Central and Eastern Europe at Bifurcation Point
Vladislav GULEVICH | 25.01.2016 | WORLD / Europe

Central and Eastern Europe at Bifurcation Point

«You wanted democracy? You have it! Democracy is the tyranny of the majority. The Law and Justice Party [abbreviated to PiS] was supported by the majority of Poles. Now it can do whatever it wants. The oppressed people voted for the PiS because they wanted to see the members of previous government behind bars where they belong… The European Union should be dissolved», said Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke addressing the European Parliament.

The lawmaker was making comments on the attack launched by Brussels against Warsaw after the party led by Jarosław Kaczyński held a sweeping victory to enact the reform of Constitutional Court and public broadcasters’ laws.

The changes made the European Union exert hard pressure on the Polish government. Many people perceived it as another step taken by Germany to ensure its undisputed leadership in Central and Eastern Europe. Poland has come under a fierce propaganda attack.

Herbert Reul, the chairman of the CDU/Christian Social Union in Bavaria group in the European Parliament, stressed the need to impose 'penalties' on Warsaw. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on January 8 flagged a veto on any possible European Union sanctions against Poland, following a recent meeting with the head of Poland's ruling party. «The European Union should not think about applying any sort of sanctions against Poland, because that would require full unanimity and Hungary will never support any sort of sanctions against Poland», Orban told public radio in an interview.

Petr Mach, an external economic advisor to the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus from 2003 to 2007 and member of the European Parliament, came to Poland’s defense.

He wore a big badge that read «I am a Pole» while speaking from the European Parliament’s podium. The lawmaker said nothing threatened the freedom of speech in Poland.

Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek at the recent meeting with his Polish counterpart Witold Waszczykowski also said he believed freedom of speech would be preserved in Poland.

Waszczykowski emphasized the importance of Polish-Czech relations. He said the Czech Republic was the second largest investor in Poland after Germany. The issue of Germany’s influence in Poland has been acute during the recent 30 years. It has hit the public discourse to become a real hot topic on the contemporary agenda. In 2003 Polish magazine Wprost published an article titled «German Press: Poland Has Become a German Media Colony». Large German publishing houses dominate Polish media market.

The number of Polish media outlets, including digital versions controlled by German owners has exceeded a hundred. In Poland the need to free the national media from foreign control has become an issue to hit public light.

Independent German sources point out that the accusations of suppressing the freedom of press in Poland could be redirected from the ruling Law and Justice Party to the pro-German Civic Platform which has done a lot to attract German investments into the Polish media market.

Former Polish President Bronisław Komorowski and President of the European Council Donald Tusk are members of Civic Platform. Germans know very well what media censorship is like: Eurosceptics are treated with scant curtesy in their country.

For instance, they can easily be deleted from the list of TV channels’ guests.

According to World Press Freedom Index 2015 published by Reporters Without Borders, Poland is ranked 18th. It is trailing behind Germany which is ranked 12th. Hungary is ranked 65th lagging behind Niger (47), Mauritania (55th), and Papua-New Guinea (56th). Italy (73d) and Greece (91st) are ranked very low. It’s not so hard to understand why such European states as Italy, Greece and Hungary are placed behind Niger and Papua-New Guinea by a non-profit, non-governmental organization that allegedly promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of press. Rome, Athens and Budapest have many times criticized the European bureaucracy and opposed the policies implemented by Brussels.

The exacerbation of relations between Berlin and Brussels is an element of the ongoing struggle for regional leadership. Berlin strives to neutralize the influence of Poland in Central and Eastern Europe to nip in the bud any challenge to Germany’s leading role in the European Union. It’s important to prevent Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary from forming an alliance – the trend that starts to take shape. There is a possibility for Slovakia to join. All the countries mentioned above are members of the Visegrad Four Group. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have already refused to share the burden of mass refugee flows.

Poland is still adhering to a rather ambivalent policy, but the conflict is smouldering. Berlin can always rely on its agents of influence within the ranks of Civic Platform Party. Former Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna has said that maintaining relations with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban is detrimental to the country’s interests.

It’s easy to predict that Warsaw will rely on Washington in its efforts to counter Berlin. Central and Eastern Europe has come to the point of bifurcation. The time is right to change the trajectory leading to the split between the countries of the region and grasp new opportunities instead. Central and Eastern Europe should choose its own future.