Radical Catholics fight Poland's EU bid

  • 2002-10-24
  • Maja Czarnecka

A radical Catholic radio station acting in the name of the Virgin Mary is waging a fierce campaign against Poland's plan to join the European Union.

As Poland races to finish its EU entry talks by the end of the year, Radio Maryja, founded by spiritual leader Father Tadeusz Rydzyk 10 years ago, is taking its campaign to the airwaves, broadcasting masses and meetings from small towns across the country.

In its latest attempt to get its anti-EU message across to its 2 million listeners, the radio took its campaign to the town of Mikolajki, organizing a mass and meeting for 400 worshippers.

In his homily Rydzyk urged the faithful to show their aversion to the EU bloc by boycotting its products.

"It would be better to live on dry bread, even without butter and especially without this European ham stuffed with hormones," he said, referring to a theme of one of his broadcasts: "the dangers of food imported from the EU."

More than 90 percent of people in Poland, a country of 39 million people, are Catholic.

Like the other nine candidate countries hoping to join the EU in 2004, Poland is expected to hold a referendum next spring on membership.

Rydzyk tells the congregation that the Polish church is witnessing its biggest threat since the country broke from the communist bloc in 1989.

"In Poland we are witnessing a massive attack on the church and against priests, unprecedented since 1989," Rydzyk says. "But nothing will divide us, we will remain united in our struggle, supported by the Virgin Mary."

Rydzyk has been accused by Polish Cardinal Jozef Glemp of interfering in politics.

But his message goes down well with the congregation, with people streaming in from his informal "parishes" in neighboring towns bearing all kinds of gifts and are thanked personally on the airwaves.

Worshippers do not seem to notice as he parks his shiny new Mercedes E 320 discreetly, making his way on foot to the church.

"If everyone was like him, our country would really be free," Helena, who organized the meeting and asked that her surname not be used, told AFP.

Other worshippers in this part of Poland, which once formed part of Germany, express fears of joining the EU.

"One day this country will no longer be our own," one says, referring to moves by Germans to buy up local farms.

"The EU is about pedophilia, homosexual marriages, euthanasia and abortion," a father said, in the company of his 10-year-old child.

Last week a group of Rydzyk supporters from the Polish Family League was thrown out of Parliament by security forces after occupying the chamber in protest against Polish plans to sell 85 percent of electricity supplier STOEN to the German firm RWE.

Father Rydzyk has made the fight against privatization of state-owned industries his battle cry, his radio denouncing on a daily basis "wild sales" in the strategic areas of banking, telecommunications, media and energy.

The privatization efforts are part of Poland's efforts to meet EU competition terms.

His radio station has gone as far as to attribute Nazi-style methods to the EU, accusing it of trying to "make slaves of the Polish."