Hate speech is a pretext to exert political pressure

Alvaro Peñas interviews Marcin Romanowski, Polish deputy minister of Justice. Dr. in law, he was director of the Institute of Justice between 2016 and 2019. On 4 June 2019, the Minister of Justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, appointed him Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Justice and responsible for the cybersecurity of the judicial system and the implementation of new technologies in the field of justice. Marcin Romanowski belongs to Solidarna Polska (United Poland), one of three parties that make up the ruling coalition Zjednoczona Prawica (United Right).

Last year, a controversial judicial reform came into effect in Poland, supported by the vast majority of Poles but harshly criticised by the European Union. Has this reform been successful in solving the problems of the Polish judiciary and what do you think of this continued interference by Brussels in the internal affairs of a sovereign country?

The reform of the judiciary undertaken by the government points out what seems to be the main shortcoming of our judicial system: the personnel and the fact that, in its basic shape, the Polish judicial system never went through a real reform after the formal collapse of the communist dictatorship in 1989. Slow and subtle changes, accepted by the establishment at the time, were made only in the last decade of communist rule. Later, during negotiations between the communists and some of the more restive opposition, broader and necessary changes of the judiciary were excluded from the political reform package.

The judiciary was supposed to reform itself, facilitated by a new institution, the National Council of the Judiciary, established while the communist government was still negotiating with the opposition in 1989. However, the Council’s democratic cover covered up all the communist aspects of the judiciary, which was later brought up in political discussions for over 25 years, where various parties, including today’s opposition, demanded thorough reforms, including the reform of the Judicial Council. Most agreed that it was the Judicial Council, with its unclear system of appointing judges, the most responsible for the various dysfunctions of the judiciary. The unrepresentative nature of the judges composing the Judicial Council, including the glaring dominance of Supreme Court judges, meant that the Council was essentially a corporate “watchdog” for the purity of the judicial caste, eliminating all those who advocated democratic openness, transparency, and accountability of the third power.

In Germany after 1989, the “zero option” was applied, which resulted in a huge part of the communist judges leaving the profession. It was obvious to the German legislature that judges who were de facto important functionaries of the communist regime, often responsible for judicial murders and persecution of the opposition, could not be independent in the new democratic system. In Poland, this “zero option” means zero accountability, and there has been no purging of the judiciary, not even of communists responsible for judicial persecution.

Nowadays, from the Polish perspective, what is striking is the fierceness of the Brussels elites in their fight against the reforms undertaken and their lack of elementary historical knowledge about the Communist past and the embedding of the judiciary in the realities of the old system. What is worse, the rule of law has become a pretext not only for covert but also for overt interference in matters that under the EU treaties were left to the Member States. What is surprising and saddening is not only the fierceness of Brussels in fighting legitimate reforms that have popular support behind them but also the hypocrisy of the EU in its treatment of Poland and other countries. In its almost parallel rulings on the third power, the Court of Justice of the EU views Poland and, for example, Malta very differently. As a result, in Poland, according to the CJEU, the new Council of the Judiciary, which includes judges nominated by the judges themselves and elected by the parliament, is deemed to violate an alleged EU standard, while in Malta, the appointment of judges by the president on the proposal of the prime minister in the absence of a body such as the National Council is following EU law and guarantees independence. The situation is similar in Germany, where no EU body has indicated that overt political party affiliation of German judges is incompatible with the impartiality and independence of judges, while Poland, with its absolute constitutional obligation of impartiality, is being alleged to interfering in judicial independence.

It shows how biased and paternalistic Brussels’ approach. As for whether the reforms have had the desired effect, the answer must be partial. On the one hand, the reforms – in a sense – dismantled the CJEU rulings. On the other hand, they were not fully accepted by the coalition partner and the president, who vetoed some of the reforms.

Poland ratified the Istanbul Convention in 2015, a treaty that you defined as a Trojan Horse of the left. However, and at the behest of your ministry, in March the Polish parliament voted a text “Yes to the family. No to gender” against this treaty. Is Poland’s exit from the Istanbul Convention imminent? What measures has Poland taken against domestic violence?

Poland strongly opposes the neo-Marxist thesis of class struggle, which today has been reduced to a battle of the sexes. Some time ago, Marxists saw the evil of this world in capital. It was capital that divided people into better and worse, it was the source of all misery and exploitation. Today’s left-liberal elites refer to the same narrative, except that in place of capital they put sex (gender, as they try to redefine it). It is a gender that is supposed to be the alleged cause of mankind’s misfortune, it is a gender that is supposed to divide people into better and worse, into those who participate in social, political, and economic life, and into the excluded. The latter are supposed to be women, sexual minorities, people with different gender identity. According to these views, any stigmatisation based on gender or sexual identity is supposed to be the root cause of failures, difficulties, and even dramas in life. In the modern world, gender and sexuality have become the canvas for supposed divisions, discrimination, pathologies, and every possible exclusion, including the source of domestic violence. According to the slogans raised by the leftist avantgarde, the annihilation of gender, the obliteration of differences between women and men, and perhaps even the introduction of a completely new category of the third gender, and the lack of difference between sexual orientation and gender identity is supposed to bring about a new liberation, the essence of the liberal revolution, and the ultimate solution to the problem of violence against women.

