EU President Donald Tusk warned Poland on Friday against “anti-semitic excesses” and other behavior that risked ruining Warsaw’s global standing.
Tusk, a former Polish premier, said he had told Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels that negative opinions about Warsaw were turning into a “tsunami.”
“I told Mr. Morawiecki that the situation is very serious, it directly affects Polish interests, the reputation of Poland and Poland’s standing in the world,” Tusk said when a Polish journalist asked him about tensions with the EU.
Tusk said there was a “wave that must be stopped… of very unjudicious anti-semitic excesses in statements being made in Poland.”
Poland’s right-wing government has faced an international row over a law making it illegal to attribute Nazi crimes to the Polish state.
Morawiecki then fanned the flames by saying there were “Jewish perpetrators” as well as Polish ones in the Holocaust.
Brussels has also taken Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government to task in recent years over controversial justice reforms, breaches of environmental law and its failure to take in refugees.
Speaking in Polish through an interpreter, Tusk told Warsaw to “stop the wave of bad opinions about Poland… This wave is taking on the proportion of a tsunami.”
“The government has the wherewithal to stop both of these waves if it has the will,” Tusk said, recalling all that ex-communist Poland has achieved since joining the European Union in 2004.
The legislation prescribes prison time for using phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II. Its provisions run wider, however:
“Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years,” a translation of a key paragraph of the bill reads.
The legislation sparked outrage in Israel, with some lawmakers accusing the Polish government of outright Holocaust denial.
The dispute has elicited bitter recriminations on both sides. Some Israelis have accused the mostly Catholic Poles of being driven by anti-Semitism and of trying to deny the Holocaust. Poles believe that they are being defamed by being linked to German crimes, of which they were one of the largest group of victims.
Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history.
Amid the dispute some Polish commentators, including in government-controlled media, have made strong anti-Jewish remarks.