Trump’s fascist contagion gives the anti-Brexit cause what it lacked: an emotional heart | Jonathan Freedland | Opinion

To the remainer, and even to the neutral, our current politics contains a big mystery. Put simply, where is the sentiment we hoped to call regrexit? Where is the collective outbreak of buyer’s remorse? After all, the evidence that Brexit will be the greatest error in our national history since Munich is piling up. It’s not just that a process the leavers used to say would be quick and easy is proving to be long and torturously difficult, or that the European economies are growing while ours is sluggish. It’s more fundamental than that.

It’s the fact that ending free movement will deprive our hospitals of nurses, our old-age homes of care workers and our farms of essential workers: recruitment of EU nurses is already down 96%, while farmers are already warning of food rotting in the fields.

It’s the contradictions, which are legion. We did this supposedly to stop sending money to the EU, yet now we’re negotiating over how many tens of billions we’ll pay into Brussels coffers (this time getting nothing in return). We did this to make parliament supreme once more, yet now Brexit necessitates a withdrawal bill that would see a massive shift of power away from MPs, as the executive grabs enough unchecked authority to make a Tudor king blush.

The Brexiteers tacitly concede this reality through their quiet dropping of the old promises. No longer do they insist that leaving will bring eternal sunshine. Now the best they can offer is the glum hope that things might, eventually, be no worse than if we stayed. Witness the pro-leave economist Andrew Lilico confidently telling the BBC earlier this summer that the country might recover from the transitional pain of Brexit by 2030.

When the best that can be said for leaving is that it might one day be as good as remaining, and when the worst points to national catastrophe, you might expect the public mood to shift. And yet the polls detect little sign of change. Overall, the two camps are broadly where they were on referendum day, with few leave voters having changed their mind.

The explanation surely lies in the nature of the 2016 vote. Remainers may wish it to have been based on a calm assessment of empirical evidence, so that fresh evidence now would shift opinions. But it wasn’t like that. Much of what drove that vote, like all votes, was emotion. This was remain’s weakness. And it still is.

Even now, anti-Brexiteers struggle to articulate a case that matches the emotional power of “take back control”. It certainly resonates when you say that it’s wrong to shrink the horizons of a generation of young Britons, who will now be denied easy access to an entire continent. But the deepest emotional argument for remain looked not to the future, but to the past. It centred on the second world war.

Donald Trump

‘Donald Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

It contemplated the long, lethal history of Europe and saw the European Union as the answer. For a continent that had been gripped by the fever of nationalism and hatred, the EU proved to be an antidote, soothing the brow with its spirit of co-operation and sharing of sovereignty. The Britain that had fought two world wars surely was obliged to cherish, rather than risk, this remedy to the European disease.

That argument barely flew in the referendum campaign. When David Cameron tried it, Boris Johnson mocked him for it. But mentioned even less was the conflict that followed 1945: the cold war that divided Europe with a wall and left the continent – and the world – in the permanent shadow of nuclear apocalypse. Its absence was strange, given that it had been Britain, and especially the British Conservative party, that after the cold war was over had seen the EU as the means to bind together a once-ruptured Europe. It was the Tories who pushed for EU enlargement, to include the ex-communist nations of the east. Once again, the EU’s mission was to heal a continent shattered by conflict.

A reminder of that vision has come this week not from a politician or pro-remain pamphleteer, but a fictional character. George Smiley, who lived the cold war in the shadows, returns in John le Carré’s masterful new novel, A Legacy of Spies. He makes a fleeting, enigmatic appearance in which he asks himself what was it all for. “I’m a European,” he says. “If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason.”

Smiley, a veteran of both the hot war against fascism and the cold war against Soviet communism, had known that darkness first-hand. But for those who voted in last year’s EU referendum, perhaps it all seemed too long ago. Those demons were slain, the EU no longer needed.

Still, if that’s how it looked on 23 June 2016, it looks different now. In a talk on Thursday night, Le Carré spoke of the behaviour of Donald Trump and others as “absolutely comparable” to the rise of fascism in the 1930s. “It’s contagious, it’s infectious. Fascism is up and running in Poland and Hungary. There’s an encouragement about,” he said.

This is a warning to take seriously. Hungary is indeed led by a man who boasts that he is building an “illiberal state”, while Poland’s government is trampling over fundamental democratic protections, including an independent judiciary and freedom of the press (and Trump is cheering them on as they do so).