We oppose such a primitive narrative. The real fight against domestic violence cannot be reduced to the abstract identification of its alleged source and to the creation of bureaucratic reporting and intrusive education that will make us believe that the division between men and women is fundamentally false. Problems such as domestic violence or exclusion are much deeper, more diverse, and nuanced. The sources of dysfunctions in the family are various pathologies such as alcohol or drug abuse, various addictions, random events caused by unemployment or poverty, or insufficient education that blocks chances for social advancement, sexualisation of women in mainstream media. In our opinion, the vision of man proposed in the Istanbul Convention is too primitive. The world and its complexity is not a problem of narrowly understood human sexuality, which, among other things due to the media, is today – in our opinion – excessively sharpened, or even distorted. Today’s world is a multitude of complex, often layered, and multiplied problems. The task of the state is to skillfully defuse them. This is what we have done, for example, with domestic violence in Poland, which we do not see through the prism of the battle of the sexes. Every domestic violence, regardless of its primary source, should be eliminated or at least minimised. This is what the Polish legislature has done by passing so called anti-violance act protecting the victim while at the same time providing effective separation of the perpetrator from the victim, regardless of what caused the domestic conflict. The police is authorised to issue warrant requireing the perpetrator to leave the house immediately during the police intervention. It is a legal mechanism providing real and factual protection for the victim. There is also a special aid network composed of 365 centers located throughout Poland, financed from a fund created by the Ministry of Justice – Fundusz Sprawiedliwości (Justice Fund), where victims, relatives and witnesses can seek free and professional legal and psychological aid. As a result, the fight against domestic violence has a comprehensive character and the level of real domestic violence, not only that in the official statistics, is one of the lowest in Europe.

Within this EU gender obsession, you took part in a debate in the European Parliament on the situation of LGBT people in Poland. Poland is a state governed by the rule of law, but it is constantly being challenged from Brussels. Aren’t all these campaigns a way for the EU to impose its ideological agenda on the sovereign states of the Union?

This is where the fundamental problem lies. What we are currently confronting in the European public space is a denial of democracy and pluralism. In a classical democracy, there was a plurality of views, thoughts, and ideas. Everyone had the right to say what they thought, and, in the public debate, the majority view was clear.

Today we have forgotten this rudiment of democracy. Instead, we have a far-reaching relativism. The political heralds of the left authoritatively define what is an acceptable norm that can function in public debate and what it is defined as dangerous “orthodoxy”, “fascism” or “religious fanaticism”. Relativism steeped in the ideological taint of left-liberal activists throws out of the public space everything with which it disagrees. The number one enemy is faith and traditional values, but also the nation-state and its substrate in the form of the people. Instead, the leftist phantasmagoria creates a utopian vision without religion, without values, and without the state, and instead, we are lured with a vision of a pseudo-socialist internationalism in a new guise that is supposed to bring happiness to all. This is to be achieved by the imposition of a uniform narrative and the elimination of everything that we consider to be superstition or something that does not fit into “our” vision of the world. The extent to which this process has gone is evidenced by the fact that everything that used to be the norm, such as a family consisting of a father, a mother, and a child, is now seen as a freak, while the title of a family is being claimed by various relationships in which the child is treated as an object. All this atomises society, undercuts its social, psychological and cultural foundations, and in the end, must end with a disaster.    

This ideological agenda is totalitarian and does not accept different points of view. A very revealing case happened in Poland two years ago when an IKEA manager fired an employee for not supporting a day of solidarity with LGBT people. The manager was prosecuted for discriminating against his employee. You said at the time that you would not allow the dictatorship of relativism or the ideologisation of workplaces.

We all agree that negative phenomena in public spaces should be eliminated. The culture of public debate is an area that is crucial for the functioning of democracy. Every lack of respect for another human being is reprehensible and should be condemned. However, the problem with hate speech is different. For some political circles, it has become a tool of ideological propaganda, which is supposed to form a “new man”. Public debate, especially in a democracy, must be open and pluralistic. And meanwhile, the hate speech invented by the liberal-left ideologists is what stifles the democratic debate. In the name of the alleged respect for another human being, it suppresses the views with which lefties disagree and eliminates views that do not fit into radical-liberal selectively chosen vision of the state, society and politics. One wonders with what hatred attempts to question and remove from the public space views that are based, for example, on faith, traditional values, and assimilated cultural patterns. The case of the teacher from Iceland, who dared to speak critically about the adoption of children by same-sex couples and for that reason the ECHR attributed hate speech to him, is just striking. Just as the stigmatisation of a Finnish politician simply for quoting the Bible in a public debate, which led to her being regarded as a religious fanatic who spreads the venom of religious hatred. We are observing an extremely dangerous tendency that the fighting against the “hate speech” serves stigmatising views with which the left-liberal mainstream does not agree. Applying the same measure in the other direction meets with outright aggression. Attacks on Catholics, ridiculing traditional values are being explained by the freedom of public debate, pluralism, etc. As a result, the main problem with the hate speech is its dislocation. The stigma of hate speech is usually attributed to views that are difficult to accept by the liberal-left majority, while overt attacks on the church, faith, family or defenders of life are protected by the umbrella of liberal freedom of speech.

