Kaminski: another example of the Tories' hardline on Europe

This article appeared on the Guardian’s Comment website
Tories will come to regret Euro allies
29 October 2009

Michal Kaminski might support Israel, but so does Nick Griffin. Cameron will one day have to climb out of the hole he has dug.

Again, the problem of the Tory approach to Europe is raised on the Today programme and in the House of Commons. Has the time now come to have to a full public debate on the Conservative party's alliance with the hard-right parties in east Europe? Much has focused on the personality of the Polish politician, Michael Kaminski.
What do we know of Kaminski? In the 1980s, when every Pole was waiting for the end of communism, he joined as a student a far-right Polish party. There were plenty of other groupings he could have joined. Instead, Kaminski went out of his way to join and be active in a party (NOP in its Polish acronym) that belonged to the European group of fascist parties, and he wore the symbol of the prewar Polish Falanga movement, which was notoriously antisemitic.
This summer, Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, had this to say on the record about Kaminski and the NOP:
I do not comment on political decisions. However, it is clear that Mr Kaminski was a member of NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-Nazi. Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne (which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented.
The chief rabbi objected to the cruder headlines placed above his statement and, like any religious leader, hates being quoted in a party political row. But he has never withdrawn his initial statement.
The real problem lies with British politics. David Cameron and William Hague imposed Kaminski as leader of their new European parliament group ,which they set up after breaking all links with Europe's mainstream conservative parties such as Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP and Angela Merkel's CDU. Immediately, the Tory press office had to rewrite Kaminski's political history. His Wikipedia entry was altered by someone using a House of Commons computer. Editors were phoned up and urged not to give any publicity to the Yorkshire Tory MEP, Edward McMillan-Scott, who protested about the rise of what he called "respectable fascism" in the European parliament. Michael Heseltine, whose Toryism is unquestionable, has expressed his hope that Cameron will take the Tories back to the mainstream of conservative European politics.
After the July decision of Cameron to make the rightwing Pole the leader of Tory MEPs, the Observer journalist, Tony Helm, remembered that he had come across Kaminski when he was the Berlin correspondent of the Daily Telegraph in 2001. Helm covered the visit to Jedwabne the town in Poland where hundreds of Jews were massacred in 1941. Their killers were fellow Poles, not German Nazis. The then Polish president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, went to Jedwabne to apologise for the massacre. Kaminski organised a protest and used ugly language to denounce Kwasniewski and downplay the slaughter of the Jews.
When contacted by Helm, Kaminski blustered and changed his story, but in subsequent interviews with Martin Bright of the Jewish Chronicle, Kaminski has not resiled from his belief that he was right to protest the Polish government's apology for the Jedwabne massacres of Jews at the hands of Poles. He even said he would say sorry when "Jews apologised for killing Poles". Kaminski was not alone. Other Polish conservative politicians, including those more centrist than Kaminski, were unhappy about Kwasniewski's atonement statement. But only Kaminski, eight years later, continues to try to make relative the massacre of Jews at Jedwabne.
Does this make Kaminski antisemitic? William Hague on the Today programme offered what might be termed the "Nick Griffin defence". Last week on Question Time, Griffin said he was pro-Israel and supported the Israeli army's attack in Gaza. Does this wash away Griffin's many years of anti-Jewish statements and acts? Hague and other Tory propagandists such as Daniel Hannan and Iain Dale – who are almost manic in their obsession with proving that Kaminski is the right man to lead the Conservative MEPs in Strasbourg – pray in aid the Pole's support for Israel. I don't doubt it is sincere, just as I don't doubt Griffin enjoyed seeing Israel deal harshly with Palestinian Muslims. But it does not remove the questions Kaminski fails to answer, nor the questions many are asking in Europe and North America about why exactly the Conservatives have to be so strong in supporting this particular man.
Is Kaminski an out-and-out antisemite? No. The politics of Jewish issues in Poland is rooted in national identity questions. There are, to put it carefully, not many Jews in Poland against whom antisemitic politics might be organised. Kaminski is a populist nationalist. His language on gay people would get him expelled from any British party. Many of the MEPs from his party appear regularly on Radio Maryja, which even the Vatican has rebuked for its antisemitism.
But the Conservatives should be asking Kaminski to withdraw his statements about Jedwabne, apologise for his attacks on a brave Polish president, Alexander Kwasniewski, who, like Willy Brandt, was willing to make symobolic atonement for the crimes done to Jews in the second world war.
Instead, William Hague and his epigones such as Daniel Hannan want to dig ever-deeper the black hole that Tory European parliament policy has fallen into. As more research is carried out into the utterances of Kaminski's fellow MEPs and as the spotlight shines on the banalisation of Jew-killing in the second world war and the downplaying of contemporary antisemitism, the Conservatives will regret this alliance which shames British parliamentary democracy.