The US president is not making America great again, but he is making the 1930s current again. Perhaps, then, and in a way he would not want, Trump is providing the anti-Brexiteers with the one thing they always lacked: an emotional heart to their argument. Trump and the fascist contagion is reminding us why the EU exists: to ensure that the neighbourhood we live in is never again consumed by the flames of tyranny and hatred.

On that fateful day in June 2016, it’s possible that some of those who voted leave did so because they believed that democracy and peace were now safe and secure in Europe. In the short time that has passed since, we have seen that those things are, in fact, fragile. As the head of Nato warns that the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation, Britain’s duty, to use a word that might make Smiley wince, is surely to defend the body that helped lead Europe out of its darkness. Instead, we are turning our backs and walking away.

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Donald Trump and the snub that wasn’t | Open Door | Paul Chadwick | Opinion

During Donald Trump’s recent European visit a news item briefly flared in which the Polish president’s wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, was presented as having snubbed the US president. She ignored his outstretched hand and instead shook the hand of Trump’s wife, Melania.

Or so the footage, circulated by several major media outlets including the Guardian, seemed to show. It was enhanced by at least one closeup of Trump looking piqued, and it garnered a big audience. On social media, some celebrated Trump’s apparent discomfort. Kornhauser-Duda was hailed for landing a subtle blow for women.

But the item was wrong. By suggesting a deliberate snub it misled.

More complete footage of the incident showed Kornhauser-Duda unable to greet Melania when the Polish couple joined the Trumps on stage because the two women were positioned to the extreme left and right of the husbands standing side by side between them. Having already shaken Trump’s hand once, when the music stopped and applause began Kornhauser-Duda walked in front of both husbands towards Melania, looking at her and stretching out a hand. Kornhauser-Duda did not appear to see Trump’s hand, which he was offering as she passed after Trump had shaken hands with Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda. As soon as she had shaken Melania’s hand, Kornhauser-Duda turned and without hesitation accepted Trump’s.

When a reader drew attention to the way the edited version distorted what had taken place, I raised the issue with the relevant Guardian editors, and they immediately accepted the need to correct. Staff who put together the item for the Guardian told me they based it on wire service material from a regular and reputable source. In that material the incident was already framed as an apparent snub. It did seem to fit into the growing catalogue of Trump’s odd greetings.

Donald Trump: awkward handshake moments compilation

I am satisfied that the Guardian did not set out to mislead, but that was the initial effect. Several other major media organisations made the same mistake and some also corrected it, as the fact-checking organisation Snopes has reported.

The episode, in itself minor, is nevertheless a reminder of two major points that contemporary journalism cannot afford to neglect. The first is the ease with which the label “fake news” can be applied with a superficial persuasiveness to flawed journalism. President Duda defended his wife on Twitter and exhorted followers to fight fake news.

Second is the connection between trust and willingness to admit and correct significant error. Not new, of course, but in this period of serious challenge to the legitimacy of institutional journalism it is worth restating. Readers know, from their own life experience, that all institutions are fallible. Institutions that pretend to infallibility merit wariness. Admission of imperfection, not denial of it, earns trust.

Early this year, the Trusting News project, by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, carried out an online survey of 8,728 Americans, who ranked four UK-based media organisations among the 10 most trusted news sources in the United States: the Economist came first, Reuters third, the BBC fourth and the Guardian seventh.

The methodology explains limitations, so caution is required with the results. The trust ranking is based on the proportion of “trusted” versus “not trusted” responses given about 39 news sources that were mentioned at least 10 times. The report does not tackle the puzzle: why do a sample of Americans, invited into the survey via 28 US newsrooms, rate British news sources so highly? One commentator wondered if it is the accent.

Asked what made a news source credible to them, respondents frequently mentioned: presenting information on both sides of an issue or argument; using multiple sources; and fact-checking.

Trust is hard-won, easily lost. In the continuous effort to maintain credibility – as well as commercial viability – institutional journalism needs to be vigilant to avoid cases like the snub that wasn’t. When they happen they need to be corrected frankly and quickly.

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Father of Barcelona attack victim Jared Tucker: 'He was the happiest I've seen him' – video

Jared Tucker, from California, was in Barcelona with his wife to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. The couple were on a tour of Europe and had been enjoying drinks on a pavement cafe when the attackers struck

Continue reading…

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Democracy is dying – and it’s startling how few people are worried | Paul Mason | Opinion

A rough inventory of July’s contribution to the global collapse of democracy would include Turkey’s show trial of leading journalists from Cumhuriyet, a major newspaper; Vladimir Putin’s ban on the virtual private networks used by democracy activists to evade censorship; Apple’s decision to pull the selfsame technology from its Chinese app store.

