When I was born, Poland was a totalitarian Communist dictatorship. You could be imprisoned for speaking out against the Government. You had no say in choosing the Government. Like millions of other young Poles, I longed for freedom. I grew up in the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as my political heroes. However controversial at home, east of the Iron Curtain they were loved because they had no hesitation in condemning the evil of Communist tyranny or calling for democracy in our countries. In 1987, when I was 14, I joined an anti-Communist dissident group, National Revival, so I could fight for freedom. It was a typical small dissident movement in those days. When Communism crumbled in 1989 we were at last able to form political parties and have a democracy. I left NOP and helped create one such party as its youngest member. A couple of years later, NOP was taken over by extremists who turned it into what it is now: a very small and very nasty far right party. It is on this that Mr McMillan-Scott has manufactured his smear of fascist links.
Next Mr McMillan-Scott makes the disgusting allegation that I tried to cover up an anti-Jewish atrocity. The facts are these: in 2001 a book came out that raised new questions about the involvement of local Poles in a horrific massacre of Jewish villagers in a place called Jedwabne in 1941, when the Nazis occupied my country. In 2001 I was the MP for the area. I have always said that we could not just blame the pogrom on the Nazis: shamefully, there were local Poles involved. I backed the Government’s establishment of an historians’ inquiry so that everything about this terrible episode in our history could be found out.
Like the Polish Prime Minister of the time, though, I did not think it right that our then President should apologise for the whole Polish nation. I argued that responsibility lay with those Poles who had committed that cruel crime. I thought his apology on Poland’s behalf might diminish the Nazis’ ultimate responsibility for the Holocaust. People may or may not agree, but I think it a legitimate argument to make.
I am proud of my record in combating anti-Semitism. I have used my seat in the European Parliament to highlight how it still festers in parts of Poland. I am active in the European Friends of Israel. I am equally proud of my Party’s record. Our most senior figure, Lech Kaczynski, as mayor of Warsaw, donated city land to help found Poland’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Now President of Poland, he has the privilege of being the first Polish head of state ever to attend a Jewish religious service in a Polish synagogue.
I want a real debate about the politics of the European Union. If people disagree with the European Conservatives and Reformists’ chief principle – that we should aim for a Europe of nation states, not a European superstate – let them make their case. People in the Brussels establishment may disagree, but I think it right that there should be an official alliance in the European Parliament championing the tens of millions across Europe who believe in our vision of Europe’s future. I am honoured to have as my colleague the Yorkshire Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, without whose selflessness and leadership our new alliance to bring change to Europe could never have succeeded.
Let us argue vigorously about what kind of European Union we want. But political disagreements must never excuse employing smears, like false allegations of anti-Semitism, as political weapons. The danger of anti-Semitism, like other kinds of racism, is too serious to be misused for partisan attacks.
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