Polish Ambassador Monika Michaliszyn: We guard not only the Polish but also the EU and NATO borders
The situation on the Polish-Belarusian border is changing not by the day, but by the hour. How do you rate it overall?
Let's start with people who have already tried to enter Poland from Belarus. There are about 30,000 of them. The number of migrants who remain in Poland is constantly changing. In October alone, 15,700 illegal immigrants tried to enter Poland. Because of this immigration, a special situation has been introduced in 183 settlements close to the border.
The Polish parliament has decided to build a special barbed wire fence with the latest equipment, video cameras and sensors on the border. Several thousand Polish army officers, border guards and the police guard the Polish border. We will strengthen these forces. This is especially true for those places that are most at risk of illegal border crossing.
The President of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, acknowledged the expansion of migrants as a hybrid attack, but we must remember that we are guarding not only the borders of Poland but also the borders of the EU and NATO. Latvia and Lithuania are doing the same. That is why co-financing is needed, as well as moral support from the whole EU. Services directly headed by President of Belarus Lukashenko are acting cynically and brutally to destabilize the Polish-Belarusian border. This is an action that was planned many months ago in retaliation for supporting the Belarusian opposition. It is an attempt to put pressure on Poland and the European Union to withdraw from the sanctions that cause difficulties for the Belarussian regime. The situation on our border is tragic, and the blame can be placed on the Lukashenko regime, a country that is increasingly looking like the mafia. People who go to the border pay a lot of money. They were cynically given the illusion of joining the European Union quickly. We are trying to help all illegal migrants who have crossed the Polish border.
We treat migrants who need immediate help humanely. The Polish Agency for Strategic Reserves has already sent three humanitarian aid convoys to Belarus with basic necessities and food, to help migrants in these difficult circumstances, but these cargoes were not accepted. However, Poland will try again and again to send them to Belarus.
Very "humane" on the part of Belarus. The situation became much more dramatic and dangerous on Monday, when thousands of migrants gathered at the border, ready to invade Poland, destroying any borders.
The situation on the Belarusian-Polish border is tense. We are dealing with another element of the hybrid war waged by the Lukashenko regime. We have been monitoring the situation in Kuźnica for several days now and are ready for any scenario. There are about three to four thousand people in the immediate vicinity of the Polish border. This is the biggest attempt so far to enter Poland by force. There are about 10,000 people across Belarus ready to cross the Polish border. Several groups of migrants are being taken to the border by Belarusian services. Migrants attempt to cross the border by force. Sometimes the employees of the Belarusian services personally participate in destroying the barriers and wires.
We have more and more facts and documents that confirm the involvement of the Belarusian authorities in the border situation. Belarusian state bodies responsible for international border security are involved in international trafficking practices.
Faced with such a serious threat on the eastern border of Poland and the European Union, all public authorities are focused on one of the most important tasks: ensuring security and protecting Poland and Poles from external threats. An extraordinary meeting of the government's crisis management team was held at the Ministry of National Defense with the participation of all Polish services in connection with the crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border caused by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus. President Andrzej Duda hosted a meeting at the headquarters of the National Security Bureau.
The Polish Government is determined - we are defending and will defend the security of our country and of the European Union as a whole. We respect our international obligations. We are very grateful to the representatives of the State of Latvia for all the gestures and words of solidarity.
However, Ursula von der Leyen said that despite the demands of several member states, Brussels would not allocate funds for the construction of fences at the external borders to stop the flow of illegal immigration.
There is no consensus in the European Union on this issue. The EC says one thing, the Parliament says something else. That is why we provide money from our budget. But if there is a positive EU decision, we will, of course, accept this funding because we believe that we are protecting not only Polish citizens but also EU citizens, since our eastern border is the EU's eastern border.
This is a matter of EU defense! Our services report that people from Arab countries are still arriving in Belarus. The Belarussian regime is organizing the opening of several channels for the transportation of migrants and plans to accept more flights from the Middle East. The migration route gives a huge influence to the institutions and services that are constantly involved in organizing it. In addition, the same bodies are responsible for leading hostile actions in Belarus against Poland and the Belarusian opposition. The creation of a migration route to the European Union will be a permanent form of funding for the Belarussian regime, which is still hostile to Poland and the European Union as a whole.
Which EU leaders have addressed this issue? In my opinion, no one.
The prime ministers of three countries - Poland, Latvia and Lithuania - met online to achieve something. We are also in constant contact with both the European Commission and the headquarters of NATO. The presidents of Poland and Latvia, as well as Estonia, also discussed this topic yesterday. We are in constant contact with Frontex. It supports us with analytics, satellite imagery and border surveillance. However, real border protection activities are the responsibility of our respective civil servants.
