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
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
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 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.