Then there is Hungary’s government-funded poster campaign depicting opposition parties and NGOs as puppets of Jewish billionaire George Soros; Poland’s evisceration of judicial independence and the presidential veto that stopped it. Plus Venezuela’s constituent assembly poll, boycotted by more than half the population amid incipient civil war.

Overshadowing all this is a three-cornered US constitutional face-off between Trump (accused of links with Russia), his attorney general (who barred himself from investigating the Russian links) and the special prosecutor who is investigating Trump, whom Trump is trying to sack.

Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it. Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.

The problem is it sets new norms of behaviour. It is no accident that the “enemies of the people” meme is doing the rounds: Orbán uses it against the billionaire George Soros, Trump uses it against the liberal press, China used it to jail the poet Liu Xiaobo and keep him in prison until his death.

Another popular technique is the micromanaged enforcement of non-dissent. Erdoğan not only sacked tens of thousands of dissenting academics, and jailed some, but removed their social security rights, revoked their rights to teach, and in some cases to travel. Trump is engaged in a similar micromanagerial attack on so called “sanctuary cities”. About 300 US local governments have pledged – entirely legally – not to collaborate with the federal immigration agency ICE. Last week the US attorney general Jeff Sessions threatened federal grants to these cities’ local justice systems, a move Trump hailed using yet another fashionable technique – the unverified claim.

Trump told a rally of supporters in Ohio that the federal government was in fact “liberating” American cities from immigrant crime gangs. They “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die”, he said. At school – and I mean primary school – we were taught to greet such claims about racial minorities with the question: “Really? When and where did this happen?” Trump cited no evidence – though the US press managed to find examples in which gang members had indeed hacked each other.

This repertoire of autocratic rule is of course not new; what makes it novel is its concerted and combined use by elected rulers – Putin, Erdoğan, Orbán, Trump, Maduro, Duterte in the Philippines and Modi in India – who are quite clearly engaged in a rapid, purposive and common project to hollow out democracy.

Equally striking is that, right now, there is no major country prepared to set positive global standards for democracy.

In her 2015 book, Undoing the Demos, UC Berkeley political science professor Wendy Brown made a convincing case that the world’s backsliding on democratic values has been driven by its adoption of neoliberal economics.

It is not, argues Brown, that freemarket elites purposefully embrace the project of autocracy, but that the economic microstructures created in the last 30 years “transmogrify every human domain and endeavour, including humans themselves, according to a specific image of the economic”. All action is judged as if it has an economic outcome: free speech, education, political participation. We learn implicitly to weigh what should be principles as if they were commodities. We ask: is it “worth” allowing some cities to protect illegal migrants? What is the economic downside of sacking tens of thousands of academics and dictating what they can research?

In his influential 2010 testament, Indignez-Vous (Time for Outrage!), the French resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel urged the rising generation of social justice activists to remember the fight he and others had put up during the drafting of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They fought for the word universal (not “international” as proposed by the main governments) in the full knowledge that arguments about sovereignty would sooner or later be advanced to deny the rights they thought they had secured. It seemed odd, back then, even to those of us sympathetic to Hessel, to receive this long, repetitive lecture about the concept of universality. But he was prescient.

The tragedy today is that there is not a single democratic government on Earth prepared to defend that principle. Sure, they will issue notes of displeasure over the death of Liu Xiaobo or Maduro’s crackdown. But they refuse to restate the universality of the principles these actions violate. The fight for universal principles has to begin – as Hessel recognised – with individual people. We must keep restating to ourselves and those around us that our human rights are, as the 1948 declaration states, “equal and inalienable”. That means if one faraway kleptocrat steals them from his subjects, that is like stealing them from ourselves.

Every democratic advance in history, from the English revolution of 1642 to the fall of Soviet communism in 1989, began when people understood the concept of rights they were born with, not to be granted or withdrawn. Today that means learning to think like a free human being, not an economic subject.

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Minnesota man, 98, wanted for Nazi war crimes in Poland but son decries ‘charade’ | US news

As the history of Nazi hunting approaches its inevitable end, it could seem anticlimactic that one of its final chapters concerns a 98-year-old resident of an assisted living facility in a quiet, tree-lined section of north-east Minneapolis.

