Open Letter to Polish Parliament
On the 15th of December 2017, the bishops of the three Evangelical Churches (Lutheran, Reformed and Methodist) circulated an open letter, in which they requested the withdrawal of the motions submitted in the Polish Sejm concerning the commemoration of the jubilee of 500 years of the Reformation. They emphasized that they did not want that manner of debate on the legacy of the Reformation in the Sejm of the Republic of Poland (RP). In this letter the bishops, first of all, extended their thanks directed to, among others, the President of the RP, Andrzej Duda, the Senate of the RP and the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church as well other Christian Churches and voivodship and self-government authorities for their presence and appreciation of the jubilee of 500 years of the Reformation. The letter was adopted unanimously at the joint session of the Synod of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church, the Synod of the Evangelical-Reformed Church and the Council of the Evangelical-Methodist Church in Warsaw.
The Letter from the bishops is the reaction to the debate which was held in the Polish parliament on the 14th of December 2017. Towards the end of October 2017 the MPs of Nowoczesna and PSL submitted a resolution draft commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In December the draft gained support by the Convent of Seniors and was presented by the Speaker of the Sejm, Marek Kuchciński. In the draft of the resolution it was emphasized that “in the year of the jubilee of 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the Sejm of the Republic of Poland would like to honour the movement that had a significant influence on the religious and cultural face of Europe whose integral part was and is the Republic of Poland .” What was also indicated was that the anniversary is “an excellent opportunity to express respect and appreciation to the Polish Protestants for their contribution to the development of our state, in particular, its culture, language and tradition.” “This is also an opportunity to remind that the Republic of Poland belonged to the most tolerant states in Europe, bringing together the citizens of different nationalities, religions and cultures.” Thus the resolution was supposed to be an act of honouring the Protestant environment and expressing gratitude for contribution to the development of Poland.
Unfortunately, the adoption of the resolution by acclamation was foiled by an MP from the Republican Party, which is in alliance with PIS, Anna Siarkowska with the statement:” I think that joyful celebration of the events which divided the Church is not a good idea. Thank you.” After her statement was adopted a resolution to direct the draft to the Commission of Culture and Mass Media of the Sejm of PR (232 MPs voted for, 193 MPs voted against and 7 MPs abstained), as a consequence, the draft will not be considered in 2017 any longer.
The issue of commemoration of the Reformation jubilee in the Sejm has its history. As soon as April 2016 was submitted to the Speaker of the Sejm the draft of the resolution on declaring the year 2017 the Year of Reformation authored by MP Urszula Pasławska (PSL) and signed by a group of MPs from all of the parliamentary clubs. At that time, proceeding with the draft was made impossible by the Commission of Culture and Mass Media. Its chairwoman, Elżbieta Kruk, (PIS) did not take any steps to submit the draft for consideration at consecutive meetings of this commission. In spite of the appeals by the movers of the draft the proceeding with the motion was refused. However, the Reformation and Evangelicals were appreciated by three sejmiks in Poland: Silesian, Lower-Silesian and Warmian-Masurian, declaring the year 2017 the Year of Reformation in these voivodships.
At the same time, the Evangelical-Augsburg Church in RP undertook endeavours for President’s Honorary Patronage over the whole program of the jubilee celebration in 2017. Ultimately, President of RP Andrzej Duda assumed the patronage only over the central celebration of the jubilee of 500 years of the Reformation.
Afterwards, in November 2016, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church in RP, Bp. Jerzy Samiec, on behalf of the evangelical community in Poland, sent a request to the Senate of the RP to adopt a resolution commemorating 500 years of the Reformation in Poland. On the 11th of January 2017, a resolution draft on the occasion of 500 years of the Reformation was sent by senator Tadeusz Kopeć to the Speaker of the Senate Stanisław Karczewski. The draft concerned the Reformation, but during the embarrassing debate, which took place in the Senate, a series of changes were introduced, removing from the draft the Reformation, recognizing only the legacy of their representatives (part of the explanation from the original draft was used and more than ten evangelicals of outstanding merit in the history of Poland were mentioned), and commemorating 500 years of the Protestants’ presence on the Polish soil. The Senate of the RP adopted a resolution on commemorating 500 years of the Protestants’ presence on the Polish soil on the 1st of February. For the resolution in this form voted 40 senators, 24 senators were against and 17 of them abstained. Both the debate and the resolution in the new formulation showed how Protestants in Poland are perceived and what ignorance and intolerance they may sometimes encounter.
Therefore, the reaction of the evangelical community in Poland to the situation which took place in the Sejm in December is justified. Despite the fact that in the commemoration of the Reformation took part the representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian Churches, despite the involvement of the academic centers, voivodship and local self-governments as well as the culture institutions, the Polish parliament did not meet the challenge to recognize the contribution of the Protestant community to the development of culture, science, education and economy as well as the preservation of independence of our common Homeland. As a consequence, it passed over the religious tolerance so cultivated in Poland for centuries as well as freedom and independence traditions.