Polish Alumnus: Legutko ‘a ruthless politician that contributed to Poland’s downfall’


Editor’s Note: The below letter has been widely circulated among members of the Middlebury community. It has been reprinted here with permission. The sections in bold were done by the author.

Dear Middlebury Faculty,

Those of you who do not know me – my name is Thomas Gawel, I graduated from Middlebury last May. I majored in International Politics & Economics with Russian and minored in Film & Media. I was raised in rural Poland and had the opportunity to intern at the European Parliament two summers ago. Currently, I’m working towards my JD degree.

When I first saw that Mr. Legutko was invited to speak on campus, my reaction was not outrage. It was, quite honestly, a mere surprise. Perhaps Mr. Legutko is recognized in academia, but, in reality, he is one of the most unremarkable and boring political figures that Poland has ever produced. Why would he be worth flying into VT to give what is likely going to be a very boring self-promotion lecture, I do not know.

Leaving the issues that many students and some faculty rightfully raise aside, I want to point your attention to another one. What I personally find surprising about this event is that some of you fail to recognize that Mr. Legutko is a hypocrite. He represents Law & Justice, a party that works tirelessly to destroy what is left of Polish free media and rule of law. This party has fired virtually all journalists from public media, placed its former MP as the president of the largest Polish TV network, and daily feeds ruthless propaganda to millions of unaware Poles. They have illegally taken over the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court, for which there are procedures pending against the country at the European Commission. They did so to bypass the Constitution and transform young Polish democracy into a very dangerous hybrid of economic socialism and nationalism/xenophobia.

Yes, they won democratic elections. But they illegally reached for much more power than they had the mandate for, and, one day, they will be held accountable. Hundredths of thousands of Poles took to the streets over the past three years to protest this mockery of a government. This is a single best proof of how problematic Law & Justice is.

If you want to shake hands and take smiley pictures with Mr. Legutko while he promotes his book, go ahead. But, if you do so, at least acknowledge a whole part of his ‘legacy’ that shows his lack of basic integrity. Mr. Legutko is not an innocent scholar whose work is a prophecy; he is a ruthless politician that contributed to Poland’s downfall. If you do not think that you owe this truth to all Middlebury students, you should at least realize that you owe it to me and other Polish students, past or future.

You cannot and should not separate Mr. Legutko’s scholarship from his words and actions as a career politician. Your open letter to students, Mr. Callanan, paints a very positive picture of this unfortunate guest. But it is a very incomplete picture. Students should be told that the man that will lecture them about drawbacks of liberal democracy is working tirelessly to destroy one, just across the ocean. I find it outrageous that you would leave such an important part of Mr. Legutko’s ‘legacy’ out of your letter.

My country is going through quite a turbulent time; by giving Mr. Legutko a platform to promote his book, you legitimize the destructive party and government that he is associated with. As a Middlebury alumnus from Poland, I am truly hurt that you showed such level of insensitivity and ignorance.

I am all for Middlebury inviting speakers that hold views different than those of the campus majority. But you could at least seek speakers who are not bigots and hypocrites.

Thomas Gawel graduated from Middlebury College in 2018.

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2 Responses to “Polish Alumnus: Legutko ‘a ruthless politician that contributed to Poland’s downfall’”

  1. Wiktor on April 18th, 2019 12:29 am

    Mr. Gawel is spreading false information based on his own personal sentiment and personal political views. Mr. Gawel is out to smear and spread propaganda. PiS has over a 20% lead in the democratic election polls and is the most succesful cabinet since the fall of communism in Poland. Mr. Gawel’s toxic opinion should not be taken seriously. Thanks to PiS Poland’s economy is thriving and the national birth rate has gone up significantly after the failure of the previous corrupt government which Mr. Gawel supports.

  2. Thomas on April 18th, 2019 10:03 am

    1. A large part of Polish population feels about this issue exactly the same way as I do. That’s not a “personal” sentiment or a “personal” political view. PiS is a quasi-authoritarian party, and that’s a fact. A party that respects democracy does not fire judges from nation’s most important courts as it pleases; does not re-write history textbooks to exclude heroes that criticize it; does not spread propaganda, lies, and false information. There’s a difference between being conservative and authoritarian; I would not have an issue with a democratically elected conservative government, but I do have an issue with a democratically elected conservative government that has no respect for the rule of law.
    2. PiS continues to maintain a slight advantage in the polls, not a 20% lead. They manage to do so because they control one of the biggest media groups, and feed terrible propaganda to mindless people like you. But do note that the overall trend is that PiS’s lead is diminishing, slowly but steadily.
    3. PiS is by far the last successful cabinet. They ruined Poland’s reputation abroad, they ruined Polish legal system, they ruined Polish schools, and – soon – you will see that they ruin Polish economy, too.
    4. Polish economy is thriving not thanks to PiS, but thanks to the overall good economic environment around the globe right now, and thanks to successful post-2008-crisis economic policy, led by the previous government. Polish economy was doing well before and when PiS took over, so don’t give PiS credit for how well Polish economy is doing right now.
    5. Polish birth rate has been around the same level for several years now; demographers agree that a very slight increase in birth rate is not nearly enough to offset the overall population loss. Giving away 500 zl to anyone who has a child is not a smart and comprehensive policy intended to increase birth rates; it’s a mindless, expensive, and populist policy aimed solely at buying people’s votes (using taxpayer’s money, by the way, which is not an endless bucket). Clearly, many people like you are very easy to buy. Cheap, too.
    6. I recommend that you check out all the corruption scandals that PiS was and is involved in.

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Polish Alumnus: Legutko ‘a ruthless politician that contributed to Poland’s downfall’