The United Kingdom recently denied entry to Polish right-wing writer Rafał Ziemkiewicz, who was traveling with his wife and daughter. His daughter is studying at Oxford University, in England. According to a Home Office letter which Labour Party MP Rupa Huq later posted on Twitter, the British border force ascribed the issue to “conduct and views which are at odds with British values and likely to cause offense.” The border force was referencing the numerous accusations against Ziemkiewicz which claim that his ideas propagate antisemitism, Islamophobia, rape, homophobia, and racism.
A Twitter storm followed the British government’s refusal to admit the author. Huq tweeted that she had also called for Ziemkiewicz’s removal from the U.K. in 2018, when she had gotten word that he was planning a speaking tour for the Polish communities throughout the country. (Ziemkiewicz would go on to cancel the tour.) Ziemkiewicz also participated in the online fervor. His tweets were mainly pointed towards Huq, focusing on her ethnicity and her outspokenness against Ziemkiewicz.
“I’m not convinced sending me racist abuse is going to persuade the U.K. government of the anti-racist credentials of a guy they refused to admit for racism,” Huq said in a statement for the Guardian.
Ziemkiewicz writes for the weekly right-wing magazine Do Rzeczy, and is also a published author, whose works often include a hypothetical setting where the E.U. has collapsed. His books have often been referred to as “political science fiction,” rather than “dystopian,” because of his tendency to push the political envelope. Even Ziemkiewicz’s fictional works often favor the right-wing agenda.
“It is also highly ironic Ziemkiewicz was a big enthusiast of Brexit and strict border control,” Rafal Pankowski, head of Poland’s Never Again Association, told Vice News.
Ziemkiewicz recently posted a video titled “Something is rotten in the state of Britain” on his YouTube channel. In the video, Ziemkiewicz states that his story is one of “defamation.” The British have every right to dictate the entry and exit of any traveller, Ziemkiewicz says, but they cannot judge travellers in this capacity based on their political views. By denying Ziemkiewicz entry, the U.K. is also denying Ziemkiewicz his right to his own thoughts, especially since the reason for his visit was to see his daughter off to Oxford for her collegiate studies. However, Ziemkiewicz’s attempt to enter the U.K. in 2018 was justifiably prevented, because his status as a tourist meant that the British government would implicitly be endorsing him to spread his ideas on a public platform.
Many observers have identified Ziemkiewicz’s work as a major factor increasing the platform for prejudiced speech in the mainstream Polish media. This effect is compounded by Poland’s leading political faction, the Law and Justice Party, a largely right-wing party that is known for being increasingly sympathetic to discriminatory discourse. Polish civil society has been criticized internationally for allegedly infringing on the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, while also dictating how the media covers its actions.
The Polish government amended the National Remembrance Law in 2018, which, according to Vice News, officially made it an offense to attribute any part of the Holocaust to the Poles. This created an institutionalized platform for antisemitism, while also demonizing any history unwritten within the Polish nationalist narrative.
Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal also recently ruled that key articles of one of the E.U.’s primary treaties is incompatible with Polish law. The articles in question are mainly referring to legal disputes which threaten Polish independence, especially around societally-driven issues. This Supreme Court ruling has protected Polish towns’ ability to declare themselves “LGBT ideology-free zones” under the Polish constitution. According to The Guardian, the Polish Supreme Court claimed that legal challenges based on E.U. law would be found “constitutionally inadmissible,” thereby granting its national agenda higher priority than the European Union. This calls Poland’s continued legal compatibility with the European Commission into question.
The Guardian also reports that, by declaring E.U. law invalid, Polish citizens are thereby considered second-class citizens under E.U. law, and can no longer be protected by the same rule of law legislation that is a founding principle of the union.
The concern over Britain’s right to deny Ziemkiewicz’s entry has added fuel to Poland’s tension about the value of E.U. membership. The national conversation around the tradeoffs of being a member-state is heavily reminiscent of Brexit nearly two years ago, leaving many worried about the possibility of a “Polexit” even as over 100,000 Poles have demonstrated to support Poland’s continued membership within the E.U.
Others worry about the longevity of the E.U. itself. Poland is not the only European country to make noticeable and concerted efforts to prioritize its national values over its allegiance to a common union. Nationalism is becoming a growing trend, and with it comes the ominous threat of weapons proliferation, under the justification that protecting national security is more important than building international alliances. This bolstered nationalistic fervor endangers the continued functionality of political and economic unions, including the E.U.
Is the U.K.’s refusal to admit Ziemkiewicz an act of political censorship against another country’s citizen, or a preservation of British values? In light of situations like this, it might be necessary to re-examine the plural nature of national loyalties in order to protect the sanctity of international co-operation.
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