Poland's Kaczynski Invokes Nazis as EU Refugee Clash Deepens

  • Poland entitled to aid because of history, party leader says
  • Kaczynski says Poland has never given up claims on war damages

Poland’s ruling party hardened its position against refugees, saying the nation’s past, including the Nazi invasion in World War II, give it a moral claim to continue to receive European Union development funds regardless of its stance on immigrants.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law & Justice Party and the power behind Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s government, also said Poland had a right to assistance because it opened its markets to richer Western economies before joining the EU in 2004.

Speaking at his party’s conference in the central Polish town of Przysucha on Saturday before this week’s visit by U.S. President Donald Trump, Kaczynski doubled down on an anti-refugee message that has worsened ties with Brussels while helping revive flagging support at home. Already facing criticism that his government is backsliding on democracy, Kaczynski rejected suggestions by western leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, that EU members may suffer economic consequences if they don’t uphold the bloc’s values.

“We appreciate EU funds very much, as they’ve enabled much needed investments, but the fact that we appreciate them doesn’t mean that we lose rights to our views on historical and economic context,” Kaczynski told about 1,000 party members to loud applause. “Poland was the first country that opposed Nazi Germany, followed by the invasion of the totalitarian Soviet regime. Have we been compensated for that? No.”

The country of 38 million people is by far the biggest recipient of EU funds, with it set to get more than 250 billion euros ($286 billion). That’s the equivalent in today’s dollars of more than the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan provided to all of western Europe after World War II.

Read more: Poland Changes Course as EU Warns of Its ‘Dark Side’

Halfway through its four-year term, Law & Justice has renewed its vow to “protect” Poles from immigration and keep them safe from terrorist attacks. It has rejected a plan under which its predecessor agreed to host about 7,000 immigrants from the Middle East and Africa to help tackle the worst migration crisis since World War II.

‘Social Disaster’

“Nobody will force us to accept a social disaster because we receive EU funds,” Kaczynski said. “You all know I’m talking about immigrants who are flooding Europe. There’s no reason for us to lower our standard of life.”

Combined with generous social handouts to parents with multiple children and a pledge to return Poland to its Catholic roots, the anti-immigration pledge has kept the party atop opinion polls. It had support of 42 percent of voters, compared with 21 percent for the biggest opposition party, the Civic Platform, according to a June 8 survey by CBOS.

The stance hasn’t come without consequences. The European Commission has launched infringement procedures against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for rejecting refugee quotas, highlighting a divide in the 28-member trading bloc after anti-immigrant political parties lost French, Dutch and Austrian elections earlier this year.

Questioning EU solidarity may turn out to be short-sighted if the conflict in Ukraine escalates and Poland needs help to cope with a real flood of refugees, according to Ryszard Schnepf, Poland’s former ambassador in the U.S from 2012 to 2016.

“Reheating the issue of war damages, even if meant for domestic political consumption, is dangerous as it may open Pandora’s box,” Schnepf said on Monday. “What if the other side starts questioning post-war treaties with Poland?”

Polish Truckers

Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who’s in charge of economic policy, also criticized comments last week from Macron, who scolded some eastern members for treating the EU as a “supermarket” by accepting aid but not upholding all of its ideals.

Morawiecki, an advocate of a bigger state role in the economy, said richer countries can’t complain that cheap Polish workers have entered their markets when their businesses operate in Poland and crowd out local competitors. He has orchestrated the “repolonization” of the nation’s banks, buying the nation’s second-biggest lender from Italy’s UniCredit SpA in a deal that was completed last month.

“There are many Polish truck drivers in parking lots near Paris or Amsterdam, but there are also many French supermarkets, Dutch banks, and media companies controlled by Germans on the streets of Polish towns,” Morawiecki said, to loud applause. “We would eagerly swap.”

— With assistance by Konrad Krasuski, and Wojciech Moskwa

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