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How a Pole could hurt Britain's Conservatives

The impolitic comments of EU parliamentarian Michal Kaminski have become a factor in Britain's election.

A campaign poster shows Michal Kaminski, who later won a seat in the European Parliament and became the leader of a conservative bloc, in the center of Warsaw, May 26, 2009. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

WARSAW, Poland — Michal Kaminski has become one of the best-known Poles in Britain, but that isn’t something Poles are enormously pleased about.

The reason? Kaminski has become the target of a sustained political attack by the British Labour party ahead of U.K. elections as Labour seeks to damage its Conservative rivals. His impolitic statements about an anti-Jewish pogrom in wartime Poland as well as condescending remarks about homosexuals left him a sitting duck.

Kaminski, 37, was plucked from obscurity to become the head of a new right-wing faction in the European Parliament — the eurosceptical European Conservatives and Reformists — that groups Britain’s Conservatives, Kaminski’s Law and Justice party from Poland, the Czech Republic’s Civic Democrats as well as a smattering of obscure nationalists from the rest of Europe.

Kaminski got the job, which was originally supposed to go to a Briton, by accident. Now his past comments — made to a domestic political audience long before he embarked on a European political career — have come back to haunt him.

The most inflammatory came in 2001, when he questioned the need for a Polish apology for the 1941 massacre of the Jewish population of the village of Jedwabne by some of its Polish inhabitants. Kaminski wrote that there was no need for a general apology because the murders were carried out by drunks and societal rejects. He pointed out that there had been Jewish criminals in the war, like the Jewish guards in the Warsaw Ghetto who had helped the Nazis send their co-religionists to the gas chambers. He also said: “Maybe it is an attempt to quieten the consciences of those Jews who did terrible harm to Poland during the Soviet occupation and during the times of communism?”

Kaminski now says he may have made a mistake, using “unnecessary arguments.”

In 1993 he handed out pamphlets at Warsaw’s main train station denouncing immigrants from the east bringing “typhus, malaria and other diseases” to Poland, something he now says was not his idea.

In 2000, he was recorded calling gays and lesbians “fags,” which is actually fairly normal in Poland but doesn’t translate well in the rest of Europe. Now Kaminski says he knows many homosexuals and is in no way anti-gay.

He also traveled to London in 1999 together with other Polish right-wingers to visit Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator who was being detained in the British capital. “This was the most important meeting of my whole life,” he said at the time, something he now admits was a “mistake.”

He was also a member of a Polish far-right party, the Polish National Revival (NOP), in the 1980s, from ages 14 to 17. The grouping is now extremist and anti-Semitic, although Kaminski says that wasn’t the case when he was a member.

In Poland, the well-fed Kaminski is seen as a bit of a cynic but skilled politically, one of a pair of spin doctors who helped secure the presidency of Lech Kaczynski, the current incumbent, in 2005.