The European Parliament recently condemned "attempts to undermine the primacy of European Union law", calling on the EU Council and the European Commission to urgently protect Polish and EU citizens. In a condemnation resolution with 502 votes for, 153 against and 16 abstentions, MEPs emphasized that the Polish Constitutional Tribunal had neither legal force nor independence and was not qualified to interpret the Polish constitution. What is this nonsense?
EU Member States are sovereign, so they have the right to oppose actions that break the law and do not comply with the rule of law. This is a breach of the European Union's treaties. We were also surprised at the reaction of the EP and perceived it as political pressure, because such a parliamentary resolution has no effect at all, only political.
Poland, like any other EU country, has the right to ask its constitutional court the question: is a particular law in line with its constitution or not? As a democratic, normal state, we assumed that the prerogatives of the Polish constitution, which we did not give up to the European Union, were superior to other laws. All the so-called old democracies follow the same path - Germany, France, Italy, Spain. The Polish Constitutional Court is in principle no different from the constitutional courts of the other Member States. The application of a different standard here is a very big problem, which was also mentioned by the Polish Prime Minister during the debate in the EP. It must be understood that there are two democratic institutions: the European Parliament and the parliament of each individual national Member State. And it cannot be that the EP takes away all the powers of the national parliaments and takes over all the prerogatives that belonged to those national parliaments.
The worrying trend of the growing influence of the biggest Member States on the EU's decision-making process and the non-contractual, gradual extension of the powers of the institutions at the expense of the Member States' prerogatives, is jeopardizing the democratic nature of European integration.
That is why we are thinking about it all the time: is it a union of Member States or a federal union of states? In our view, the EU remains a community of economic and geopolitical interests. It is also a community of values. But it is always a community of nation states. It is the homeland of Europe, not a centralized federal state.
There was also talk of the judicial reform.
Many Poles considered that the judicial system in Poland was outdated and inefficient, that court proceedings took a very long time, and that judgments were often questionable. That is why the ruling coalition decided to reform. Twenty-five years after regaining independence the judiciary needed to change. In Germany, for example, after the collapse of communism in the 1990s, the judiciary was lustrated and all members of the judiciary involved in the communist rule were suspended. This did not happen to us. Until recently, we had judges in the Supreme Court who tried activists of the Solidarność movement. But the West does not want to understand that Polish society has the right to get rid of these remnants of the communist past.
It is worth noting that many of the solutions implemented in the reform of the Polish justiciary are also used in other countries, and no one objects to them. These are double standards that we will not accept.
Moreover, the European Court of Justice has ruled that Poland must pay the European Commission a fine of one million euros a day. This decision is based on Warsaw's formal reluctance to withdraw part of its judicial reform.
This decision can still be debated, then it can be challenged, then the Court of Justice of the European Union would challenge our challenge, and so on... We think it would be better to sit down and talk. The Polish government is open to dialogue and is currently drafting a law that takes into account EC recommendations.
But we do not want to be subjected to any attempts at blackmail, because the EU is threatening us with fines or withholding funds from the Recovery Fund. So far, we have used EU funds very efficiently and fairly, and we have never been accused of corruption or waste. And no one can deny that. Thanks to these funds, we are developing the fastest in the EU.
So why should we be punished now? That we have our own traditions and perception of the world, about reforms in areas that fall within the prerogatives of the Member States? These are questions of principle. But to punish adherence to the principles by non-allocation of money, and even more so - by deprivation of money, would mean that such things could happen to any other country.
After EU officials condemned the "wrong parts" in judicial reform, there were huge demonstrations in Poland in support of EU decisions. Is that what happened?
At the same time as the demonstration you mentioned, there was another pro-government demonstration. In Poland, as in any democracy, there are occasional demonstrations during which people express their views on various issues. It is happening now, it also happened during the previous government, when there were demonstrations with a total of about 2.5 million people. Expressing one's opinion is a hallmark of a democratic state governed by the rule of law.
It is now common to read about Polexit, Poland's possible withdrawal from the European Union. Seems somewhat plausible - the EP is trying to humiliate Poland and the Poles are a proud nation...
Polexit - it can be called meaningless fake news, as our Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. This concept is also very often used by the political opposition in its internal political game and artificially generates debate on a topic that does not exist. Recent polls show that more than 80% of the Polish population is in favor of staying in the European Union. Which serious political force could stand for leaving the EU? This can only be done by someone who wants to commit political suicide. There is now almost war on our border, but there are some forces that want to spread rumors about Poland's withdrawal from the EU.
Poland has never left Europe, even when we have been subjected to unfavorable political conditions. We have protected Europe and European values many times in our history. We also protected it with our blood, for example, in 1920, when the Polish army stopped the movement of the Bolsheviks near Warsaw to Europe and beyond to the world. We are definitely Europeans. Just like Latvians. And in the 20th century, we have fought together to ensure that our countries are part of Europe and not of any communist formation.
