Biden sends subtle message to Polish leaders about democracy

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WARSAW, Poland (AP)—In a powerful speech in Warsaw, in which he denounced Russia’s Vladimir Putin and praised the Ukrainians, President Joe Biden on Saturday also seemed to have a more subtle message for his Polish hosts.

Speaking of an “eternal struggle for democracy”, Biden called the rule of law and freedom of the press one of the principles essential in a free society.

He made his remarks in a speech attended by President Andrzej Duda and his conservative political allies in the ruling Law and Justice party. Since coming to power in 2015, they have been accused by the European Union of eroding the rule of law with changes that have given the party massive new powers over the government’s judiciary.

Biden paid tribute to Poland’s long struggle for democracy in his speech at the Royal Castle, which, like most of Warsaw, was destroyed by the occupying Nazi German forces during World War II and later rebuilt.

He said Warsaw occupies “a sacred place in the history of not only of Europe, but of humanity’s never-ending quest for freedom. For generations, Warsaw has stood where freedom has been challenged and freedom has triumphed.”

The US leader noted that democratic values ​​”have always been under siege, they have always been in conflict”.

“Every generation has had to defeat the moral enemies of democracy,” Biden said.

Liberal critics of Duda and the government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki were concerned that Poland’s growing importance as a major NATO country on its eastern flank, given the war in Ukraine, could lead the United States and the EU to ease pressure on Warsaw above the rule of law.

Duda clearly preferred Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and waited weeks after the 2020 US election to congratulate Biden.

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But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Duda and some other European populists to unite with United States Democrats and European leaders with whom they had been in conflict for years.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Poland has accepted the bulk of the more than 3.5 million Ukrainians who have fled. At the same time, Poland is home to some 10,000 US troops, thousands of whom have recently arrived to help with the humanitarian crisis. Poland is also a base for sending military aid to Ukraine, something that makes the country feel more vulnerable.

Polish authorities also clashed with Washington last year over legal attempts to silence TVN, a broadcasting network owned by US company Discovery Inc.. The goal was to take Discovery control of TVN, which produces independent news programs that are critical of the government.

Duda vetoed the legislation late last year, but press freedom concerns remain over the government’s use of the public media as a mouthpiece for the party.

Beginning his speech, Biden paid tribute to two great Poles of modern history, John Paul II, the first Polish-born pope, and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa.

“While I know he couldn’t be here tonight, in America and around the world we are all grateful to Lech Walesa,” Biden said, in a direct appeal to bridge the deep divides in Polish society.

Walesa has been a harsh critic of Poland’s right-wing government, often accusing it of eroding the democracy he helped usher in.

Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his allies have sought to significantly downplay Walesa’s historic role in the successful fight against communism. They also accuse him of making too many compromises in the transition to democracy, something Walesa and others deemed necessary to avoid bloodshed at the time.

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