Is the rag burning between Poland and France? After a week of spades between Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, Warsaw summoned the French ambassador on Friday following the French president’s remarks. The latter accused the head of the Polish government of the conservative Law and Justice (Pis) party “of far-right anti-Semitism, which prohibits LGBT people”. He also felt that he “interfered in the French political campaign”, pointing to his closeness to Marine Le Pen, his far-right presidential rival.
Earlier this week, Mateusz Morawiecki took Emmanuel Macron to task, accusing him of continuing to discuss with Vladimir Putin despite the war in Ukraine. “Mr President Macron, how many times have you negotiated with Putin, what have you achieved? We don’t debate, we don’t negotiate with criminals, criminals must be fought,” he said.
“No one negotiated with Hitler. Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot? “, he also launched, perhaps forgetting the Munich agreements in 1938. He also criticized Germany and its dependence on Russian raw materials, “main obstacle to very strong sanctions”.
Mateusz Morawiecki speaks “more to his conservative electorate”
Why such an outing targeting the French president? According to Dorota Dakowska, professor of political science at Sciences Po Aix and specialist in Central and Eastern Europe, the Polish Prime Minister is addressing “more to his conservative, even Europhobic, electorate than to his European partners”. These statements are part of “the historical policy pursued by the Law and Justice party: a public policy of history where, through education, research, museums, commemorations, we seek to enhance an image of the Poles as a heroic Nation fighting for its independence, against the Nazis, then against the Soviets”, recounts Valentin Behr, researcher in political science at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Paris.
The Pis has a traditional position of distrust vis-à-vis Russia. For example, he “surfed a lot on the Smolensk air disaster”, adds Dorota Dakowska. In April 2010, the plane of President Lech Kaczynski, brother of the current leader of the Pis, crashed in Smolensk, Russia, while members of the government and the army were going to attend the commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the massacre of Katyn. Several thousand Polish civilians and soldiers were killed there in 1940 by the Soviet political police. In the memorial backdrop, “there is this idea of a kind of Katyn bis, with a conspiratorial rhetoric agitated by the Pis: the Russians would have fomented a plot to assassinate the Polish president, details Valentin Behr. And Jaroslaw Kaczynski, brother of the late president, said it again this week. »
Lighting “a counterfire”
Criticized for having approached far-right parties in Europe, closer to the Kremlin, and sometimes financed by Russia, such as the National Rally, the Polish Prime Minister wanted to light “a counter-fire”, estimates Valentin Behr. “It’s a question of responding by saying ‘Putin’s real allies in Europe are the Germans, who built the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, or it’s the French government, which is trying to negotiate a compromise with a Putin who is ultimately a dictator, like Hitler or Stalin”. »
“Right now in Poland, each party accuses the other of playing Putin’s game,” confirms Dorota Dakowska. For the centrist opposition, the government and the Law and Justice party share the line of the Russian president in their ultra-conservative, homophobic positions, contrary to the right to abortion. For the government, the opposition is playing the game of the same Putin because it called for welcoming refugees in the context of tensions with Belarus at the end of 2021.
The Viktor Orban problem
On the Polish scene, Mateusz Morawiecki also wants to “hide his closeness to Viktor Orban and show other culprits. He is trying to divert attention from his alliance with Hungary, his main ally in the European Union,” underlines Dorota Dakowska. Because the Hungarian position has created dissension in the alliance of sovereigntist and Eurosceptic parties. Orban, who remained close to Putin, distinguished himself by refusing to deliver arms to Ukraine. He did not condemn the Boutcha massacre either and said he was ready to pay for Russian gas in roubles, which other EU countries refused.
In addition, the weight of history obviously comes into play, especially the Second World War and Soviet domination in Eastern Europe. “There is this idea in Poland that Russia, especially under Putin, is a security threat,” explains Valentin Behr. Poland does not want to be marginalized: “There is above all the fear of an agreement between the major European powers – France, Germany – and Russia, on the backs of Eastern European countries. A bit like that was the case – it is perceived that way in these countries – in Yalta at the end of the Second World War. The idea that by discussing with Russia, by seeking a compromise, we sacrifice the small peripheral states of Eastern Europe, considering that they are part of a Russian zone of influence. »
The fear of an extension of the Ukrainian conflict is also very present, even if Poland is part of NATO, just like Hungary. “Russia has also threatened Poland several times in the speeches of its experts on state television,” recalls Dorota Dakowska. They suggested that Ukraine should be totally pulverized and then why not Poland. There is a certain nervousness about all this, but also the conviction that we must not weaken in the face of Putin, who only understands strength. »