The European Union is too important a community to bring fairy tales to life. It is a place where all EU Member States mutually benefit but also face real challenges. In the face of these challenges, it is vital that all members of the community are treated as equal partners.
We are in favor of building a strong Poland in a strong European Union, but at the same time, we want Poland to play a subjective role.
Poland will soon withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. At least that has been talked about in serious circles.
The Istanbul Convention is currently pending before the Polish Constitutional Court. But it is worth noting that Polish laws on violence protect victims of violence as much, if not more, than the provisions of the Istanbul Convention. In addition, the Istanbul Convention contains controversial claims regarding worldviews...
Polish Independence Day is November 11 - exactly the same day when Latvians celebrate Lāčplēsis Day. Coincidence? Probably. But there is some unity of heart, historical friendship and understanding between Latvia and Poland.
I've been thinking about it for about 20 years... Maybe I'm not an objective evaluator, because I feel a bit at home in Latvia. (Laughs.) We have a very long historical relationship - next year will be 460 years since the beginning of our formal relationship. Then we were together on the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita border. We also have beautiful pages of common history: the constitution of May 3, 1791, the first in Europe and the second in the world after the United States. On this basis, the division of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, the state's care for farmers, the strengthening of the army and other modern legislative solutions were adopted. The constitution of May 3 laid the foundations for democracy in Europe, which could not be accepted by three foreign absolutist empires: Russia, Prussia and Austria. Therefore, the dissolution of Rzeczpospolita soon followed. (Currently, an exhibition on the history of the May 3 constitution can be viewed in Riga, Līvu Square.)
But most deeply, in my opinion, Latvians and Poles are united in their desire for freedom. Even the struggle for freedom, because our geopolitical location shows it. In 1918, after 123 years of captivity, the Poles finally achieved their goal: winning the return of independent Poland to the European political map. It fills us with joy and pride to this day.
After the First World War, after all the dramatic events of history, Latvians were able to establish their own country. When I studied the history of Latvia, I was so happy about Latvians! In those unfavorable conditions, Latvians were able to re-establish their country. That's amazing! Of course, there were also heavy pages, including our joint fight against Bolshevism. Therefore, both nations felt very well the stranglehold of communism and totalitarianism, but Latvians, like Poles, were heroic and resilient, with a clear goal of democracy.
And, in my opinion, the situation is similar today: for us - Poland and Latvia, but also for other countries that remember the dominance of the totalitarian system - it is important to build a common future by warning of possible threats. Because we have a common historical experience. We can tell about this to others - as long as they want to listen. For example, how long have we warned Europe about Nord Stream - 2? And now Russian blackmail is taking place. And this is just the beginning. Russia never does anything without pre-determined goals that it conquers by force. And Europe is only now beginning to realize this.
We have known for a very long time and very well what the system that tried to deprive us of moral and historical values means. That is why we know so well the importance of protecting these values.
Now I really want to say: we will win anyway.
In my opinion, it is not just a question of victory, but of respect for the values that are important to the individual Member States. For Poles, as for many other EU countries, these are Christian values, solidarity and freedom. But freedom, which we understand as a responsibility. In the name of solidarity and responsibility, we are very active in helping with the Covid-19 situation. We just sent transport to Latvia with respirators, other equipment and medicines. Transport is organized under the EU's civil protection mechanism. We have also recently provided assistance to the countries of the Western Balkans.
We want to be seen as equal partners in Europe. But what happened, for example, in the European Parliament, where our Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki recently spoke? No one wanted to listen or discuss. There was no dialogue, although the EP is intended for dialogue between countries.
Energy security is also important. Poland refused to close the Turów coal mine because, as the Polish Prime Minister said, such a decision threatens the country's energy security, but the stability of the Polish energy system ensures stability throughout Europe. The EC has, of course, decided to penalize Poland with half a million euros a day for refusing to close coal mines...
These coal mines employ 3,600 people. It is the largest employer in the region, but in total, including the family members of the employees, there are about 60 to 80 thousand people closely related to the industry. Coal mined in the Turów mines provides 7% of our energy market. And now what - snip! - and we will close these mines in one day? If we do not, we will be ordered to pay a fine again. Some people should begin to realize that the EU's unity, cooperation and shared goals are more important today.
I would also like to use this chance to convey my sincere congratulations and best wishes to the readers of Neatkarīgā and to all the people of Latvia on the eve of the 103rd anniversary of Latvia's Independence. And I would also like to congratulate the Poles living in Latvia on the Polish Independence Day, which we are celebrating on November 11. I extend special congratulations to the soldiers of the Polish contingent deployed to NATO's EFP in Ādaži.