Update: welcome Iain Dale readers.
Loftily principled Edward McMillan-Scott (MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber) weighs in on the Kaminski saga:
On July 14, in Strasbourg, I stood and won against a Polish MEP, Michal Kaminski, for the post of Vice-President of the European Parliament, because he symbolised the rise of disguised extremism in Europe...
It has now been disclosed, as Kaminski should have done to the Conservative Party when nominated for Vice-President, that he has had fascist links – he was a member of Poland's notorious fascist National Revival (NOP) – and he tried, as its MP, to cover up one of the worst anti-Jewish atrocities in wartime Europe.
On July 10, 1941, Poles rounded up hundreds of Jews and put them in a barn on the outskirts of the village of Jedwabne. Egged on by the SS, the barn was set on fire. In 2001, the then president of Poland organised a national apology, but Kaminski opposed it.
... When I attended the ECR's inaugural meeting, in Brussels, on June 24, we had been joined by 15 MEPs from Poland's controversial Law and Justice party, which had incorporated MEPs from the ultra-Catholic Motherland Party. I said that I was "uncomfortable" and that I hoped that there was no-one in the room "who has had links after 1989 with extremist groups like Poland's NOP".
The following day, as I discovered later, the reference to his membership of NOP was removed from Kaminski's Wikipedia page. Kaminski was covering up again.
The rise of "respectable fascism" must be stopped. The people who advised Cameron have been used by those who seek respectability through links with the Conservative Party. It is not me who should be expelled – it is Kaminski.
Let's leave the politicians to howl about the various factions in the European Parliament like P G Wodehouse's aunts, mastodons bellowing to each other across a primeval ooze.
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 he 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.