In the recent weeks Poland has often graced international news in relation to its controversial activities regarding the rule of law, women’s rights, treatment of the church and the EU budget. All these facts have an immediate, direct and often negative effect on Poland’s International Relations and the country’s political position on the multinational scene thus becomes widely discussed and popularized in the media. There is, however, a recent event, which has not claimed such notability, yet has strong repercussions on a national scale. On the 7th of December students from Polish universities started a strike against the recently appointed minister of education, Przemyslaw Czarnek, in the fear that his anti-semitic, nationalistic and homophobic beliefs can have long term influence on the knowledge exchange in educational institutions.
Who is Przemyslaw Czarnek?
Przemyslaw Czarnek is a Polish politician, a member of the ruling, right-wing, PiS (Law and Justice) party, who was elected Poland’s science and education minister on 19th October 2020. Apart from causing a national controversy among the ones who remembered Czarnek’s opinions about women being reduced to their childbearing capabilities and his beliefs that the protection of religious feelings goes beyond artistic freedom (Leszczyński, 2020), his appointment also caused a major response from the Jewish community, who reminded the wider public of a claim made by the recent elect declaring the memorial for Jews killed in the Polish Holocaust an ‘anti-Polish scandal’ (Cramer, 2020). Nevertheless Czarnek has, unfortunately, gained his fame not only through his nationalistic and xenophobic views. Even before his recent election, he has been well-known for his disputable beliefs and conservative viewpoints with a lot of them being directed against the LGBT community, rights of women and rights of children. While he was still in his previous position as the voivode of Lublin, Czarnek has claimed that same-sex marriages are anti-constitutional and they promote ‘paedophilic’, unnatural and abnormal’ behaviour which pose a direct threat to the current family structures (Leszczyński, 2020). He has not only described homosexuality as an ideology, but also compared homosexuals’ behaviour to the one of Nazi soldiers, who destroyed Warsaw and killed civilians during the Second World War (Pacewicz, 2020). Under his mandate, many regions of Poland, mostly in the Lublin Voivodeship, claimed themselves as ‘Free from LGBT’, which led to a major international response with many countries deciding to cut any financial ties or cultural exchanges and an internal uproar from many Polish citizens who felt rejected, outlawed and dismissed (Ambroziak, 2020). However denying the LGBT community their basic human rights is not the only reason many Polish citizens show concern. Czarnek has also been very outspoken about his stance on child abuse in the form of physical aggression, where he has explicitly held the opinion that, in some situations, bodily punishment is essential for the healthy and effective upbringing of children (Skomra, 2020) and that the so-called ‘educative spank’ is absolutely justifiable.
The Polish reaction to Czarnek’s appointment as minister of education
The accumulation of this arguable ideology paired with the decision to give Czarnek such a responsible role as the Minister of Education led many educators to promptly express their concern with the fact that their tasks of delivering knowledge may be infiltrated by the nationalistic and conservative ideas of the ruling party and that the new generations may become victims of strong indoctrination. Many students showed their misunderstanding towards the fact that they are to be represented by a person, who opposes their rights and demonizes them in front of the general public. The minister immediately answered by ridiculing the newly arisen fears claiming that his aim is not to fight any minority groups but to teach children decent behaviour and discourage them from obscenity such as publicly expressing their sexuality or gender (Kozlowski, 2020). Nevertheless, the apprehension that Czarnek may progressively implement his controversial ideas did not decrease. On the contrary, the events of the weeks that followed only increased the tensions, finally resulting in a strike, which began in December 2020.
One of the first elements, which contributed to the feeling of uneasiness, was Czarnek’s decision regarding a school books reform. Few weeks after his appointment, he dismissed Alina Sarnecka, who led the department of books, progress and innovation, putting Roksana Tołwińska, a devoted member of PiS (Polsat News, 2020), in her place. He backed up the decision with the claim that, up until now, humanities were at a point of stagnation and they needed to be reformed in a process which would remove the existing ‘leftist’ ideals, replacing them with patriotism (Szpyrka, 2020) and that Sarnecka did not show enough willingness or skills to be able to take a lead on this. At the beginning, the Polish media saw this choice as Czarnek’s attempt to surround himself with his own ‘trustees’. Thus, the response of the general public focused more on the person of Alina Sarniecka with many organisations, including the Parents foundation, writing an open letter of support for her and her activities (Fundacja Rzecznik Praw Rodzicow, 2020). With time, however, more doubts regarding Czarnek’s motives arose, especially after his statement that leaving communist relics in historical books is unconstitutional and that all school books will be put under a ‘magnifying glass’ and their contents will be adapted to answer to a more nationalistic curriculum (Polskie Radio, 2020). Many scholars complained that this may lead to censorship in academic research and that it is Czarnek’s method of inconspicuously bring in ethnocentric education, which is no longer objective, but forces students to study a politically guided content (Leszczyński, 2020).
