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Submitted by Marcin Bąk on Fri, 12/13/2019 - 10:59



When Poles regained the sovereign right to decide about their own fate, following the events of Europes Autumn of Nationsin 1989, they were faced with the task of reconstructing and rethinking their own spiritual and historical identity. Attempts by the communist regime to enforce the secularisation or even atheisation of the nation had failed; with time even the countrys communist leaders had been forced to accept the unique status and role of the Catholic Church in Poland. It was reinforced by the papacy of John Paul II and by the determined attitude of the faithful, who unfailingly supported the popular striving for freedom. It should be recalled here that the regaining of freedom in 1989 did not result solely from a series of favourable geopolitical and global factors, such as the defeat of the Eastern Bloc in its rivalry with the free Western world, but was also brought about by an enormous spiritual effort on the part of Poles, who throughout the years of communist rule had stood up to the ideology of the hostile communist religion, remaining faithful to their roots and their spiritual identity, which for a thousand years had been tied to Christianity.


 After the fall of communism there arose in public discourse the important question of how the Church naturally understood to mean not just its hierarchy and clergy, but the whole community of faithful ought to find its role in the new conditions of a democratic state that in its everyday practice fully respected citizensfreedom of conscience. The first years of freedom coincided with a debate about the place of religion in the new Poland. In this discussion there have been two fundamental positions which are echoed to this day in the opinions and comments of people from the media and political classes, as well as ordinary citizens.


A view which may be given the working description conservative. This has been and continues to be based on the affirmation of Christianity as a lasting and fundamental element of Polands national and civilised identity. It states that, after years of official dissociation of political authority from religion, the new order of our country and Europe should be based on the universal moral and spiritual principles that flow from Christian teaching, while guaranteeing the free and unabashed presence of Christian symbols in the public sphere. This view has generally been the one presented by those on the right of the political spectrum in Poland. Nonetheless, even among those groupings which refer to Christian heritage, there has not always been a complete consensus on how the realisation of Christian principles should be manifested concretely in social life. In particular, this has concerned such issues as the protection of life from conception to natural death and the possibility of embodying this principle in the constitution, the place in national life of world views and ideas not identifying with Christianity, attitudes to social behaviours that do not conform to the traditional and Christian models, and so on. This view is the one with which the parliamentary majority that has governed in Poland since 2015 generally identifies.


The view conventionally described as secular-liberal. This states that the processes of secularisation have the nature of objective, unquestionable and irreversible trends in the societies of Poland and Europe. Modernisation and reform of the state, as well as its adaptation to play an active part in global politics and international organisations, thus appear to require religion and issues of spiritual identity to be removed from the public sphere to strictly private areas of life, thus allowing Poland to be somehow adapted to the contemporary culture of Western Europe, where, with a few exceptions, tradition and faith are not given exposure in public and political life. For decades, this view was supported by parties having post-communist, left-wing and liberal identities, although as in the previous case, there were significant differences between them as to how the model of secularity ought to be implemented in political and social life. There were thus politicians and parties putting forward radical visions of the secularity of the state, proposing to remove religious symbolism and rituals from public life, to discontinue religious instruction in schools, and to introduce legislation contradicting the Christian vision of the human being, allowing such practices as unlimited abortion, single-sex marriage, etc. There have also been, and still are, figures and groups within this broad camp that propose a more conciliatory model for the separation of Church from state, and the avoidance of inflammation of disputes between world views.


In the conditions of contemporary democracy, and given the elements of pluralism, or even relativism, that have become rooted in postmodern culture, it is no easy task to speak about the role of the state in maintaining and reviving spiritual and religious identity. It may also lead to many misunderstandings of a semantic nature. The construction, or rather reconstruction of what in both Poland and Hungary is called a Christian state(keresztény állam) does not imply an intent to create a confessional or denominational state, using administrative or political measures to persuade its citizens to adopt particular beliefs or practices, or discriminating against those who follow other religions or are not religious. Similarly, the aim is not to treat religion as a tool, or Christian values as elements of political public relations. The modern Christian politicsis based fundamentally on two important issues.


Firstly: appreciation of the value of Christian tradition and culture, which for centuries consistently set out the principles of individual and communal life in Poland and Hungary; the need to point out that it is an inherent and irremovable factor in building our identity, which must not be treated as shameful, marginalised or replaced by successive impermanent modern constructs.


