Poland’s ruling party has highlighted anti-US, anti-EU and pro-Russian statements made in the past by a farmers’ leader who last week became part of the main opposition coalition. He must be “an idiot or an agent”, says the prime minister.
Last week, the centrist opposition group Civic Coalition (KO) announced that farmers’ protest movement Agrounia would be joining them and that its leader, Michał Kołodziejczak, would stand as one of KO’s leading candidates in October’s parliamentary elections.
The decision came as a surprise, not least because Kołodziejczak has in the past been close to far-right groups, including speaking at a march against Jewish property restitution organised by the National Radical Camp (ONR) in 2019 (pictured above).
Figures associated with the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party quickly began drawing attention to statements by Kołodziejczak criticising the US and EU and appearing sympathetic towards Russia. In one he also strongly criticised KO leader Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform (PO) party.
Figures from Poland’s ruling party have noted that Tusk’s new election ally @EKOlodziejczak_ previously criticised those who „don’t remember how we lived under PO and that Tusk took Poles several centuries back, making us into a country of emigrants” https://t.co/wrqGrzqmcn
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 16, 2023
On Sunday, PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki published a video showing Kołodziejczak leading a protest several years ago.
In the video, Kołodziejczak declared that the Americans are “pitting us against Russia”. He called for “each of us to make this gesture and give a ‘f**k you’ to the Americans” and then held up his middle finger.
“In the days of fighting communism, we used to call [such people] ‘an idiot or an agent’,” wrote Morawiecki, who, like Tusk, was an activist against Poland’s communist regime in the 1980s. In another tweet, the prime minister accused Tusk of allying himself with a “Putin sympathiser”.
W czasach walki z komuną mówiliśmy o takich „idiota albo agent”. Sojusz Polski z USA jest podstawą naszego bezpieczeństwa! pic.twitter.com/Lb1zRfBXAx
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) August 20, 2023
Another video of Kołodziejczak shared by PiS figures shows him speaking during a parliamentary committee session in which he accused the government of “pitting us against Russia”, which is “our best client”.
In the same meeting, the Agrounia leader said: “You’ll say I’m some kind of agent again…but I see the Russians with whom my family traded a long time ago. They brought money to Poland. Together with them, we were able to build this country.”
Russia has historically most often been an enemy of Poland, invading and occupying it, including during the entire 19th century and in World War Two. Moscow then imposed a communist regime on Poland for decades after the war.
Poles dislike Russians, Belarusians, Hungarians and Germans much more now than before the invasion of Ukraine, finds a study by @CBOS_Info.
Meanwhile, they like Ukrainians, Americans and the English much more.
For more details, see our report: https://t.co/pbavexH2mm pic.twitter.com/rucZ1WR1xG
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 27, 2023
“We have seen a whole series of pro-Russian statements by Michał Kołodziejczak in recent years,” the government’s Europe minister, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, told Polskie Radio. “Tusk’s alliance with such a politician…shows that PO would have no problem with changing foreign policy.”
PiS has regularly sought to portray Tusk as beholden to foreign interests, in particular German ones, and also as having been too friendly towards Russia during his time as prime minister from 2007 to 2014.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, Kołodziejczyk did publicly come out in support of Ukraine and declared that “Russia is today the greatest threat to a normal, peaceful and free Europe”.
However, his organisation has also been involved in protests by farmers against the import of Ukrainian grain to Poland during the war, which they said was pushing down prices on the market. That pressure led the government to impose a ban on imports earlier this year.
Ukraine has accused Warsaw of “unfriendly and populist” actions after it called on the EU to extend the ban on Ukrainian grain imports
But Poland says Kyiv has misunderstood its intention, which is to continue transit of grain while keeping the import ban https://t.co/FjDIS0PaR6
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) July 21, 2023
Meanwhile, another recording being widely shared on social media purports to show Kołodziejczak holding up an EU flag and declaring “this is not our flag”. He then appears to suggest that Poland joined the EU as a result of being “threatened and sold out”.
“Unfortunately, the current conditions are not those upon which we wanted to enter the union,” he is heard declaring.
Tusk – a former president of the European Council – and his party are ardently pro-EU. A large majority of Poles also favour remaining in the bloc. PiS, although it has often clashed with Brussels, also says that it favours EU membership.
Jedynka PO z Konina nawołuje do wyjścia z UE. Co poszło nie tak? pic.twitter.com/mx8KaAz8AY
— LNH16MP! (@k23456345) August 18, 2023
In response to the intense criticism of him by PiS in the last few days, Kołodziejczak wrote that “the mass attack by the entire state apparatus against me shows how much Mateusz Morawiecki is afraid of losing power after the start of cooperation between Agrounia and the largest opposition party”.
“Mr Morawiecki, I can assure you: I can withstand it and Poles are not stupid and they see how dirtily you are playing,” continued Kołodziejczak. “By insulting me, you insult the whole movement from which I come. You make it easier for people to choose.”
He then tweeted a photo of himself alongside the American ambassador to Poland, taken this year on US Independence Day.
“Today, there is no doubt that a strong Poland is one that cooperates with the US and the EU,” wrote Kołodziejczak. “It is Morawiecki who weaks Poland’s position in the international arena.”
Ta wypowiedź, która wałkuje @tvp_info jest sprzed 5. lat.
Dziś nie ma wątpliwości, że silna Polska to taka która współpracuje z USA i UE.@MorawieckiM swoim działaniem osłabia pozycje Polski na arenie międzynarodowej.
Zdjęcie z roku 2023, Dzień Niepodległości USA. pic.twitter.com/O4AxQ1vsfx
— Michał Kołodziejczak (@EKOlodziejczak_) August 20, 2023
Meanwhile, Kołodziejczak today said that his anti-EU remarks had come five years ago and were the result of “the European Union not compensating Polish farmers for the losses caused by the Russian embargo”. He accused PiS of “manipilating” his words, reports the Interia news website.
Tusk and KO, meanwhile, have not commented directly on the issue, though Tusk said last week when unveiling Kołodziejczak as a candidate that they “often have completely different views”. But both believe that “it is necessary to…remove PiS from power”, added Tusk.
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Main image credit: Maciek Jazwiecki / Agencja Gazeta
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.