Don’t blame the Poles for Nazi atrocities | Letters | World news

Kate Maltby’s piece (William and Kate have been duped into endorsing Poland’s ugly nationalism, 21 July) seeks to lay blame for the atrocities that happened in Poland squarely with the Poles, rather than the Nazis. This ignores the vast number of Polish people who risked and lost their lives trying to save Jews. It’s worth recognising that Poland was the only country in occupied Europe where there was death by decree for assisting Jews. Let me remind her that Poles have the highest number of people of all nations to be recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel. My own grand-uncle, Jan Kawczynski, was brutally murdered along with his wife and young daughter by the Nazis for harbouring Jewish families on his farm. The only reason the uprising was “doomed to fail from the start” was because of Stalin’s unwillingness to assist, and his desire for it to fail. Let me assure Kate Maltby, the spirit and courage of the soldiers who fought in 1944 to free Warsaw is the pride and joy of all Varsovians, Poles as well as all other people of goodwill.
Daniel Kawczynski MP
Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

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Poland’s royal visit and judicial independence | Letters | World news

I feel I have to protest against some outrageous claims by Kate Maltby in her article (Less a royal visit, more a coup for ugly nationalists, 22 July) relating to the recent visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Poland. I would like to emphasise that the decision to visit Gdańsk and the northern part of Poland where Stutthof is located, as well as the other sites in Warsaw, was entirely at Kensington Palace’s discretion. The Polish side was obviously consulted but didn’t wish to nor could impose its suggestions regarding the royal programme.

I don’t deny the author’s right to hold her own views on the political situation in Poland, but playing down the suffering of Stutthof’s prisoners or of the Warsaw uprising’s victims, just to prove the author’s preconceived thesis, is simply disgraceful. Those people deserve as much respect as the other victims of the German Nazi terror. No one’s suffering is better or worse. And certainly both memorials – the Stutthof and the Warsaw Rising Museum – deserved the royal visit, and their victims being commemorated by the duke and duchess.
Arkady Rzegocki
Polish ambassador

We, as legal scholars, are watching the constitutional events in Poland with concern and sadness. Judicial independence is a central tenet of the rule of law, an ancient principle which is a foundation of European constitutional thought, and whose adoption in the Polish constitution symbolised a step to the other side of the iron curtain. Indeed, judicial independence and impartiality is so fundamental as to be protected as a basic human right by article 6 of the European convention on human rights. It is a fundamental precondition to constitutional accountability of the executive. We strongly voice our support for Polish judges, as well as the protesters and all those otherwise opposing the newly proposed legislation in Poland which threatens judicial independence. We stand by them in this crucial moment in Polish and European constitutional history.
Paul Craig Professor of English law, Law Faculty, University of Oxford
Sandra Fredman Rhodes professor of the British Commonwealth & the United States
Catherine O’Regan Professor and director of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights
Alison Young Professor of public law
Liora Lazarus Associate professor
Tarunabh Khaitan Associate professor
Nicholas Bamforth Fellow in law
Barbara Havelkova Shaw Foundation fellow in law
Law faculty, University of Oxford

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William and Kate have been duped into endorsing Poland’s ugly nationalism | Kate Maltby | Opinion

Stick “Poland” into Google News this week, and you’ll have been rewarded by a slew of headlines about the Duchess of Cambridge’s latest dress. Today, the duke and duchess finish their summer tour of Europe. The Telegraph has gushed: “‘She reminds us of Princess Diana’: how Germany and Poland fell in love with the Duchess of Cambridge”. This has been billed as the “Brexit tour”: a visit to shore up links with Poland’s Eurosceptic leaders; followed by a few days making nice to Angela Merkel in Germany. Down on your knees, Britons, and thank God for Jenny Packham diplomacy.

But something else has been happening in Poland this week. On Monday, President Andrzej Duda was shaking hands with Kate and William at the presidential palace; by Tuesday he was delivering a televised address promising to soften his party’s latest attempt to take over the judiciary. That proposed softening is unlikely to have a major effect: late on Wednesday night his ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) rushed through legislation that allows the government to dismiss at will any of the 83 judges sitting on the country’s supreme court. A bill pushed through last week, before Kate and William touched down, gave parliament greater control over the body that would appoint their replacements (known in Poland as the KRS) and also gives the justice minister power to fire the judges who head lower courts.

You don’t need to have followed the ins and outs of Polish judicial legislation to know that the young British royals have spent this week shaking hands with some deeply unpleasant people. For some years, Poland has been slipping into nationalist authoritarianism: the ruling PiS is notorious for attempted crackdowns on queer rights and abortion. It’s sweet that the duchess enjoyed a family-friendly performance at the Gdansk Shakespeare festival; perhaps next time she could pop into Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny, which is being investigated for “incitement to murder” after explicitly satirising the church and state. Except that she can’t. Most of the creatives in its recent production of The Curse have seen their contracts with other theatres pulled after government pressure. They still face prosecution.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

The Foreign Office already knew that by sending our photogenic young royals – complete with cutesy Prince George and Princess Charlotte – we were whitewashing an appalling government. But it gets worse. Examine the itinerary for the Cambridges’ visit to Poland, and you’ll notice that Kate and William have been co-opted into Law and Justice’s campaign of historical revision. Central to its mission is the ambition to rewrite Poland’s official history, particularly that of the second world war. Gone are any references in school textbooks to Polish collaboration with the murder of Jews and other minorities. The Princeton historian Jan Gross, whose award-winning book Neighbors explored the 1941 massacre committed by Poles against Polish Jews in the village of Jedwabne, has faced repeated harassment under new laws that ban publicly insulting the Polish nation. This is state-sponsored Holocaust denial.