In March, a Polish judge issued an arrest warrant for Michael Karkoc, for his alleged role as a “top commander” of a Nazi-affiliated Ukrainian nationalist unit that massacred 44 civilians, including women and children, in the Polish village of Chłaniów in 1944.

Last week, the Polish embassy forwarded that request to the US state department, where it will be reviewed before being sent to the justice department. From there, if approved, it would go to the US attorney’s office in Minnesota, where a hearing would be set in front of a magistrate judge. Age and health are not factors considered in extradition requests, and the task of Polish prosecutors will be a narrow one: to establish probable cause that Karkoc committed the crimes.

The request could be a decisive development in a saga that has made headlines since it first came to light four years ago, when the Associated Press published an exposé of the unit that killed the villagers in a reprisal attack.

German prosecutors investigated Karkoc, but dropped the case in 2015 after determining he was unfit to stand trial. This makes the Polish extradition request the first – and perhaps only – official legal action against Karkoc, who emigrated to the United States in 1949 and is a naturalized US citizen.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Polish move comes as something of a relief to his most vigorous defender, his son Andriy, a retired mortgage banker. Karkoc Jr, who has in the past spelled his name Karkos for professional reasons, is eager to see the case tried in court, and not just in the media.

“If the Polish government is stupid enough or shameless enough to continue this charade, at least at such time we will be presented, hopefully, with whatever it is they claim they have in the form of evidence,” Andriy Karkoc told the Guardian.

Karkoc brought a folder full of press clippings with him to his interview with the Guardian, most of them heavily underlined, with notes written in the margins. When he read the more dramatic passages about his father, his voice dripped with sarcasm.

He said he would not let any journalist speak directly with his father. Michael Karkoc’s only comment on the allegations on the record has been his brief remark to the AP: “I don’t think I can explain.”

However, Andriy Karkoc quoted his father asking: “How can such a thing happen in America? I fought the Germans, the Nazis tried to kill me and my family – and now they’re calling me a Nazi?”

“The horror inflicted on my father is immeasurable and incalculable,” said Andriy Karkoc. “The physical, emotional and spiritual toll was/is devastating and debilitating,” he said in a text. “The only way anyone will ‘hear’ from my father is directly from me.”

Andriy Karkoc said the accusations were part of a Russian-led smear campaign against Ukrainian nationalists, and asked whether the AP’s sources are credible and will pass legal muster.

So was Michael Karkoc the “patriot, father, and freedom fighter” his son describes, or a Ukrainian nationalist who helped kill innocent civilians on behalf of his Nazi benefactors, as his accusers have alleged?

Freedom fighter or Nazi enforcer?

Karkoc’s military history was omitted from the forms that he – or, his son says, the US army major assisting him – filled out when he came to the United States in 49. But he did not try to hide it later in life.

Much of what is known of Karkoc’s war record comes from his own memoir, From Voronezh to the Legion of Self Defense, which he self-published in 1995 in Ukrainian. He donated copies to the Library of Congress and to the University of Minnesota, and also published it in Ukraine in 2002. The cover lists his full name and his nom de guerre, ‘Wolf’.

Michael Karkoc was born on 6 March 1919 in Horodok, now in north-west Ukraine but part of Poland until the outbreak of war in 1939. Horodok and its surrounding areas were seized and occupied by the Soviet Union as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of August 1939.

According to his memoir, in 1939, Karkoc fled to escape a Soviet arrest warrant after refusing to join the local police, and settled in German-occupied Poland and the town of Hrubieszów.

In 1941, he was conscripted into the German army and participated in the invasion of the Soviet Union, but he deserted a year later after seeing the mistreatment of Red Army prisoners of war, a moment he recounts in his book.

Michael Karkoc in 1990.

Michael Karkoc in 1990. Photograph: Chris Polydoroff/AP

He then joined the Ukrainian nationalist underground, which is where his history becomes more murky and contested.

According to his memoir, Karkoc joined what was an active underground guerilla unit, the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion. According to his memoir, they started with fewer than 100 men, but their ranks swelled to close to 600 members. They were affiliated with a faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalist called the OUN-M, a rightwing political party dedicated to an independent Ukraine.

In a key passage in his memoir described to the Guardian by his son, Karkoc recounts the pact struck with the Germans, in which the Nazis agreed to stop killing Ukrainian civilians, release political prisoners and supply the legion with arms and ammunition – and in return the legion would agree to help the Germans fight the invading Red Army.

