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US 'deeply concerned' after Polish MPs back new restitution, media rules: Blinken

12.08.2021 10:00
US State Secretary Antony Blinken has said Washington is "deeply concerned" and "deeply troubled" after Polish lawmakers passed legislation "severely restricting" the restitution process for Holocaust survivors and a new bill that "threatens media freedom" in their country.
Antony Blinken
Antony BlinkenPAP/Marcin Obara

"We are deeply concerned that Poland’s parliament passed legislation today severely restricting the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era," Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday.

He urged Polish President Andrzej Duda not to sign the bill into law "or that, in line with the authority granted to him as President, he refer the bill to Poland’s constitutional tribunal."

Critics say the law, which introduces a statute of limitations on claims for the restitution of property, would make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Poland's Nazi German occupiers during the Holocaust and kept by the country's postwar communist rulers.

"A comprehensive law for resolving confiscated property claims is needed to provide some measure of justice for victims," Blinken said in his statement.

"Such a law would benefit many Polish citizens, as well as people who were forced to leave Poland during and after World War II and who subsequently became naturalized citizens of other countries," he added.

"Until such a law is enacted, the pathway to compensation should not be closed for new claims or those pending decisions in administrative courts," according to Blinken's statement.

Earlier this year, the Polish legislation drew an angry response from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who labeled it a “disgrace.”

Israel in June summoned Polish ambassador Marek Magierowski to express its “deep disappointment” over the Polish bill.

Magierowski responded to criticism with a series of English-language tweets defending the bill and saying that it would put an end to “wild reprivatization,” uncertainty and the prospect of eviction for families who “legally acquired their homes.”

Poland's foreign ministry in late June called in the chargé d'affaires of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw amid bilateral tensions over the proposed new rules.

US 'deeply troubled' by bill that 'threatens media freedom'

Blinken also said on Wednesday that the United States was "deeply troubled" by legislation passed by the lower house of Poland's parliament "that targets the most watched independent news station, which is also one of the largest U.S. investments in the country."

"Poland has worked for decades to foster a vibrant and free media," Blinken said, adding that "this draft legislation would significantly weaken the media environment the Polish people have worked so long to build."

"A free and independent media makes our democracies stronger, the Transatlantic Alliance more resilient, and is fundamental to the bilateral relationship," his statement said.

"Large U.S. commercial investments in Poland tie our prosperity together and enhance our collective security.  This draft legislation threatens media freedom and could undermine Poland’s strong investment climate," it added.

"Poland is an important NATO Ally that understands the Transatlantic Alliance is based on mutual commitments to shared democratic values and prosperity," Blinken stated.

He argued that "these pieces of legislation run counter to the principles and values for which modern, democratic nations stand."

"We urge the government of Poland to demonstrate its commitment to these shared principles not only in words, but also in deeds," the statement concluded.

Polish lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favour of a contested bill that seeks to prevent non-European owners from holding controlling stakes in domestic media firms.

The legislation, which strengthens a ban on companies from outside the European Economic Area controlling Polish broadcasters, passed with 228 votes in favour, 216 against and 10 abstentions in the lower house of Poland's parliament late on Wednesday.

It will now go to the upper house, the Senate, for further debate.

During an emotional session of parliament, opposition MPs decried the bill as an attack on media freedoms and an attempt to gag TVN24, a US-owned news channel critical of the government.

Critics have also warned that the controversial new regulations could harm US investment in Poland and sour Warsaw's relations with Washington.

Polish rules similar to those in other EU countries: gov't spokesman

Government spokesman Piotr Müller told reporters that Poland was bringing in rules similar to those in other European Union countries.

"We have the right to regulate issues related to ownership in a way the Polish parliament deems appropriate," he said.

Polish government spokesman Piotr Müller. Polish government spokesman Piotr Müller. Photo: PAP/Wojciech Olkuśnik

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said last month that the bill aiming to tighten foreign ownership rules for media firms was a “perfectly normal” legislative move.

Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin has said the proposed new media rules are designed to provide “tools to protect the media market from an aggressive takeover by Russian or Chinese capital."

He told reporters last month that the "mass media should not become a mouthpiece for spreading views that may threaten Poland's security.”

Poland’s governing conservatives have long argued that foreign entities own too much of the country’s mass media and distort the public debate.


Source: PAPstate.gov, Reuters