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Polish leader resists view that he was disrespected by Trump

Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, and President Donald Trump shake hands after a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, and President Donald Trump shake hands after a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
By Vanessa Gera Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s president is fighting back against criticism at home over a photo posted by Donald Trump that some say shows the Polish leader in a subservient role during a White House visit.

Trump tweeted photos of himself with President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday, including one of them signing a strategic cooperation agreement in which Trump is sitting at his desk and Duda is standing.

Both leaders look into the camera, Trump with a stern look on his face and Duda grinning.

Critics of Duda, a conservative, have accused him of allowing himself and Poland to be dishonored, even humiliated. Some have reposted the photo with one of Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sitting together at a table as they signed a memorandum in June. The message: even a dictator gets better treatment than the president of Poland, one of Washington’s most loyal allies.

Duda replied late Thursday with a photo of his own showing himself and Trump standing together with their signed agreement.

“The mockery and assault of the leftist media and some politicians and commentators, of known views, show the success of the Washington D.C. visit,” Duda wrote in his caption.

Duda argued that if the trip hadn’t been so successful, his critics would have said nothing, adding sarcastically: “Thank you for the words of appreciation!”

Duda is aligned with the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party, which has long vowed to restore a sense of national dignity to Poland after a long history of domination by foreign powers and now what it considers excessive interference by the European Union. A key party slogan has been to get Poland “rising from its knees.”

“This is the moment of signing an important declaration between the USA and Poland? This is rising from the knees?” said political scientist Marcin Palade, arguing that Duda’s staff should be fired over the photo.

The sense of Duda having been slighted was heightened by the fact that he had come to the U.S. to ask Washington to create a permanent American base in Poland, offering to name it Fort Trump and – according to Trump – pledging more than $2 billion toward the effort.

The fallout from the photo has included the firing of a journalist with a government-funded television broadcaster after he refused to delete the photo in question from his Facebook page. The only comment he added to the photo were the words: “On the left, the president of Poland.”

The journalist, Ivan Shyla, worked for Belsat, which broadcasts news and other programming from Poland into autocratic Belarus. He said Friday he felt he was the victim of “censorship.”

Belsat accused him of disloyalty and argued that posting the image compromised Poland’s national security, given the importance of Polish-U.S. military cooperation.

Poland considers the U.S. its main ally in the world and its key protector, as part of NATO, in a dangerous region bordered by Russia. Meetings with U.S. presidents are seen as high-prestige moments for Poland.

Still, Poles sense they do not always get fair treatment from Washington, something that goes back years.

Poles were angered years ago when it was revealed that Polish left-wing leaders allowed the CIA to operate a secret site in Poland in the years after 9/11 – against Poland’s own laws – where terror suspects were interrogated and tortured.

Many are also bitter that they still need visas to travel to the U.S., despite contributions to U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have cost Polish lives.

A major disappointment came under President Barack Obama, who canceled a Bush administration plan for a missile defense base in Poland that Russia opposed. Making matters worse, Obama announced the decision in 2009 on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.

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