Secondly: following John Paul II, who in the encyclical Centesimus annus wrote the famous sentence: As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism,[1] we believe that the universal principles of moral life proposed by Christianity form a well-tested and the best system on which a healthy 21st-century state organism should be based. The two principles set out above motivate the political philosophy of the Law and Justice governments.


Towards the re-Christianisation of Europe


Poland stands out on the map of contemporary Europe in terms of religious practice. Baptised Catholics make up around 92% of the countrys population, and in 2017, according to data published by the Catholic Church Institute of Statistics (ISKK), of the total number of Catholics subject to the obligation to attend Sunday mass, an average of 38% did so. This was slightly more than in the previous year, and only slightly less than at the start of the decade (the figure was 41% w 2010). It is true that in Poland, as happened earlier in other European countries, following the arrival of the consumer society there is seen to be an overall drop in religious observance in 2000 the percentage of Catholics attending Sunday mass still stood at 47.5%, while in the years from 1980 to 1990, under the communist system, it was just over 50%. Another sign of the decline in religious practice in Poland is the fact that members of the younger generation appear to attend Sunday mass much less frequently than their elders. According to research by the American Pew Research Center published in June 2018,[2] out of the 108 countries of the world covered by the survey it is Poland that has the greatest difference between age groups in terms of religious practice: weekly services are attended by 55% of Polish men and women aged over 40, but by only  26% of those under 40. The second-placed country in Europe according to the same study, in terms of weekly participation in communal religious worship regardless of faith or denomination, was Italy, where the respective figures were 26% and 18%. (The figures reported for Hungary were 11% i 5%.) It is no surprise, then, that the Catholic Church and the values it promotes continue to play a special role in Polish public life.


In their initial policy statements, presented to parliament on 18 November 2015 and 12 December 2017 respectively, prime ministers Beata Szydło and Mateusz Morawiecki did not refer explicitly to the need for the new politics to be based on Christian values. It is nonetheless significant that Morawieckis first major interview after being appointed prime minister was given to the Christian television and radio stations Telewizja Trwam and Radio Maryja, both belonging to the Roman Catholic order of Redemptorists. In that interview he spoke the characteristic words: We are a part of it and we want to transform Europe back that is my dream to re-Christianise it, because in many places churches are being turned into some kind of museums. People no longer sing carols.[3]


The vision of Poland and Hungary as countries that maintain the Christian traditions of Europe was repeated by President Andrzej Duda at the 12th Day of PolishHungarian Friendship in Veszprém, in the presence of his counterpart János Áder. Duda recalled the appeals made during the pontificate of John Paul II, who called on Poles and the countries of Central Europe to breathe the spirit of Christianity into European structures. He noted at the same time that Hungary is a nation that cultivates and feels the importance of Christian traditions. We together are today carrying them to a Europe that in many cases has forgotten them, he added.[4]


The Polish head of state again referred to the need to revive Christian Europe at a meeting of the Council of BishopsConferences of Europe (CCEE) held in Poznań in September 2018. President Duda expressed the desire that the foundation linking the states and nations of our continent should be the Christian inspirations that originally guided the founding fathers of the European Union. He said that reflecting on what had made the union of Europe possible was a prescription for the crisis that has hit Europeand a key to effective reforms and the continents further successful development.[5] He made the point even more emphatically in an interview with the Catholic weekly Niedziela: At every step when we discuss the crisis and the future of the EU, I try to remind people of the Christian values that defined Europe. I remind them that the founding fathers of the European communities, Alcide de Gasperi and Robert Schuman, are today candidates for sainthood. By cutting ourselves off from Christianity, we are destroying the heritage of those who created the community of Europe.”[6]


In the same interview, Duda admitted that the circles of power in Brussels and some European countries had a totally different vision than Poles or Hungarians did concerning the state, what should be important for society and what the system of values should be. This, he believes, is the source of the sometimes fundamental disputes between Warsaw, Budapest and the EU elites. In turn, in a speech given during the National Assembly on the occasion of the 1050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland, celebrated in Poznań in April 2016, the President recalled that the whole of European culture, as well as the affluence that generations of Europeans have worked to achieve, are results of the proper realisation of a social market economy, which is based on Christian personalism.[7]