Andriy Karkoc says his father indicated in his memoir that the Germans only had two “liaison officers” assigned to his unit, and that the legion acted independently, as Ukrainian freedom fighters defending their people from the Russians, Polish partisans, and, when necessary, rival Ukrainian groups. Toward the end of the war, in January 1945, Karkoc indicates that the legion’s remaining members were absorbed into Germany’s 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS at the Austrian-Yugoslavian border.

But according to Ivan Katchanovski, a University of Ottawa historian who has researched the relationship between Ukrainian nationalist groups and the Nazis, the bond between the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion and the Germans was much closer from the start. Katchanovski said the Nazis only released prisoners affiliated with the legion’s specific political faction — the OUN-M — and that, in practice, the legion became a police unit tasked with doing the Germans’ dirty work.

“This battalion [the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion] and many ex-policemen in this battalion fought against Soviet and Polish partisans,” Katchanovski said. “But this ‘fight’ included massacres of civilians under pretext of anti-partisan actions. They were a special collaborationist police unit under overall German command.”

A Nazi officer’s death

According to his son’s account, Karkoc says the legion had a German commander, Siegfried Assmuss, who was killed by Polish partisans shortly after they crossed the Polish border.

But he does not say anything about his unit attacking the village of Chłaniów the next day, when the massacre occurred.

While Polish authorities may have other evidence, so far, two sources, both discovered by the AP, form the basis for establishing Karkoc’s alleged involvement in the killings.

First, the 1972 trial in Poland of another commander of the Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, Teodozy Dak, who was convicted of war crimes in 1972 and later died in prison. For its original exposé, the AP relied, in part, on more than a thousand pages of trial transcript from the archives of the Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw. The papers contain a statement from another soldier in the legion, Vasyl Malazhenski, who said his unit were ordered to “liquidate all the residents” of Chłaniów as a reprisal for the death of a German SS officer.

“It was all like a trance: setting the fires, the shooting, the destroying,” Malazhenski recalled, according to the AP. “Later, when we were passing in file through the destroyed village, I could see the dead bodies of the killed residents: men, women, children.”

The trial documents also contain testimony from a witness who recalled how soldiers from a “Ukrainian SS force” machine-gunned villagers and set homes on fire. The AP additionally obtained an SS document, separate from the trail files, which indicates Dak and Malazhenski were under Karkoc’s command. And later, the AP conducted its own interview with a survivor of the massacre, who recalled the moment a soldier aimed his machine gun at her, only for it to jam as he pulled the trigger, and how the men who raided the village appeared to be speaking Ukrainian.

But for Andriy Karkoc, the statements are not reliable because the trial took place when Poland was under communist rule.

“It’s a show trial, because that’s what the communist government did,” he said. “I do know that it’s evidence provided by the KGB because that’s what they do. And that’s all I need to know.”

While the trial documents point to the role of the legion in the attack, they do not specifically indicate that Karkoc gave the order.

Evidence for that came five months after the AP’s original report, when the news agency said it had received a 1968 interrogation file of a man under Karkoc’s command, Ivan Sharko.

In the document, Sharko described how his commander, “the Wolf” – the same name Karkoc used to sign his memoirs – ordered his men to cordon off the village. “The legionaries surrounded the homes, set fire to them with matches, or with incendiary bullets, and they shot anyone who was found in the homes or anywhere in the streets,” he said in the interrogation file, according to the AP.

Lviv Oblast, now part of Ukraine. Michael Karkoc was born in the town of Horodok.

Lviv Oblast, now part of Ukraine. Michael Karkoc was born in the town of Horodok. Photograph: Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

But Andriy Karkoc says the document is not credible because it comes from an agency that was under KGB control. He said that it would not be admissible in a US court: Sharko died in the 1980s and cross-examination would be impossible.

“Seriously, that’s your legitimate source to point the finger for war crimes on my dad? The KGB?” Andriy Karkoc said. “Why is somebody pretending that the KGB is the font of justice and truth, particularly when it comes to crimes against humanity?”

Associated Press spokeswoman Lauren Easton told the Guardian: “The Associated Press stands by its stories, which were well-documented and thoroughly reported.”

At the end of the war, Michael Karkoc ended up in camp for displaced persons at Neu Ulm, Germany, with his wife and two young sons. Karkoc’s wife died at the camp, but he and his children survived, and emigrated to Minneapolis in 1949, eventually settling ina neighborhood with a pronounced Ukrainian immigrant population. Karkoc took a job as a carpenter with a construction firm and remarried. He had four more children, a son, Andriy, and three daughters. He retired in 1982, but continued to work as a carpenter for about a decade afterwards, his son said.

