Migrant families are particularly exposed in Norway to a powerful agency Barnevernet. Now one of their protectors, consul Sławomir Kowalski, is to be expelled. Polish and EU diplomats react.
Act 1: The accusation
21 January: the Oslo government officially requests for the Polish consul Sławomir Kowalski to be sent back to Poland. Norwegian MFA claims consul Kowalski misbehaved in a few situations when he acted in his consular capacity. Mr. Kowalski deals with Polish family affairs situation in the Norwegian courts since 2013. He is reported to have been involved in some 150 cases. Among his responsibilities are the Barnevernet cases.
The Norwegian Child Welfare Services, known as Barnevernet, is a highly controversial institution inside and outside of Norway. Czech president Zeman called their actions “Nazi-like”. There were protests about their lack of empathy and understanding towards young parents, especially the migrant parents. Officers of Barnevernet can appear any moment on your doorstep and take your child away for “misbehaviour” of the parents. Innocent until proven guilty? Not in Norway, a country where in 2005 a father has beaten his 8 years old son to death. Event has shocked the country and the agency has been given far-reaching competences.
Criticism of the Barnevernet is widespread: A BBC documentary here. The issue has been even taken to the European Court on Human Rights. In 2017 the ECHR decided there was no violation of the European Human Rights Convention. The 2018 cases are still pending.
Act 2: The defence
23 January: Polish MFA refuses the Norwegian request to recall the Polish consul. In fact, Mr. Kowalski has been recognised for his work: two years ago he was named “the Consul of the Year” by the Polish MFA. Apparently Kowalski was informed to leave on 18 January. He has been given three weeks to quit the country. Polish MFA wants him to finish his term in June. The Norwegian MFA in defence of its actions says it has informed the Polish ambassador about alleged irregularities many times before.
Among the situations the Norwegians recall is alleged aggressive behaviour of Kowalski. The Polish media are full of counter-stories. Here is one: in June 2018, a Polish boy is taken away from his parents. The consul intervenes and requests a meeting with the boy to check on his status. The Norwegian police makes this meeting impossible. The Poles and, apparently, most of European governments have a different reading of the international law.
A petition is initiated in defence of the consul by a Polish far-right organisation Ordo Iuris. To date, some 29,000 people support the consul in his fight against the expulsion and want him to continue defend the Polish families in Norway (26,000 in Polish and 3,000 in English).
Act 3: EU is interested
31 January: in the EU Delegation to Norway in Oslo a meeting takes place. Among the participants are the Ambassadors of EU member states accredited in Oslo. On their agenda is the situation with the Polish consul. European diplomats express interest in the Polish consul case against the Norwegian MFA expulsion. TVP Info, the far-right Polish television informs that among the supporters of Kowalski are diplomats from Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Britain, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia representing their countries in Oslo.
First, the obvious situation: there is a problem in Norway. Someone should deal with the situation and the Norwegians are the best placed to do it. Until then, people suffer. Many innocent people, even if very likely the agency sometimes is successful.
Second, the message in Poland has been hijacked by the far-right. The petition was initiated by the far-right NGO. The issue was picked up by the right-wing newspapers, and continue to inform the issue far more than the liberal media. According to far-right media Mr. Kowalski is some kind of super-human fighting for the Polish kids in the dark kingdom up North. His fate is linked with those, who defend him: the Polish MFA and PiS politicians who use this situation to scare the public. Just a little bit:
In the context of low natural growth rate in Norway, a high natural growth rate among the immigrants of a different skin colour, the possibility to assimilate the Polish children is very attractive. I think this is the pretext to take the Polish children and make them Norwegians, who are lacking in Norway. This is my personal thesis, but unfortunately fully justified.
Jan Dziedziczak, MP for Law and Justice (PiS), as quoted in: wpolityce.pl
Third, the European context. The Barnevernet criticism takes place everywhere. It is high time for the Union institutions to look into the situation. Not only into the specific context of expulsion of the Polish consul; though solidarity is welcomed. The issue of how to protect children and how to protect the families against too strict governmental oversight is important. The issue of rising your own children and their education clearly creates transnational problems, not only in Norway. The issue is related to the freedom of movement of workers and their families. This is an issue related to the social Europe and social rights.
The EU should be able not only to defend Kowalski, but to start the true debate about the issue of transborder families. Leaving this issue to be exploited by the far-right politicians is plain wrong.