Interview with Jadwiga Emilewicz on relationship between national identity and politics

Do the growing nationalist and populist tendencies pose a threat to national and ethnic minorities in European countries? What is the situation in Poland?

Local unrests caused by economic discontent can be seen more and more often in Europe. These frustrations can also be expressed in ethnical terms. Lately we can observe attempts focused on revising the migration policy. I don’t think, however, that these tendencies are leading to a Europe-wide serious threat of aggressive nationalism. Despite the 25 years of transformation process, the Polish society is still rather homogeneous and not divided on ethic grounds. Incidents happen, of course, but expressions of racial hatred are marginal.

How to effectively prevent violence against ethnic and national minorities, like e.g. hate speech?

Hate speech as an ideological term is often understood as a way to emphasize the identity of majority. Therefore I prefer to speak about calling for hatred or incitement to physical violence based on racial or other difference that should be strongly opposed in culture as well as journalism, politics and law. For example, can a declaration, saying that the Polish national identity is intertwined with the Catholic religion, be considered an expression of aversion towards Polish Muslims or Protestants? No. Poland has a great tradition of emphasizing its leading identity while enabling development of other ethnic, religious or cultural groups. This is a continuation of the tradition of the First Polish Republic and its understanding of tolerance which does not translate into a loss of a leading identity but enabling maintaining and supporting minorities.

Should an education, shaping national and patriotic attitudes, be compulsory in primary and secondary schools?

The role of school in the society is not only to transfer knowledge but also to form citizens. Thus, not only scientific education but also an upbringing of a young people is extremely important. A good education cannot lack a civic and patriotic aspect. Shaping patriotic and national attitudes (in that order) is therefore absolutely necessary at every stage of compulsory education. It should be noted, however, that this patriotic education should take place in the teaching of history and Polish language and it should not constitute any separate educational path. The task is to shape the programs in a way that they naturally have a patriotic dimension and are able to educate future citizens of the Homeland.

Role of the Catholic Church in a modern democratic state: Should the Catholic Church take an active part in the process of nation-building?

The Polish Catholic Church has played a fundamental role in the state- and nation-building since the beginning of the Polish statehood (Polish baptism). Also in the 19th and 20th century it became a mainstay of the Polish culture and freedom. From this point of view, it is impossible to talk about Polish identity without mentioning the Catholic Church, which does not mean forcing non-believers to accept the Catholic faith.

The issue of the Polish community abroad: Should the Polish state attempt to establish contacts with Poles living abroad and provide them with an opportunity to maintain a contact with their homeland?

Yes, absolutely. It is a big negligence of the Polish state that it lacks an effective action when it comes to enabling return of the Poles from the East.

Should Poland simplify the procedure of granting citizenship?

The current Polish regulations concerning the granting of citizenship are good. The new law, which came into force in 2012, reorganized the procedures and created barriers that do not put the people in doubt. There is a question of legalization of their stay in Poland on other possible levels. Citizenship is the highest level of a foreigner’s stay in the country. In the era of globalization, considering the needs of labour markets and disastrous demographic projections we should think about a greater willingness to open up to others. This May a law will come into force which still considers foreigners a potential threat to the labour market and the social security system. At the same time, the incomers do very well in our labour market. Thus, we should reconsider the rules for granting a temporary or permanent residence. Nowadays, Ukrainians are coming to Poland and want to invest here, e.g. in real estate. They do not come to work here but they would like to know that arriving on holidays will not always mean they would have to apply for visa. These provisions should be changed. The new law does not do so.

To what extent should the Polish foreign policy towards Russia be subordinated to economic interests?

Foreign policy is always to some extent limited by economic issues. There is no simple mathematic formula. However, there is a need to establish a hierarchy for Polish security in both energetic and economic terms and also for its territorial integrity with respect to economic issues. In other words, subjectivity in foreign policy, although it is a graded phenomenon, cannot be treated on an equal footing with every other economic interest. Polish raison d’état must have a cost that the political community is ready to pay.

Does the European Union threaten the Polish national sovereignty? If so, what constitutes the threat?

Every country that decides to join the banking union or the Eurozone will have to give up a part of their national sovereignty. Why? Because the national regulator of the banking market, in Poland it is the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF), will lose some of its powers. Also, the appointed European regulator will be able to intervene in case they find that the national institution took a wrong decision. We know that banking system is the bloodstream of economy and that is why it is very important how the bloodstream is regulated. Keep in mind that Poland managed to avoid the deep financial crisis as a consequence of the good decisions of the FSA. The banking union is also a step towards a further deepening of the integration. Next step is a fiscal union. We can therefore expect an even greater loss of sovereignty. As the current crisis has shown – attributes of the financial system management enable you to steer clear of reef. Should the European Union strive for a full political integration in terms of federation?

Striving for a federalization of the European Union is a mistake. That is mainly due to the fact that there is no European “demos” to function as a sovereign in an integrated European state. The differences between nations which constitute the European Union are large, both in cultural and economic terms. The disparity has been clearly proved in the Eurozone crisis. There can be seen a clear divide between the North and the South of Europe, leading to huge problems in the management of coordination. Another example that shows problems in integration is Belgium. On the federal level, Belgium is very difficult to control, which you can see on the example of the recent crisis when the state operated for 541 days without government. If the EU continues to seek closer political integration, similar crises will occur also at the European level. The European Union should be a Europe of homelands, with each state constituting a separate political entity, cooperating with other Member States on the European level. Instead of political integration, the European politicians should focus on building a stronger single market.

Can political parties use the issue of national identity as a strategic tool in the election campaign?

Appropriating symbols of patriotism and national identity does not serve to the community and does not help building an inclusive model of modern patriotism. That does not mean, however, that the use of a readable cultural code for national identity – in this case Polish – is wrong. One of the tasks of political parties is to indicate such topics in the Polish national tradition which would serve to build an inclusive model of Polish identity that would be attractive to as many citizens as possible.

To what extent should supported aspirations to autonomy be based on a sense of regional identity, like in the case of Silesia?

A Silesian nationality does not exist, since it does not fulfil all the conditions necessary to determine a community as a nation. Silesians are Poles who live in a geographically enclosed region and speak their dialect, as the Highlanders. According to the constitution, Poland is a unitary state and therefore it cannot support autonomy. Going beyond Polish perspective – supporting autonomy processes based on a regional identity does not occur anywhere in the world. Strong national identity does not lead Breton to disconnect from France or Bavaria from Germany. Strong regional identity should rather serve as an inspiration to use all the possibilities offered by the Law on Local Self-Government. On this basis we would be able to define the directions of development of the region.

How to reconcile the notion of a European identity with the notion of a strong Polish nation? Is there any necessary contradiction between these concepts or can they be somehow linked?

Europe has always been a collection of many nations, redefining itself to a framework capable of coexistence based on universal values, stemming from the Greek, Roman and Christian tradition. Polish identity contributes to the European identity as well as the French or German. Building a European identity outside of or as a contrary to the national identities seems to be an artificial and harmful ideological constructivism.

Who is Jadwiga Emilewicz – politician, political scientist and lecturer at the Tischner European University in Cracow. Member of the group of experts of the Jagellonian Club. Former director of the Museum of the History of Polish People’s republic in Cracow. Scholar of the British Council in Wadham College, Oxford University and the American Council on Germany, Dräger Foundation, ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius Young Leaders Study Group: The Future of Europe: Perspectives for European Integration. Since 2013 she has been involved in creating Jaroslaw Gowin’s Poland Together (PRJG). She is a party candidate in the European Parliament elections.