The controversy surrounding Karkoc goes beyond what is included in the Polish extradition request.

The AP’s reporting and Katchanovski’s research also indicate that the legion may have been responsible for other massacres, allegations that Andriy Karkoc again vigorously disputes.

For now, though, the case is focused on what happened in Chłaniów in 1944, and Karkoc is confident that his father will not die in jail.

“The Nazis didn’t kill him, the communists didn’t kill him. AP ain’t going to kill him,” he said.

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Trump says west is at risk, during nationalistic speech in Poland | US news

Donald Trump said the survival of the west was at risk, as he lashed out at hostile forces ranging from Islamic terrorism to Russia, statism and secularism, during a speech in Poland.

At the start of a four-day trip to Europe, the US president gave a highly nationalist address in Warsaw suggesting that a lack of collective resolve could doom an alliance that had endured through the cold war.

“As the Polish experience reminds us, the defence of the west ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail,” Trump said at the site of the 1944 uprising against the Nazis. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive.”

Trump, who delivered the speech on Thursday before flying to Hamburg for the G20 summit and bilateral meetings with the leaders of China, Russia and Germany, painted a picture of the west facing existential challenges in the effort to “defend our civilisation” from terrorism, bureaucracy and the erosion of traditions.

Trump pointed to Poland, which in the last century endured Nazi and Soviet occupations, as an example of resolve. “The story of Poland is the story of a people who have never lost hope, who have never been broken, and who have never forgotten who they are,” he said.

In a nod to the conservative values he shares with Poland’s controversial ruling Law and Justice party, Trump also called on the west to defend its traditions.

“Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty,” he said. “We must work together to counter forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the south or the east, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

Trump delivers his speech in Krasinski Square.

Trump delivers his speech in Krasinski Square. Photograph: East News/Rex/Shutterstock

According to Polish press reports, Trump was enticed to Warsaw by promises of a rapturous reception. The Polish government, which paid for supporters to be bussed in from provincial areas, appeared to have delivered, as the president was greeted by a boisterous, highly partisan, crowd in Krasinski Square, one of Warsaw’s smaller public spaces.

The crowd expressed its sympathies ahead of Trump’s address, chanting the name of a Law and Justice politician as he took his seat and chanting “thieves” and “traitors” at opposition politicians as they entered the event’s VIP area.

The US president’s address was regularly interrupted by chants of “Donald Trump!” and “USA”, though he hit a less popular note when he praised the contribution to Poland’s freedom of Lech Walesa, the former dissident, president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has long been denounced by Law and Justice leaders as a traitor and Communist informant.

For the first time Trump said he “stood by” article 5 of the Nato charter – the provision requiring members to defend each other from attack – but he coupled that much-sought promise with a fresh attack on unnamed Nato states for “failing to meet their full and fair financial obligations on defence spending”.

He claimed his tough criticism of those states that had not met the Nato target of raising defence spending to 2% of GDP was paying off, with billions more being committed to defence across Europe.

Trump made repeated references to threats posed by Islamic terror. “Our borders will always be closed to extremism and terrorism,” he said. “We cannot accept those who reject our values and use hatred to justify violence.”

He made a rare criticism of Russia, accusing Moscow of “destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere”, and claiming Vladimir Putin was supporting “hostile regimes including Syria and Iran”.

He also issued a Reaganesque call to tackle bureaucracy, which he framed as more than just an inconvenience or byproduct of a rules-based society. “On both sides of the Atlantic, our citizens are confronted by yet another danger – one firmly within our control. This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles. The steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The west became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”

The audience assembled for Donald Trump’s address in Krasinski Square.

The audience assembled for Donald Trump’s address in Krasinski Square. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

In addition to the people gathering around Krasinski Square, many of whom appeared to have turned up out of curiosity, Trump was faced by a message lasered on to the city’s Stalinist-era Palace of Culture that read “No Trump, Yes Paris”, a reference to the Paris climate change agreement from which Trump withdrew the US.

A small left-wing party held a protest with activists dressed as women from The Handmaid’s Tale, an American TV drama series based on a novel about a future totalitarian society, in protest over Trump’s treatment of women.

