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

By THOMAS GAWEL

Editor’s Note: The below letter has been widely circulated among members of the Middlebury community. It was reprinted with permission on the Campus website on April 17, 2019. 

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.

You cannot and should not separate Mr. Legutko’s scholarship from his words and actions as a career politician.”

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.

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