• Clinton sees Polish democracy in retreat, risking dictatorship
  • Harsh reaction may undermine ties with U.S., opposition says

Poland’s leading politicians vented anger at Bill Clinton and slighted his wife and fellow U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump after the former commander-in-chief said the European country is embracing a leadership model seen in neighboring Russia.

Campaigning for Hillary Clinton last week, the former U.S. president said Poland and Hungary had decided that “democracy is too much trouble” and they each wanted a “Putin-like” and “authoritarian dictatorship.” The remarks intensified criticism in Washington over policies pursued by the two eastern NATO members amid concerns that their governments are backsliding on the democratic values built up following the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Clinton “completely exaggerated, and should apologize to us,” Prime Minister Beata Szydlo told radio RMF in an interview on Wednesday. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of her ruling Law & Justice party, said that “if anyone claims that there is no democracy in Poland today should undergo medical checks.”

Vocal critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertive stance in eastern Europe, Polish leaders are hoping to win a deal to boost the presence of North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops in the region at the alliance’s summit in July. Yet the tone of their reactions to Bill Clinton, who stands to return as one of the world’s biggest power brokers if his wife becomes president, could chill relations with Washington, according to Jacek Rostowski, a former finance minister from the opposition Civic Platform party.

Deputy Premier Mateusz Morawiecki attributed Clinton’s comments to what he said was foreign powers’ dislike of Poles “fiercely fighting for our own interests” and a desire to “push us into a corner,” he told TVN24 television late on Tuesday. He added that, for Poles, the choice between voting for Hillary Clinton and Trump for the U.S. presidency is like deciding between “the plague and cholera.”

‘Gigantic Misunderstanding’

Clinton made the comments in a speech praising his wife’s understanding of geopolitical changes, including in eastern Europe. The former president said she’d “keep big, bad things from happening and make good things happen” if she beat Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in November.

Clinton’s views may be based on a “gigantic misunderstanding” stoked by “the media and other factors,” said Kaczynski, the power the six-month-old government that’s fallen out with its allies after pushing through laws to consolidate its power.

The Law & Justice administration has crossed swords with the European Union and U.S. after imposing rules making it harder for the country’s Constitutional Tribunal to overturn legislation and overhauling public media and the prosecutors office. The EU’s executive arm said on Wednesday it may extend an unprecedented investigation into the country’s democratic standards unless Polish authorities make “significant progress” to resolve the months-long crisis by next Monday.

“We are carefully monitoring the U.S. election and are absolutely certain that relations with the next administration will be as warm and constructive as ever,” Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski told reporters on Wednesday, when asked about Morawiecki’s comments.

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