The President of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, took part in a hearing before a subcommittee of the American Congress, the subject of which is the state of democracy in Poland and Central Europe. As Trzaskowski emphasized, “Poland is a battlefield between freedom and authoritarianism.” He spoke about “negative phenomena taking place in Poland”, mentioning the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Tribunal and the role of government media. He also referred to the famous speech by Lech Wałęsa before the 1989 Congress.
At the invitation of the US Congress, President Rafał Trzaskowski participated in a remote form in a hearing on the state of democracy in Poland and Central Europe. The discussion took place at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, Environment and Cybernetics of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. Apart from Trzaskowski, it was attended by the other founders of the Free Cities Pact, i.e. the mayors of Budapest Gergely Karacsony, Prague Zdenek Hrib and Bratislava Matusz Vallo.
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Trzaskowski: Poland is a battlefield between freedom and authoritarianism
At the beginning of his speech, Trzaskowski referred to Lech Wałęsa’s speech in the Congress in November 1989 and the famous words “we, the people” (We, the nation – ed.). – Today, the current authorities, rewriting history, want to remove Lech Wałęsa from history textbooks – he said. – And only thanks to the courage of our teachers, Polish children still learn about our historical hero – he added.
The Mayor of Warsaw emphasized that “Poland has not yet been transformed into an undemocratic regime, thanks to the resilience of its citizens, the strength of opposition parties and the courage of civil society.” He pointed out that “if the opposition remains united, it will win the next parliamentary elections.” – Poland is a battleground between freedom and authoritarianism, citizens and political government oligarchy, democratic institutions and populist government – he added.
He also added that in the face of threats from the East – the threat of Russian aggression, energy blackmail and Belarus’s actions – “the transatlantic community cannot afford to have a weak link in this part of Europe.”
– I am sorry to confirm the negative phenomena that are taking place in my country. I therefore confirm that the Constitutional Tribunal has turned into a political body that approves of all the actions of the government. In turn, the government has launched a political campaign against the LGBT community and is proposing a draconian anti-abortion law, he added. He also stressed that “the Constitutional Tribunal issued a very controversial judgment which undermines our membership in the European Union”.
As Trzaskowski said, “Polish government media is a blunt instrument of government party propaganda”. – And at the same time, the government restricts the freedom of independent media. It also limits local governments, centralizing power in their hands, he added.
“Do not lose hope about democracy in Poland”
Trzaskowski emphasized in front of the Congress subcommittee that “Poland is still a democracy because the majority of Poles are still fighting for it”. “In recent years, we have seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets and protest against the government,” he added.
The Mayor of Warsaw appealed to members of Congress to remain involved “in the affairs of Poland, the countries of the region and the whole of Europe”. – Do not lose hope about democracy in Poland, because democracy will return – he said.
According to Trzaskowski, the presence of the USA in Poland and Europe “guarantees peace, freedom and democracy”. – If a vacuum is created in our part of Europe, it will be filled with the influence of Russia and China. We must strengthen NATO’s eastern flank, we must strengthen our democracy and be instilled against propaganda, he said. – We see our membership in the European Union and NATO, as well as strong relations with the USA as a guarantee of our country’s independence – he added.
Trzaskowski, also encouraging the US to show solidarity in the face of imminent threats and hybrid attacks, including via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, also called for sanctions against Russia. – But I am sure that if we managed to defeat communism in 1989 and build the foundations of a free and united Europe, we will be able to meet the challenges and win once again. This is what our free and proud citizens expect of us, he said.
Questions from Democrats and Republicans to Trzaskowski
During the hearing, the head of the Democrat subcommittee, Bill Keating, and the highest-ranking Republican, Brian Fitzpatrick, emphasized the importance of the issue of democratic values for the transatlantic alliance and the Free Cities Pact. Keating pointed out that while there are problems in all Visegrad Group countries – and Hungary has become the first EU country to be classified as “partially free” by Freedom House – the same can be said for the United States.
Democrats David Cicilline and Ted Deutsch asked Trzaskowski about defending the rights of the Jewish community and the LGBT community, to which the president of the capital mentioned, inter alia, its efforts to block the November 11 march and its opposition to the ruling party’s rhetoric against sexual minorities. However, he added that Poland is a safe country, also for Jews.
Republican August Pfluger asked him about China’s influence and the dangers of too much shift towards renewable energies. Democrat Dina Titus said if Trzaskowski had run for a position nationally, “he would certainly have found support here in Congress.”
Speeches by the mayors of Budapest, Prague and Bratislava
Other guests appearing with Trzaskowski raised similar topics concerning the erosion of democratic norms. The mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, criticized the government of Viktor Orban, emphasizing its friendly relations with China and Russia at the expense of Hungarian interests. He also described Hungary as a “Trojan Horse” inside the EU.
The mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hryb, referred to the pro-Russian policy of President Milosz Zeman and the corruption that was accused of the former prime minister Andrej Babisz. However, he assessed that the situation in Warsaw and Budapest was more severe.
The mayor of Bratislava, Matusz Vallo, focused on the fight against climate change, but he will also address the murder of journalist Jan Kuciak and the corruption accused of the previous Slovak government.
“Your comments were inspiring and informative and I hope they will be the beginning of a further dialogue on shared values,” concluded Subcommittee Chairman Bill Keating. He also pointed out that in the face of the threat from the East, Thursday’s hearing showed the unity of the West and that “the actions of the autocrats will end in failure”.
Trzaskowski before the hearing
On Wednesday, at a press conference, Trzaskowski said that American congressmen are very concerned about the state of democracy in Poland and Hungary. – Congressmen are very well informed about what is happening in Poland. They refer to independent institutes and independent organizations – he said.
As he indicated, before the hearing, he had a number of consultations, incl. with the Ombudsman, ambassadors, the Campaign Against Homophobia and organizations dealing with the judiciary. – It is important that this voice (during the hearing – ed.) Is the voice of all those who are concerned about the state of democracy in Poland – he said on Wednesday.
– The American Congress treats us as very reliable partners and knows very well that not only the government is responsible for the situation in countries, the level of democracy, but also local governments, civil society and civil organizations have a very important role to play – he emphasized.
Main photo source: https://foreignaffairs.house.gov