In an opening statement of Polish foreign policy made in early 2016, foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said that the basis for the common interests of the countries of the Old Continent was above all the values that make up the heritage of European civilisation. These include Roman law, Greek philosophy and Christian ethics, rationalism, the common good, and respect for human rights.[8]


When in autumn 2017 the French courts ordered the removal of a cross from a monument depicting Pope John Paul II in the town of Ploërmel in Britanny, the government in Warsaw as well as, spontaneously, many Polish local communities, including Kolbuszowa, Ploërmels twin town proposed moving the monument to Poland to save it from politically correct censorship. This shows the wrong direction that todays Europe is taking. According to the intentions of the founding fathers of the European Union, Europe should be Christian and based on catholic values. It is on these foundations that the European Union was built. Today, sadly, this is very often forgotten. The Union today says so much about freedom and tolerance, but when it comes to defending Christian values, it brushes them off, one might say completely ignores them, government spokesman Rafał Bochenek noted at the time.[9]


Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has spoken in a similar vein on many occasions. For example, in early 2012, when he was being attacked by socialists and liberals in the European Parliament, he said in Strasbourg: Our political community must realise that the ideas that we represent, unfortunately even in this chamber, do not enjoy the support of the majority. Without a shadow of a doubt, our ideals are Christian, they are based on the responsibility of the individual, positive national feelings are important to us, and we regard the family as a foundation for the future. Perhaps many have a different view of these matters, but regardless of that, our position still remains European. Perhaps in Europe we are in a minority with these ideals, but they are still European views and we are allowed to represent our beliefs. You may not agree with the opinion I am about to quote, but I personally share the view of Schuman, that either European democracy will be Christian, or it will not exist at all. And this is also a European view, ladies and gentlemen![10]


To the aid of the persecuted

The realisation of Christian values in social and political life also takes a very measurable form through humanitarian assistance and acts of charity. Polish diplomacy, like the Hungarian government in recent years, has engaged in helping Christians around the world, particularly those persecuted for their faith in the Middle East and Africa. Freedom of religion and belief is one of the basic human rights and must be respected throughout the world, minister Waszczykowski told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2016. He noted that Poland was disturbed by acts of discrimination against and persecution of Christians, as well as followers of other religions (such as the Yazidi community), and called for their rights to be respected, condemning the actions of Islamic State fundamentalists.[11]


At the Friends of Syria conference in London in February 2016, Polish prime minister Beata Szydło announced that Poland was joining the countries providing humanitarian assistance to civil-war-torn Syria. In the same year, it provided almost 3 million euro in on-the-spot aidand 1.5 million in aid for refugees in neighbouring countries, including material assistance.[12] In the following year, 2017, the Polish government provided more than 160 million zloty in aid for Syria, both directly and through international organisations, of which 4 million was for the rebuilding of war-damaged homes.[13] Apart from Syria, Poland is providing permanent assistance in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Africa and Ukraine. Polish help is appreciated also by members of the Syrian Christian hierarchy, who in recent years have been invited to Poland and met representatives of the Polish authorities. They include the Roman Catholic bishop of Aleppo, Georgeza Abou Khazena, and the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch and All the East, John X.[14] In an interview with the   Vatican News in November 2018, the Greek Catholic archbishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clément Jeanbart, criticised those who assist Christians in emigrating, and made clear that what is valuable for Syria and the Syrian churches is aid that enables Syrian Christians to remain in their homeland. He noted that the most help in that regard was received from the organisations Aid to the Church in Need and Œuvre dOrient, as well as the countries of Poland and Hungary.[15]


In late 2018 the Prime Ministers office finalised a humanitarian aid project for refugee camps in Greece. Its value exceeds one million zloty, and it has led to the delivery to Greece of 188 tonnes of food, hygiene products, and school equipment for small children. Beata Kempa, government minister responsible for humanitarian aid, said that the total sum of Polish humanitarian aid to Greece now exceeded 2 million zloty.[16]


Protecting life

In recent years, attempts have been made to achieve a ban on what is known as eugenic abortion, carried out chiefly on children diagnosed with diseases such as Downs syndrome at the foetal stage. (According to available figures, approximately one thousand such abortions are carried out annually in Poland.) These attempts were nonetheless unsuccessful. They were due chiefly to citizensinitiatives promoted by pro-life organisations, which were twice considered by parliamentary committees, in 2016 and 2018. The first proposal, under the title Stop Abortion, was rejected by the parliamentary majority, probably in view of the street protests that it provoked (which were partly financed from abroad, according to a report by the Ordo Iuris organisation[17]), and out of fear of proliferating conflicts at a time when the heated dispute over the Constitutional Court was continuing. At the same time, however, Beata Szydłos government launched the new programme For Life, supporting parents expecting a disabled child, for example in the form of easier access to specialist doctors and rehabilitation care. The second citizensproposal, titled Zatrzymaj aborcję,   was submitted to parliament in late 2017, with a record number of around 830,000 citizenssignatures, and went for consideration by the relevant committees. 