The European Commission says it is very concerned about “hate speech” and wants to draw up a list of hate crimes by the end of this year. In Spain, for example, the left-wing government wants to criminalise some activities of pro-life groups. Isn’t this “hate speech” another tool to persecute dissident countries like Poland and Hungary or to criminalise Christian values?

I am afraid so. For a long time, the European Commission has been giving reasons to believe that the fight against the so-called hate speech will be another pretext for exerting political pressure on countries that do not unreflectively accept ideological, social, and cultural changes imposed by Brussels elites and neo-Marxists. We see that the “protection” against hate speech only covers radical liberals, LGBT people, or racial minorities. Although we increasingly witness attacks on Christians, we do not hear from European politicians even words of condemnation, let alone specific actions. Currently, “hate speech” is an abstract concept and, as with the “rule of law”, the European Union has not defined specific conditions for its assessment. Without precise criteria and objective assumptions, the European Commission will obtain another tool of political pressure. We will witness ideological censorship of anyone who does not use gender newspeak or simply express views that are in line with their convictions or religion.

Strajk Kobiet, the far-left pro-abortion movement, has received strong support from the Western media and the European Parliament and funding from many Soros network organisations. This group has been involved in attacks on churches and violent protests, isn’t this a real case of “hate speech”?

This is exactly what we are talking about. In Poland, especially after 2015, we are dealing with unprecedented attacks on the Church, priests, believers, or even people professing a traditional system of values. Manifesting one’s patriotism, faith, attachment to what makes up our cultural-genetic code by many participants of Polish political life is stigmatised by aggressive leftist circles, not only with words but also with deeds. Unlawful manifestations, profanations of monuments, and places important for the state, the nation, and the Church are considered – unfortunately – as a manifestation of normal public debate. Even the public paraphrasing of a Holy Mass by persons belonging to LGBT groups with strong obscene elements is considered part of such a “normal debate”. It is these examples of left-wing extremism, contempt for national heritage, and elementary disrespect for others that fill us with real horror. If we want to seriously talk about hate speech, we should treat all these statements as insulting to Catholics. Meanwhile, the today promoted prohibition of hate speech is strongly asymmetrical, even to the extent that the statements of openly conservative politicians are directly stigmatised as hateful, while the statements of left-liberal politicians and politicians, regardless of the content, are seen as a “natural” part of the public debate. The best evidence for this are statements of F. Timmermans, who on the one hand called the patriotic manifestation on the occasion of the Polish Independence Day in the European Parliament as the “march of a thousand fascists” and on the other hand called the street brawls of LGBT activists the voice of the civil society. It is clear that the main proponents of the fight against the so-called hate speech mean arbitrary censorship and limiting the freedom of speech of people with conservative views.

In January, Poland announced a law to tackle censorship by large social media platforms. When will this law come out, and are there any financial sanctions planned against these platforms or the so-called “fact-checkers”?

The Internet has become the place where most political discussions and worldview disputes take place these days. Citizens express their views there and should feel that their rights are protected in the online space. More and more often, acts of censorship take place there, targeting mainly religious and traditional content, or the broadly understood right-wing. Recently, YouTube blocked live broadcasts of church services in Poland. Thanks to a quick reaction and pressure from politicians of our party and many Christian organisations, the channel was quickly unblocked.

However, very often it is not enough. The censorship activities of digital giants contradict the idea of freedom of speech, which is why our project assumes that social-media giants will not be able to remove posts or block accounts of Polish users if the content they post does not violate Polish law. The project of the Ministry of Justice envisages the establishment of the Council for Freedom of Speech (CFE), which will guard the constitutional principle of freedom of expression. If the service blocks an account or removes an entry whose content does not violate Polish law, the user will be able to file a complaint to the service. The complaint will have to be resolved within 48 hours. If the company does not restore the entry or keeps the account blocked, the user will be able to file an appeal to the CFE. For not complying with the decisions of the CFE or the court, the Council will be able to impose a fine on the social media platform in an amount between 12,000 and 12 million euros. We want this law to be voted on as soon as possible because the digital giants are allowing themselves to interfere in the fundamental freedoms of citizens more and more every day. A specific legal framework in which online platforms can operate and appropriate measures to limit their impunity are a must. Our project is ready and was presented already in February this year, we are still waiting for the decision of our larger coalition partner, Law and Justice, to initiate the legislative procedure on this issue.  

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