MacShane's paranoia about the Tory position on Europe has been fuelled by the row about the supposed homophobic and anti-jewish stances of Michael Kaminski, the new leader of the new Tory supported European grouping in the European Parliament. In an article in the New Statesman, MacShane hurls around countless accusations as if they were fact. It's about time he was called to account for his baseless slurs, which seem entirely centred on the views of Edward McMillan Scott. MacShane should do himself a favour and read a blogpost by Charles Crawford. Crawford knows a thing or two about Poland, and the Law & Justice Party, since he was our ambassador there fairly recently. Here's how he counters MacShane's allegations over Kaminski wanting to cover up...
What about the very specific claim that Michal Kaminski tried to 'cover up one of the worst anti-Jewish atrocities in wartime Europe'?
Another Conservative MEP gives a rather different picture:
The second accusation, that Michał lined up with anti-Semites over the Jedwabne massacre, is a grotesque distortion.
In 2001, the President, a former Communist, proposed to offer a national apology for the crime. Michał argued that collective guilt diminished individual guilt. If crimes were said to have been a product of their place and time, then the responsibility of the criminals who had chosen to commit them was reduced.
The Jedwabne massacre, he said, was not an offence by “the Poles” against “the Jews”, but by some guilty people against some innocent people. The victims, too, had been Polish citizens, recognised as such by the government-in-exile, although declared stateless by the Nazis. Blame, in all such cases, should attach to the actual malefactors. If the Communists wanted to apologise for something for which they had in fact been responsible, he added, why not apologise for their anti-Semitic campaign of 1968?
What was the Jedwabne massacre?
The basics are here. In Jedwabne in 1941 a group of Poles rounded on Jewish Poles from their own community and murdered them. The town had been under Soviet control under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact but the Nazis a few weeks previously had overrun the area when Hitler attacked the USSR.
For a long time this massacre - one among countless others across this part of Europe - was said to have been done by the Nazis. But in 2000 new evidence emerged to link local Poles to the killings. A huge controversy broke out in Poland and beyond, in part because it remained unclear to what degree if any the Poles killing their neighbours had been egged on by the Nazis, with Soviet NKVD agents also lurking in the background.
In 2001 the then centre-left President and former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski gave a moving oration at a commemoration ceremony in Jedwabne:
Death, grief and suffering of the Jews from Jedwabne, from Radzilow and other localities, all these painful events which lay a gloomy shadow on Poland's history are the responsibility of the perpetrators and instigators.
We cannot speak of collective responsibility burdening with guilt the citizens of any other locality or the entire nation. Every man is responsible only for his own acts. The sons do not inherit the sins of the fathers. But can we say: that was long ago, they were different?
The nation is a community. Community of individuals, community of generations. And this is why we have to look the truth into the eyes. Any truth. And say: it was, it happened. Our conscience will be clear if the memories of those days will for ever evoke awe and moral indignation.
We are here to make a collective self examination. We are paying tribute to the victims and we are saying - never again...
Thanks to a great nation-wide debate regarding this crime committed in 1941, much has changed in our lives in 2001, the first year of the new millennium. Today's Poland has courage to look into the eyes of the truth about a nightmare which gloomed one of the chapters in its history...
For this crime we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness. This is why today, the President of the Republic of Poland, I beg pardon. I beg pardon in my own name and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime.
As you can see, President Kwasniewski tried - with success, I'd say - to pick his way through a moral and political minefield, denying any formal Polish national collective responsibility for this gruesome crime yet suggesting that as a nation with such a pronounced national identity Poles need to confront such episodes honestly.
As Dan Hannan accurately describes, Kaminiski did not try to 'cover up the atrocity'. On the contrary, he joined in President Kwasniewski's 'great nation-wide debate' on the issue.
Like plenty of other Poles did have reservations about the fact and form of a Presidential 'apology' as President Kwasniewski delivered it.
Polish objections to the apology idea had various overlapping motivations, some more honourable than others:
- why should the Polish President in 2001 apologise for a massacre committed by one group of Poles against other group of Poles under the extreme conditions of Nazi occupation, the more so when key facts remain unclear?
- does not a Polish apology of this sort have the practical effect of 'relativising' responsibility for such horrors away from the Nazis and Soviets who together started WW2, and/or reinforce wider perceptions that the Poles as a whole were antisemitic (see also 'Polish concentration camps')?
- and was there not a deeper communist plan to use such an apology to dig at the Polish Catholic Church?
- how many Polish Jews cooperated with the Communists after WW2 to effect massacres of patriotic Poles - any apologies for that likely?
On the other hand, anyone who objects to apologies of this sort even for good and intellectually respectable motives risks being denounced by political opponents as at best heartless, at worst a crazed antisemite with fascist tendencies.
Just as those who join European alliances with such people have to take some hits too along similar lines.
As indeed is duly happening now. Politics and all that.
Plus the Catholic Church in Poland and more widely has had its fair share on nasty antisemitic elements who for their own dark reasons will have wanted to stir up trouble over Jedwabne and its significance.
Back to Edward McMillan-Scott MEP. His claim that Michal Kaminski tried to 'cover up the atrocity' and that this is a portent of the rise of 'respectable fascism' in Europe is, I think we can safely say, wrong.
There is a robust expression in Yorkshire which might be thought to apply in such cases: daft as a brush.
I don't normally quote at such length, but these slurs against Kaminski are gathering credence on the left. Even the normally sensible David Miliband has fallen for them. Kaminski is neither a homophobe nor an anti-semite, and those who persist in propagating these slurs do no one any favours. They do it for party political reasons. And what a pity Edward McMillan Scott is indeed playing the role of the left's useful idiot, as Tim Montgomerie so rightly said.