reason. What seemed unrealistic in the immediate post-cold war years is now again a real possibility.…  Seguir leyendo »

A demonstration against a contentious media bill in Warsaw on Dec. 19. The government has sought to muzzle independent media and create a fortress mentality. Credit Wojtek Radwanski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not long ago, Poland was seen as the most successful example of democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, a leader in European integration. It was enjoying, as the longtime European commissioner Gunter Verheugen wrote, a “new golden age.”

Today, the country is again ahead of others. Only this time, it’s in the vanguard of European disintegration and democratic dismantling. The government, led by the Law and Justice Party, has picked fights with the European Union, co-opted the courts, created legislation designed to muzzle independent media and taken a hard-line approach to women’s rights.

What happened? The answer, at least in part, lies in the past.…  Seguir leyendo »

Polish lawmakers dressed in rainbow colours to show support for the LGBT community, ahead of the swearing in ceremony of President Andrzej Duda for a second term. Photograph: Czarek Sokołowski/AP

The political and ideological project being implemented by Poland’s populist governing party, Law and Justice (PiS), has a long way to run. The re-election of the party’s candidate Andrzej Duda to the presidency last month has merely ushered in a new chapter and it will be even more demanding for liberals than what went before.

International attention may be focused on Belarus, but in Poland, ministers have just announced an autumn agenda which involves a simultaneous attack on the judiciary and the independent media. It coincides with intensifying pressure on the LGBT+ community in the form of verbal assaults from PiS figures.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘In Hungary Viktor Orbán has been allowed to rule by decree during this state of emergency without any clear time limit.’ Orbán addresses parliament about the coronavirus outbreak on 23 March. Photograph: Tamás Kovács/EPA

To say that Europe is united by its divisions is an exaggeration – but only a small one. Closing national borders during the pandemic may have been a rational health response, but the longer term political consequences become more troubling when we look at the order in which European governments began to reimpose frontiers.

Italy made the decision on 10 March, when the number of confirmed cases had already exceeded 10,000. Over the next five days, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary closed their borders one after the other, even though by that time in any of them the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases had not reach a hundred.…  Seguir leyendo »