It should be noted here that Polands existing life protection law, passed by parliament in 1993 and confirmed by a Constitutional Court judgment of 1997, allows abortion only in cases of danger to the mothers life or health, rape, or irreversible serious disability of the foetus. In the 20152019 parliament, Law and Justice does not have a sufficient majority to change the constitution and introduce a similar provision to that of Article 2 of Hungarys 2011 constitution, which states that the human embryo is protected from the time of conception.


Nonetheless, representatives of government declare their support for the banning of what is called eugenic abortion. I can say as much that my opinion on this matter is unchanged, and I will certainly sign a bill prohibiting eugenic abortion as soon as parliament approves it and it arrives on my desk, President Andrzej Duda said in turn in summer 2018. The head of state gave a reminder that he was a supporter of such a measure, although he pointed out that further progress in the matter at that time was subject to the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court.[18] This was because, along with the submission of the citizensproposal to ban abortion on eugenic grounds, a group of 107 MPs most, though not all, from Law and Justice had asked the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the provision of the law of 1993 that allowed abortion when antenatal tests or other medical evidence indicates a high probability of serious and irreversible disability of the foetus or of incurable illness endangering its life.


For a traditional vision of the family

In December 2018, the governments of Poland and Hungary were able to block a joint statement of EU ministers of employment and social policy, proposed by the Austrian presidency and concerning equality in the digital world between the sexes, for the young, and for those designated in the document by the term LGBTQI. Due to the objections of the two delegations, who argued that the proposal promoted untraditional social behaviours that conflicted with the Christian vision of the human being, the European Council declaration was qualified not as an official statement of the governments of member states, but only as a proposal of the Austrian presidency.[19]  Earlier, in October 2018, with Hungarys support, Poland had vetoed the adoption of the annual conclusion of the Council on the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, because the other countries did not agree to list, alongside discrimination against LGBTIpersons (that abbreviation occurred in the document as many as 27 times), discrimination and attacks against Jews and Christians (the document contained no mention of Christians at all).[20] Following the veto of Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the document was published not as a conclusion of the Council, but as a report of the Austrian presidency.


A move seen in Poland not only as pro-social, but also as pro-family, is the return to the lower retirement age (60 for women, 65 for men) that had previously applied until 2013, in view of the important role that retired grandparents can play in families with children, particularly when both parents are working, as is very often the case in Polish families. Policies supporting the traditional vision of the family also include the gradual introduction of a prohibition on trading on Sundays and public holidays. From January 2018 shops could open on only the first and last Sunday of each month. Since January 2019 trading has been allowed only on the last Sunday of the month, and from January 2020 it will not be permitted on any Sunday. The only exceptions are specially designated Sundays in the pre-Christmas period. The ban does not apply to shops which are run on Sundays by the owners themselves and their family members (not having contracts of employment). There are also certain other exclusions, such as the sale of goods at petrol stations and at establishments providing postal services.

The Law and Justice governments are the first post-1989 to introduce restrictions on Sunday trading. A previous coalition government led by Law and Justice introduced trading restrictions on certain holidays for the first time in 2007. Restrictions on Sunday trading were a trade union proposal, which also enjoyed the support of the Church. It is also presented as an element of the governments pro-family policy, since it allows many families to spend free days together. Similar measures are in force in many European countries, including Germany and France. In Poland, however, as was previously the case in Hungary, public opinion is very much divided on the issue. According to a poll carried out in December 2018 by the Pollster Research Institute for the Super Express   tabloid, 45% of Poles would prefer the Sunday trading ban to be repealed, while 42% are of the opposite opinion.[21]






[10]             Speech quoted in the book Napastnik. Opowieść o Viktorze Orbánie (Attacker: The Tale of Viktor Orbán) by Polish journalist Igor Janke.