You might not have heard of Stutthof, a Nazi concentration camp near Gdansk; you are more likely to have heard of Auschwitz. But the royals were taken with their mass of photographers to Stutthof because it was initially built to imprison ethnic Polish leaders among the resistance and intelligentsia. Speaking to me for this article, the LSE historian Professor Anita Prazmowska described Auschwitz as an uncomfortably prominent site of Jewish suffering in Poland. “Eventually Jewish prisoners were also held, and killed, at Stutthof, but the government are here because they are looking to publicise a rival site of Polish martyrdom.”

While in Gdansk, it would have been easy for the duke and duchess to visit the landmark Museum of the Second World War, led by internationalist Paweł Machcewicz. Naturally they didn’t. Political rows dogged the museum throughout five years of construction; Machcewicz was fired by the government within two weeks of its official opening this January. The government is now taking steps to ensure that the museum exhibits focus less on the antisemitic consequences of historic eastern European nationalism and more on the heroism of the Polish people.

So back in Warsaw the royals were taken instead to the Museum of the Warsaw Rising, a tribute to Polish resistance fighters who held out against Nazi forces for 63 days in 1944. This museum has become the government’s pride and joy. Although it did involve major civilian suffering, as Prazmowska puts it: “The uprising was doomed from the beginning, but under Law and Justice it has become the most important event in Polish war history.” President Trump was also taken to the museum earlier this month.

Brexit has left us scrabbling for allies in Europe. Each of the other 27 member states must approve EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s final offer and this tour has been specifically designed to flatter the one nation most likely to soften a punitive deal. Poland has particular reasons for resenting the heavy hand of Brussels at present: this week’s constitutional power-grab has led to condemnation by the EU and even threats to strip Poland of its voting rights. Law and Justice already has strong links with Tory Eurosceptics through the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (Acre) grouping in the European parliament.

So this is Britain now. Brexit has left us sufficiently weak that we can no longer afford to show democratic leadership in the world. Instead, we send our royals to coo over revisionist history and sup with parliamentarians in their quick breaks between tearing up a constitution. The royals should be ashamed for taking part in this week’s whitewash. But we should save much of our anger for the politicians who deployed them.

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Spanish royals on state visit to UK, with Brexit issues unavoidable | UK news

The king and queen of Spain start a state visit to the UK on Wednesday in which the two royal families will seek to play down simmering rows over a string of post-Brexit issues between the two countries.

The three-day visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia is the first to the UK by the Spanish royal family since 1986, and was agreed before the Brexit referendum result. It was then deferred twice, first due to the extended negotiations in Spain in March 2016 to form a new government, then by a deferral by Britain due to Theresa May’s decision to call a general election.

Spanish politicians, including the foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, are accompanying the king and queen.

It is being argued that talks on post-Brexit rights for 300,000 UK citizens in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK – including 3,000 scientists working in higher education – are being conducted at the EU level in Brussels, and therefore need not be raised at length during the state visit. But the Gibraltar dispute, a roadblock in Anglo-Spanish relations further complicated by Brexit, will be unavoidable. Its status is largely a bilateral issue, and Felipe has previously described the British claim to the Rock as an historical anachronism.

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has not been asked to any of the talks or major evening dinners by the UK government. In a speech this week in Malaga, he claimed that the Spanish government would try to insert a clause into any future UK-EU agreement on working rights so that it would not apply to EU citizens working in Gibraltar.

The UK ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, said ahead of the visit: “We are not going to negotiate a solution that is against the interest of the people of Gibraltar. Our position has been very clear. The important thing is to talk about the practical issues and interests we all have in common.” He said the priority was to safeguard the working rights of the approximately 7,000 Spaniards who make the daily crossing to work in Gibraltar.

The vast majority of Gibraltarians voted to remain, fearing a loss of access to the EU if there was a vote for Brexit. In March, the issue shot up the list of Brexit priorities when it appeared Brussels had endorsed the idea that no EU-UK Brexit deal could apply in Gibraltar without the agreement of the Spanish and British governments.

The Spanish government has insisted it will not stop a wider Brexit deal over Gibraltar, which it regards primarily as bilateral issue, but it has a bargaining card it can play.

During the state visit, the UK government will also be reluctant to be drawn into the issue of the Catalan independence referendum to be held in October. The Catalonian government has urged Madrid to follow the example set by the UK government, who granted Scotland an official and binding referendum on secession in 2014.

British ministers are likely to argue that the Spanish constitution makes no provision for such a referendum, as Spain is a unitary state. But if there is a vote for secession, nationalists in Scotland and Wales will back calls for the UK to recognise the result. The UK’s Labour Party has yet to set out a position.

The Spanish royals will be formally greeted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Horse Guards Parade on Wednesday before attending a state banquet on Wednesday evening.

Prince Harry, in his first involvement in a state visit, will take the royal couple around Westminster Abbey before the Spanish king addresses both parliaments. He will meet Theresa May accompanied by his ministers for a lunch at Downing Street on Thursday. On Friday Felipe is due to visit Oxford University where the royal couple will be greeted by the strongly anti-Brexit vice-chancellor Lord Patten.

In their eagerness to launch a new era in Anglo-Spanish relations, the British government is likely to want to highlight the flourishing trade and business relations between the two countries. The UK is the number one destination for overseas Spanish investment, reaching an accumulated 82.5bn euros by the end of 2015.

The Spanish ambassador to the UK, Carlos Bastarreche, was plucked back from the private sector to take up his posting in London this Spring, partly because of his extensive diplomatic experience at the EU.

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