After Brexit takes place (if it ever does), Poland will be the most pro-American country left in the European Union. But Poland is just the most dramatic symptom of Europe’s own division. The Poles, along with the Hungarians, openly question EU dictates. Other countries, like Italy and Slovenia have elected governments that are skeptical of EU mandates as well. Here, Tunku Varadarajan talks to Professor Ryszard Legutko about Poland’s stance toward the EU:
Just as the American public is divided over Mr. Trump, Europe has its own deep fissures. The most prominent example is Brexit, Britain’s vote, months before Mr. Trump’s election, to leave the European Union. A close second may be the EU’s clash with Poland, its largest Eastern European member.
One reason Poland infuriates the EU, according to Ryszard Legutko, is Warsaw’s unswerving pro-Americanism. After Brexit, Poland will be “the most Atlanticist country in the EU,” says Mr. Legutko, a professor of ancient philosophy who also represents Poland’s conservative governing party at the European Parliament.
“That’s why we have the notion of strengthening the eastern flank of NATO with American troops,” he tells me in an interview at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan. “I do not think that a substantial reduction of the U.S. military presence in Germany will happen soon, but one cannot exclude such a possibility, once we remember how quick President Trump can be in taking decisions.”
The European Union reflects the order and the spirit of liberal democracy in its most degenerate version.” That, he tells me, is why the EU “doesn’t merely have individual dissidents in its midst, but also dissident states.” The prevailing EU attitude “not only toward Trump, but also toward Hungary, Poland, Italy and other dissident governments,” he says, is that they are “accidents, unnatural deviations, that could and will be quickly corrected.”
In the Polish case, Brussels is attempting to apply some muscle toward that end. Poland’s governing Law and Justice Party enacted a law, which took effect this week, imposing a retirement age of 65 on the country’s Supreme Court judges. The aim was to force out some long-sitting liberal jurists and replace them with more-conservative ones. Brussels accuses Poland of violating the EU treaty and is threatening to suspend the country’s voting rights in the union.
“More than 80% of Poles want the legal system to be reformed,” Mr. Legutko says indignantly. “They have had a very bad experience with the courts.” In the Polish Supreme Court—“a body of 100 judges, so with nothing in common with the U.S. Supreme Court”—there are “still members who faithfully and shamelessly served the communist regime in the past.”
The EU’s elites, Mr. Legutko says, are unbending in their belief that “one has to be liberal in order to be respectable, that whoever is not a liberal is either stupid or dangerous, or both.”
Hungary, under Viktor Orbán, is also an EU dissident. It was, Mr. Legutko says, “the first to be attacked by the elites because of Prime Minister Orbán’s rejection of liberal ways.” But he thinks Brussels sees Poland as a bigger threat: “Hungary is a small country. Poland is not.
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