Figures from Poland’s former national-conservative ruling camp, which was removed from power last week, have criticised one of the new government’s appointees for immediately removing a Christian cross hanging in his building. He has also restored the EU flags removed under his predecessors.
“The barbarians are on the attack,” wrote Jan Kanthak, who served as a deputy minister in the former Law and Justice (PiS) government from 2021 until this year this month. “The new governor of Lublin Province ordered the taking down of the cross and the removal of a manger with Jesus.”
Barbarzyńcy w natarciu. Nowy wojewoda lubelski (Komorski) nakazał zdjęcie krzyża z sali kolumnowej urzędu i usunięcie żłobka z Jezusem.
— Jan Kanthak (@JanKanthak) December 22, 2023
The official in question – Krzysztof Komorski of the centrist Civic Platform (PO), the main party in Poland’s new ruling coalition – responded by saying that he sees nothing unusual about his decisions.
“This is not an action aimed against anyone,” he told reporters. “For me, as an official, it is something ordinary. I don’t see anything extraordinary about it. These are standard, routine activities that first came to my mind after entering this room, where most public meetings take place.”
The room in question is the so-called Column Hall at the Lublin Province Office (pictured above, before the changes), which is often used for official ceremonies and meetings. Komorski was appointed as governor of Lublin Province on Wednesday this week by the new government.
Komorski added that “at the moment” he is not planning to order the removal of any crosses hanging in other parts of the building. He later said that both the cross and manger from the Column Hall are now displayed elsewhere in the building, reports local newspaper Kurier Lubelski.
— Jawny Lublin (@JawnyLublin) December 22, 2023
One of his Komorski’s predecessors as governor, Przemysław Czarnek of PiS, who also later served as education minister, had ordered the EU flags in the room to be removed in 2016.
When asked by local newspaper Kurier Lubelski about Komorski’s decision to now remove the cross, Czarnek said that it was “Tusk totalitarianism in practice” – a reference to Donald Tusk, the leader of the new government.
Relations between church and state are likely to be a flashpoint under the new administration, which – though most of its leading figures are Catholics – is of a more secular bent than the former PiS government, which saw Catholicism as an integral element of public life.
Anyone “raising a hand against the church, [is] also raising a hand to Poland”, said PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński last year. In 2020, he declared that the church is the “repository of the only moral system commonly known in Poland” and “rejection of it is nihilism”.
„It is our duty to thank God for the gift” of ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and his late brother, former President Lech Kaczyński, the archbishop of Kraków declared at a mass marking the 72nd anniversary of the twins’ birth https://t.co/sWIgkHti7v
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 19, 2021
By contrast, the new prime minister, Donald Tusk, while emphasising his personal Catholic faith, has called for religious symbols to be removed from public buildings, including the famous cross hanging in parliament.
“I would like churches, not public offices or schools, to be the place where those who believe can meet and pray,” he said in 2021.
Another of the leaders of the new ruling coalition, Szymon Hołownia – also a Catholic and former trainee priest – has likewise called for a clearer separation of church and state.
Opposition leader Donald Tusk has called for crosses not to hang in public places such as schools and parliament.
His remarks were condemned by a government minister, who accused Tusk of promoting “the dictatorship of leftism and atheism like in the West” https://t.co/mrUvJ1IBZT
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 6, 2021
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Main image credit: Katarzyna Link/LUW (under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 PL)
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.