Poland’s new history syllabus to frame EU as an ‘unlawful entity’

Ruling party accused of pushing nationalist identity politics with ‘New Deal’ programme

A woman watches Poland’s minister for education, Przemyslaw Czarnek, speaking during an online commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th. Photograph: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A woman watches Poland’s minister for education, Przemyslaw Czarnek, speaking during an online commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th. Photograph: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Poland’s education minister has announced a new history syllabus that he says will frame the EU as an “unlawful entity”.

His announcement on Polish radio came as the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) heard a second case over the country’s judicial reforms as overseen by Poland’s constitutional court. Earlier this month the Strasbourg court, in a ruling, described Poland’s highest court as an unlawful tribunal.

That ruling was dismissed by Poland’s constitutional court president as well as leading members of the ruling national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Now its minister for education, Przemyslaw Czarnek, has gone one step further as part of a radio discussion about a new history syllabus, part of a post-pandemic “New Deal” programme unveiled last weekend.

As well as tax reforms and increased social spending, the minister said it was time to end the current history programme’s “pedagogy of shame”. This is a term used regularly by leading PiS politicians to challenge mentions – in museums, schools, books and documentaries – of historically unflattering events, such as Poles who collaborated with the Nazis or led pogroms against their Jewish neighbours.

While critics accuse the government of pushing nationalist identity politics – and breeding a new generation of PiS voters – Mr Czarnek insisted the new syllabus would not “forget the ugly” parts of Polish history.

Younger Poles

But he hoped younger Poles, rather than looking for greatness elsewhere, could be taught to see “what is beautiful in our history”.

“If Poles do not know their past, are not tied to their identity, Poland will not develop naturally,” he said. “We have given a lot to Europe. Knowledge of this should be greater so that we can feel pride that we are Poles.”

The reformed history syllabus of the “New Deal” programme, largely financed by the EU’s emergency pandemic programme, will come right up to the present. It will, he said, cover “the evolution of the EU from a lawful to an unlawful entity, because today it is an unlawful entity that does not adhere to its own legal framework”.

Mr Czarnek is a controversial figure who, on his appointment last September, said members of the LGBT+ community are “not equal to normal people”.

As he spoke on Wednesday, the ECHR heard fresh claims that PiS has created unlawful entities of its own.

This week’s case involved Jan Grzeda, a judge at Poland’s supreme administrative court, who was appointed in January 2016 to the National Council for the Judiciary (NCJ), an independent constitutional body which appoints judges.

Dismissed

A year into his four-year term he and others were dismissed as part of wide-ranging reforms the PiS government said would democratise and streamline the Polish judicial system.

Subsequently, PiS used its parliamentary majority to appoint new NCJ members, a move criticised by leading Polish and international bodies.

Mikolaj Pietrzak, representing Grzeda, said the law change had a “singular effect... to remove 16 specific judges from the NCJ and enable parliament fill that void with people who would co-operate with judicial reform”.

“This law was tailored to create a politically subservient NCJ, incapable of safeguarding the independence of the judiciary,” he added.

Representing Poland, Jan Sobczak said ending the judge’s NCJ term was “justified and legitimate”. It was a pro bono position and not a regular employment contract, thus not covered by labour law. Nor did it represent, in Poland’s view, a breach of his rights under the European human rights convention.

Mr Sobczak said such an appointment was not intended to “protect individual interest of judges, facilitate career or self-realisation... but to protect the public interest” in a well-run NCJ.