The Polish MEP Michał Kamiński is an antisemite, homophobe and nationalist. But David Cameron is courting him
Michał Kamiński, the Polish MEP and leader of the European Conservative and Reformist grouping in the European parliament, has been invited to attend the Conservative party conference. His opposition to the Lisbon treaty has led British Conservative MEPs to view him, and the Law and Order Party (PiS) that he represents, as natural allies.
But the picture is far from simple. In eastern Europe the road from communism to democracy has been a difficult one. While it has brought freedom, that freedom has at times meant the freedom to hate. Kamiński has impeccable anti-communist credentials. He has experience both as a parliamentarian and adviser to the Polish president. He has an equally strong record as an antisemite, homophobe and Polish nationalist. His politics fit as easily into the Polish as they do into the European context. He is at ease with both constituencies.
In the last years of communism in the 1980s, Kamiński belonged to the Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (National Rebirth of Poland – NOP), a youth nationalist organisation that took as its inspiration the ideology of Roman Dmowski. At the same time, NOP declared its ideological proximity to the Falanga, a fascist youth organisation established under the umbrella of the National Democratic movement in the late 1930s. Dmowski and the Falanga were committed to a Polish state on racial principles, where the Jewish community would not have a place.
During the first years after the fall of communism, NOP openly proclaimed its determination to establish a national state. In its fight against the perceived evils of western influence, NOP mobilised skinhead groups that became notorious for attacking leftwing parties and the opposition. In the 1990s Kamiński moved on to became a deputy for the Nationalist Christian ZChN party. More recently, he has assumed the role of presidential advisor, since he is believed to be a smooth and well-connected operator in the Polish and European political scenes.
Fortunately for those who are trying to understand the man, he has left a good record of his political activism. A consistent element of his pronouncements has been his desire to defend Poland's interests against its enemies and critics. In 2001, when the leftwing president Aleksander Kwaśniewski made an official apology for atrocities committed by Poles against Jews in the town of Jedwabne in 1941, Kamiński made a public declaration in defence of those who felt that Poles had nothing to feel ashamed of. Likewise, his electoral call for "Poland for Poles" could have only one meaning in the Polish context: that non-Catholics had no place in post-communist Poland. In 2005, Kamiński publicly used a particularly vulgar phrase to describe homosexuals when interviewed on television about the then mayor of Warsaw's refusal to give permission for a gay pride march.
When Kamiński wants to be seen as a European statesman, his earlier pronouncements are quoted against him. His response has been to refuse to engage with his critics. The reason for this disdain lies in his confidence that what he has said – and the values to which he very likely still subscribes – cannot injure his political base in Poland. In a country where no politician, clergyman or activist has been prosecuted for antisemitic pronouncements, even though these are neither few nor discreet, what Kamiński has to say on the Jewish question is widely condoned. To the horror of those Poles who had hoped for a process of reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews after the debates on Jedwabne, an attempt was made last year to prosecute Jan Gross, the author of a book about Jedwabne and a more recent book on antisemitism after the war, for slandering Poland.
Tolerance of sexual diversity, meanwhile, is not something most Poles understand or want to understand. Since sexuality is seen through the prism of the Polish woman's duty to bear children for the nation, the rights of individuals and pleas for tolerance fall on deaf ears. Kamiński's contempt for homosexuals is matched by the contempt of the ruling Polish centre-right for women and their right to assert control over their bodies.
If Kamiński is made to feel politically comfortable in Strasbourg and at the Conservative party conference, it will confirm his conviction that good use can be made of him and the Polish PiS grouping because of their opposition to the Lisbon treaty. Kamiński's friends have previously threatened to refuse to co-operate with other conservatives when Kamiński was not elected as vice-president of the European parliament for the Conservative and Reformist bloc. If they withdrew now, the bloc would be very close to dissolution, because parliamentary rules require a grouping to bring together MEPs from 7 countries.
Kamiński's previous visit to the United Kingdom was in 1999, when he led a delegation to comfort General Pinochet, pending his extradition to Spain. Kamiński gave the ailing general a replica of the Black Madonna icon. Both men were apparently deeply moved and Kamiński declared this to be the most uplifting moment of his entire life. One wonders if his meeting with David Cameron will have the same impact.
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