Czarnek also caused a lot of controversy after his ambiguous stance on the involvement of teachers and professors in the 2020 Women’s Strike. On the one hand, the minister has clearly stated that the teacher’s individual involvement in the strikes is ‘their own personal issue’ and therefore they will be met with no consequences for their participation. On the other hand, he claimed that teachers are obliged to perform their job which is to be present on the lesson, where knowledge exchange may take place thus any teacher who takes lesson time to mobilize students to participate in strikes, especially going out in the times of a pandemic, will meet legal admonitions (Bounaoui, 2020). The vagueness of the statement led many universities uncertain about the minister’s objectives. However, despite their confusion, they fell back on their autonomic rights and gave their students days off in October, which allowed them to partake in the demonstrations. Czarnek dismissed these activities as ‘irresponsible and dangerous’ as well as ‘adding to the growth and spread of the virus’ (Leszczyński, 2020).
On the 7th of December, after being held responsible for the contributions to the pandemic and being faced with unclearly motivated educational reforms, students started a national strike under the slogans ‘MENczarnia’, loosely translated as ‘torture’. MEN is the abbreviation of the National Ministry of Education and is, in this instance, incorporated into word męczarnia, which means torture (Bojanowska, 2020). The strike includes activities such as donating blood, a reaction to Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s words that Women Strike protesters have ‘blood on their hands’, refusal to take part in lectures, cleaning forests and a petition, given to the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, which demands the dismissal of Czarnek as a minister of education (Onet, 2020). The minister himself has disregarded the strikes and made a claim on his Twitter that he will continue to reach the aims of his educational reforms despite the growing dissatisfaction. His final stance is that revolutionary activity in education has never had positive effects thus it should cease immediately (Polskie Radio, 2020). The strikes are predicted to continue until the 11th of December.
Ambroziak, A., 2020. Bodnar: Uchwały Przeciw “Ideologii LGBT” Godzą W Obywateli I Mogą Naruszać Konstytucję RP. [online] oko.press. Available at: <https://oko.press/bodnar-uchwaly-przeciw-ideologii-lgbt-godza-w-obywateli-i-moga-naruszac-konstytucje-rp/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Bojanowska, M., 2020. Uczniowie i studenci rozpoczęli strajk. Chcą dymisji Czarnka. Zamiast na zajęcia, pójdą oddać krew. [online] gazetapl. Available at: <https://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/7,114884,26584571,uczniowie-i-studenci-rozpoczeli-strajk-chca-dymisji-czarnka.html> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Bounaoui, S., 2020. Czarnek O Nauczycielach Popierających Strajk Kobiet: To Są Prywatne Sprawy. [online] Rmf24.pl. Available at: <https://www.rmf24.pl/raporty/raport-strajk-kobiet/news-czarnek-o-nauczycielach-popierajacych-strajk-kobiet-to-sa-pr,nId,4865008> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Cramer, P., 2020. Polish Politician Who Called Holocaust Memorial A ‘Scandal’ Appointed Education Minister – Jewish Telegraphic Agency. [online] Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Available at: <https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/polish-politician-who-called-holocaust-memorial-a-scandal-appointed-education-minister).> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Fundacja Rzecznik Praw Rodziców, 2020. List Do Ministra Edukacji Narodowej Ws Pani Aliny Sarneckiej – Stowarzyszenie I Fundacja Rzecznik Praw Rodziców. [online] Stowarzyszenie i Fundacja Rzecznik Praw Rodziców. Available at: <https://rzecznikrodzicow.pl/2020/10/list-do-ministra-edukacji-narodowej-ws-pani-aliny-sarneckiej/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Kozlowski, M., 2020. Czarnek o swoich planach po wejściu do rządu. “Nauczyciele, a nie jacyś edukatorzy seksualni” [online] gazetapl. Available at: <https://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/7,114884,26364064,czarnek-o-planach-po-wejsciu-do-rzadu-bede-bronil-szkoly-i.html> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Leszczyński, A. 2020. Dowodził, Że Bicie Dzieci Jest Zgodne Z Konstytucją. Za Co Poseł Czarnek Został Profesorem?. [online] oko.press. Available at: <https://oko.press/dowodzil-bicie-dzieci-jest-zgodne-z-konstytucja-za-co-posel-czarnek-zostal-profesorem/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Leszczyński, A., 2020. Przenikanie Się Państwa I Kościoła, Wolność Bicia Dzieci: Co Wojewoda Lubelski Wywodzi Z Konstytucji. [online] oko.press. Available at: <https://oko.press/przenikanie-sie-panstwa-i-kosciola-wolnosc-bicia-dzieci-co-wojewoda-lubelski-wywodzi-z-konstytucji/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Leszczyński, A., 2020. Pis „Unarodowi” Humanistykę Na Uniwersytetach? Wiceministra Gawin Ujawnia. [online] oko.press. Available at: <https://oko.press/pis-unarodowi-humanistyke-na-uniwersytetach/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Leszczyński, A., 2020. Minister Czarnek Widzi Satanizm I Grozi Uczelniom Odebraniem Funduszy Za Poparcie Protestu Kobiet. Może?. [online] oko.press. Available at: <https://oko.press/czarnek-grozi-uczelniom-odebraniem-funduszy/).> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
onet, 2020. Dziś Strajk Generalny Uczniów I Studentów. Chcą Odwołania Przemysława Czarnka. [online] Onet Wiadomości. Available at: <https://wiadomosci.onet.pl/kraj/dzis-strajk-generalny-uczniow-i-studentow-chca-odwolania-przemyslawa-czarnka/lvfcwfg> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Pacewicz, P., 2020. Przemysław Czarnek Pierwszym Nauczycielem RP. Dostaliśmy W Twarz [WIDZIMY TO TAK]. [online] oko.press. Available at: <https://oko.press/przemyslaw-czarnek-pierwszym-nauczycielem-rp-dostalismy-w-twarz-widzimy-to-tak/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Polsat News., 2020. Czarnek Zdecydował. Wiadomo, Kto Będzie Odpowiadał Za Podstawy Programowe – Polsat News. [online] polsatnews.pl. Available at: <https://www.polsatnews.pl/wiadomosc/2020-11-09/czarnek-zdecydowal-wiadomo-kto-bedzie-odpowiadal-za-podstawy-programowe/> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Polskie Radio, 2020. Przemysław Czarnek bierze pod lupę podręczniki. “Są w nich komunistyczne relikty” [online] Rp.pl. Available at: <https://www.rp.pl/Edukacja/201209479-Przemyslaw-Czarnek-bierze-pod-lupe-podreczniki-Sa-w-nich-komunistyczne-relikty.html> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Polskie Radio, 2020. Przemysław Czarnek: Chcą mojej dymisji? Podpisują zmanipulowane słowa. [online] Rp.pl. Available at: <https://www.rp.pl/Rzad-PiS/201209646-Przemyslaw-Czarnek-Chca-mojej-dymisji-Podpisuja-zmanipulowane-slowa.html> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Skomra, S., 2020. Wojewoda Lubelski Naukowo O Karaniu Dzieci. Co Myśli O Klapsie?. [online] Kurier Lubelski. Available at: <https://kurierlubelski.pl/wojewoda-lubelski-naukowo-o-karaniu-dzieci-co-mysli-o-klapsie/ar/c1-14146001> [Accessed 9 December 2020].
Szpyrka, L., 2020. Reformy Edukacji Do Kosza? Mocne Otwarcie Czarnka. [online] Wydarzenia.interia.pl. Available at: <https://wydarzenia.interia.pl/autor/lukasz-szpyrka/news-przemyslaw-czarnek-ostro-zabral-sie-do-pracy-co-z-reformami-,nId,4850720> [Accessed 9 December 2020].