Some of Trump’s supporters were also disgruntled. Most of the space in Krasinski Square, Warsaw’s fourth or fifth largest public space, was taken up by VIP seating and media and security zones, leaving many supporters who had been bussed into Warsaw from the countryside, perhaps early in the morning, to stand in nearby side streets.

“They should let us in with them, after all they are here because of us,” one supporter told a reporter, referring to government politicians. “Not one of them looked at us as they walked in.”

Earlier in the day, Trump and Andrzej Duda, the Polish president, discussed their disapproval of their respective countries’ domestic media outlets, as Trump defended his criticism of CNN and his tweet depicting him body-slamming a figure bearing a CNN logo.

“They have been fake news for a long time, and they have been covering me in a dishonest way,” Trump said, as Duda nodded enthusiastically. “We don’t want fake news.”

After Poland’s ruling Law and Justice assumed office in 2015, Duda signed a media law allowing the government to take political control of state media outlets. Liberal media outlets have been squeezed financially by the cancellation of subscriptions by state institutions, and the withdrawal of advertising revenues.

Trump: there will be consequences for North Korea’s ‘very, very bad behaviour’

Asked about North Korea’s recent missile tests and Trump’s planned response, the US president replied: “I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I don’t like to talk about what I have planned. I have some pretty severe things we’re thinking about. I don’t draw red lines.”

Trump closed the press conference with a rambling response to a call from a reporter to “finally answer yes or no” to whether he thought Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election.

“I think it could very well have been Russia,” he replied. “I think it could well have been other countries. I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.”

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Trump’s Warsaw speech pits western world against barbarians at the gates | US news

Donald Trump used the word “civilisation” 10 times in his first speech in central Europe. The man who brought us “America first” has expanded his vision, to a clash of civilisations.

And at a time of anxiety over America’s role in the world, the message was clear: the US is still the leader of western civilisation, whether western civilisation wants it or not.

The crowd gathered in Warsaw – many arriving on free buses laid on by Poland’s conservative ruling party – seemed happy enough at this prospect. They chanted “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”, echoing one of his barnstorming rallies in the homeland. From Britain, the former UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage quoted the speech approvingly on Twitter.

But Trumpsceptics across Europe are unlikely to have been impressed by a speech of two halves: a reassuring pledge of support for Nato and dig at Russia mixed with coded – and sometimes not so coded – warnings that the barbarians are at the gate.

“Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty,” said Trump, wearing his customary red tie. “We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the south or the east, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.

“If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.”

It was not hard to detect the voice of the White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the nationalist-nihilist who once promised that the Trump era would be “as exciting as the 1930s” and is a student of The Fourth Turning, a book that argues history moves in cycles and America is on the brink of its latest violent cataclysm.

Nor was it hard to see the hand of Trump’s speechwriter Stephen Miller, principal author of Trump’s inaugural address in January, in which the word “America” appeared even more frequently than “civilisation” did this time, most notoriously as “American carnage”.

Speaking at Krasinski Square – which memorialises the Warsaw uprising against Nazi occupation – Trump tried to conflate Poland’s second world war history with the defence of western traditions.

“The people of Poland, the people of America, and the people of Europe still cry out ‘We want God’,” he said.

In 1939, Trump recalled, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. “That’s trouble,” it occurred to him. “That’s tough.”

He made reference to the Katyn massacre, the Holocaust, the Warsaw ghetto and the murder of millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens. Then came four decades of communist rule.

From there, Trump tried to make the leap to contemporary external threats including terrorism and extremism, propaganda, financial crimes and cyberwarfare. In a paragraph guaranteed to please Republican hawks at home, he offered rare criticism of Vladimir Putin, urging Russia to end its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran.

But then came a bizarre pivot to Bannon’s stated goal: the deconstruction of the administrative state.

“This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people,” Trump said. “The west became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”

It would have been hard to imagine Ronald Reagan declaring: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall of bureaucracy!”

Trump changed gear to more traditional ground for US presidents in Europe. He praised the “community of nations” and said the bond between the US and Europe was maybe “even stronger” than ever. Despite his own war on the media, he heralded “the right to free speech and free expression”. He spoke of empowering women and valuing the dignity of every human life. And finally he threw his weight firmly and explicitly behind Nato’s article five, the mutual defence commitment.

Nevertheless, this was a speech about reassuring doubters around the world that America is still flying the plane, even if the passengers would prefer Barack Obama to be the pilot. The implication that cultural essentialism and national purity face existential threats hovered ominously throughout.

