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Archive/File: walesa-on-jankowski

(c) AP, June 23, 1995
 
Walesa's Slow Reaction to Anti-Semitic Sermon Causes Row

 [AP Photo WAR150 of June 23.]

 By ANDRZEJ STYLINSKI
 Associated Press Writer

     WARSAW, Poland (AP) - St. Brygida's Church near the Gdansk
 shipyard has been at the center of many shining moments in recent
 Polish history - from the birth of the Solidarity free trade union
 in 1980 to the fall of Communist rule in 1989.

     But this month, the church saw a grimmer event, becoming the
 focus of controversy when its pastor, the Rev. Henryk Jankowski,
 gave a sermon that linked Jews to the rise of Nazism and communism.

     "The Star of David is implicated in the swastika as well as in
 the hammer and sickle," he said at a Mass whose congregation
 included his old friend, President Lech Walesa.

     Hit by a wave of criticism, Jankowski made matters worse a few
 days later. The Roman Catholic priest issued a statement saying
 actions by Jews "in banking and finance circles" had led to
 "many human tragedies."

     For nine days, Walesa kept silent about Jankowski's remarks,
 even as Poles from all walks of life worried publicly about their
 nation's image. Then Walesa denounced anti-Semitism, without
 mentioning Jankowski by name.

     There had been fears that the controversy might lead President
 Clinton to snub Walesa when both attend 50th anniversary
 celebrations of the United Nations in San Francisco on Monday. But
 on Friday, the White House confirmed the meeting would take place.

     One Polish newspaper quoted unidentified White House sources as
 saying Clinton had agreed to the meeting so he could raise the
 issue of anti-Semitism in Poland with Walesa.

     In Poland, Jankowski's remarks and Walesa's delayed reaction
 have been widely commented on.

     Some commentators have suggested that Walesa, hoping for
 re-election in the fall but trailing badly in the polls, was wooing
 the right with his initial silence. Others said Walesa did not
 understand that silence would only fuel the fury.

     "Any silence in this situation means approval of such views.
 Walesa is my president and he has behaved in an undignified way,"
 said Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw
 Jewish Ghetto uprising against the Nazis.

     But the prominent Catholic writer Andrzej Szczypiorski defended
 Walesa, the shipyard electrician who came to symbolize Poles'
 struggle for self-determination as head of the Solidarity labor
 movement. "It is hard to suspect this man, shaped by the romantic
 tradition of Solidarity, of any kind of anti-Semitism,"
 Szczypiorski said.

     The writer said the protests against Jankowski's sermon and
 demands that Walesa speak out were an encouraging sign in coming to
 grips with anti-Semitism.

     "Those who used to be passive observers now say,`All right, one
 has to put an end to it'."

     Some expressed concern that the controversy could be a setback
 for Poland's efforts to integrate with the West.

     Poland is at a turning point, hoping for membership in the
 European Union and NATO that will determine its long-term fate,
 said Kazimierz Dziewanowski, Poland's former ambassador to the
 United States.

     At such a moment, Jankowski helped those "who want to present
 us as backward fanatics one cannot treat seriously as partners,"
 Dziewanowski wrote in the Rzeczpospolita newspaper.

     Walesa's delay in delivering a clear and forthright statement
 against anti-Semitism was reminiscent of the dispute surrounding
 Poland's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of
 the Auschwitz Nazi death camp last January.

     After weeks of accusations by Jewish organizations that Walesa's
 office was not giving them the prominence they deserved in the
 ceremonies, the president delivered a moving and eloquent closing
 statement about the murder of 6 million Jews, half of them Polish
 citizens.

     Some people close to Walesa say he has a tendency to ignore
 controversy, believing it will go away.

     But Walesa's first reaction in this case was to blame the
 acoustics at St. Brygida's, saying he did not hear the sermon
 properly.

     In his next statement, he vehemently defended Jankowski, saying,
 "He is not an anti-Semite," and suggested the news media were
 "malicious" in writing about it.

     Finally came the statement: "I am convinced that all signs of
 anti-Semitism, in Poland and all over the world, should be widely
 despised and condemned."

     Walesa, a devout Catholic, said he could not judge a priest. But
 Catholic Church leaders did not hesitate to condemn Jankowski's
 words, and said there was no prohibition against the president
 doing so.

     On Thursday, in a one-hour telephone conversation with writer
 Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, Walesa said he did not condemn
 Jankowski because the church has done so and the church is the
 highest authority.

     "He said that had he heard it (the remarks), he would have left
 the church in the middle of the sermon and that is a strong
 statement, especially in Catholic Poland," Wiesel said in a
 telephone interview from New York.

     Jankowski, who sheltered the opposition in his rectory after the
 communist government imposed martial law in 1981, said his remarks
 had been taken out of context and thus misinterpreted.

     "This was not an attack against all Jews, but criticism of some
 of them, those who are doing harm to Poland's interest," he told
 The Associated Press in an interview.
 
     (Copyright 1995 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)
 

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