In what the pro-Trump Fox News called “a staunch defence of western values during a rousing speech”, the president insisted: “The fundamental question of our time is whether the west has the will to survive.

“Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

A few minutes later, he answered his own questions: “Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the west will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilisation will triumph.”

Trump was following in a long line of American presidents who made historic addresses in Europe, including John F Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and Reagan. But his attempt to set out a Trump doctrine will be remembered not for a quotable zinger but for muddled thinking and dark nativism.

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Poland’s courting of Trump is a few supporters short of a picnic | Remi Adekoya | Opinion

Poland’s rightwing government is pulling out all the stops for what it sees as its greatest foreign policy achievement to date: a visit to Warsaw today by US president Donald Trump. In what has to be acknowledged as wily diplomacy, the Law and Justice (PiS) government is appealing to the US president’s achilles heel: his vanity, reportedly luring him with promises of adoring crowds, in contrast to the chillier receptions he can expect in western Europe.

The ruling party is bussing in its supporters from all over Poland, encouraging them to take part in a “great patriotic picnic” on the occasion of Trump’s visit. The idea is to make the big man feel as good about himself as possible, which will hopefully benefit Poland in some way, such as a more categorical assertion that Nato would – under US leadership – protect Poland from any aggression from Moscow.

PiS is working hard to tickle Trump’s ego. The party’s leader and Poland’s most important politician, Jarosław Kaczyński, described Trump’s decision to visit Warsaw as a “new success” for Poland. “[Others] envy it, the British are attacking us because of it.” Meanwhile, the defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, described Trump as “a man who is changing the shape of the world’s political scene”, adding that his “historic” visit would “once and for all, erase [Poland’s] experience of occupation and Soviet enslavement”.

There used to be a time when one could predict US foreign policy in rational terms; today it’s more an issue of how Trump’s ego will react to a particular situation. As a narcissist enthralled with those who offer him affirmation, Trump will likely respond to Warsaw’s lavish praise in kind. Additionally, he shares much ideologically with the current Polish government: hostility towards Muslim migrants and doubt over climate change and German leadership in the EU.

Trump is already responding to Warsaw’s fawning. His national security adviser, HR McMaster, promised the American president would deliver “a major speech” in Warsaw where “he will praise Polish courage throughout history’s darkest hour, and celebrate Poland’s emergence as a European power. And he will call on all nations to take inspiration from the spirit of the Poles as we confront today’s challenges.” McMaster added that Trump would “lay out a vision” for “America’s future relationship with Europe” in Poland. Were the last promise to materialise, this would certainly be viewed as a diplomatic coup for Warsaw, and a snub to the likes of Berlin and London where such an important speech might have been expected to be made.

Indeed, there is the danger that Trump will use his Warsaw speech to draw a divisive line between what he would likely portray as a commonsense eastern Europe, proud of its (Christian) identity and values and a multiculturalism-obsessed, politically correct and naive western Europe that has lost its way and left itself vulnerable to Islamist terrorism. The Polish government will certainly hope for such a message, to help legitimise its anti-migrant and increasingly anti-EU stance, particularly in the eyes of its domestic audience.

But while the Polish government may well hear the message it wants from Trump, its attempts to portray Poles as more sympathetic to Trump than western Europeans will be more illusion than reality. Recent Pew Research suggests Poles are generally very sceptical of the US president. Only 23% expressed confidence in Trump to “do the right thing regarding world affairs”, compared to 22% in the UK, while 57% of Poles lack confidence in him. In comparison, at the end of his presidency, 58% of Poles expressed confidence in Obama’s handling of world affairs.

Moreover, the Pew survey showed 46% of Poles expressed confidence in Angela Merkel’s global leadership. Twice as many Poles now trust the global leadership of a German chancellor over that of an US president, a remarkable development taking into consideration Poles’ historically strong pro-US stance and post-second world war fears of “German domination”, which are consistently stoked by the current government in Warsaw.

So even if news agencies beam pictures of seemingly numerous pro-Trump Poles from his visit in Warsaw, this should not be taken to mean widespread support for the US president or his policies within Polish society in general. Most of the crowd will be the bussed-in PiS supporters, who are generally more sympathetic towards Trump, plus of course a number who might turn up out of curiosity at seeing first-hand the world’s most controversial politician.

Polish society may generally be more conservative and sceptical towards Muslim migrants than western European nations, but the majority of Poles are by no means fans of Trump’s crass and clueless style of leadership. Don’t be fooled Mr President, Poland ain’t Trumpland.

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