WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Polish priest and media mogul has sparked uproar in Poland by calling the country a totalitarian state that "hasn't been ruled by Poles since 1939" — a statement many interpret as code for saying Jews are secretly running the country.
The Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has previously been accused of fomenting anti-Semitism through his politically influential, ultra-Catholic radio station Radio Maryja, made the comments at the European Parliament last week.
Poland's Foreign Ministry sent a diplomatic note to the Vatican on Saturday accusing Rydzyk of "harming the image of Poland abroad," the first-ever such complaint by the Polish government to the Holy See. The Vatican is the supreme authority for Rydzyk's Redemptorist order.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Polish news agency PAP on Monday that Rydzyk speaks in his own name and his statements do not involve the Holy See or Poland's Church.
He did not say if the Vatican will offer a formal reply, according to PAP.
Jerzy Buzek, the head of the EU Parliament and former prime minister of Poland, has called Rydzyk's remarks "scandalous and unacceptable."
Rydzyk spoke during a seminar on renewable energy last Tuesday. His remarks went largely unnoticed in Brussels but have since sparked days of debate in Poland, with weekend talk shows and newspaper opinion columns devoted to analyzing the powerful priest's words.
Poland is preparing to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on Friday — which Warsaw sees as a chance to improve its image on the European stage.
"The tragedy of Poland is that Poland hasn't been ruled by Poles since 1939," Rydzyk said, according to Polish media reports on the speech. He added that, "this isn't an issue of blood or affiliation," but that those who rule Poland today "do not love in a Polish way, do not have a Polish heart."
He also said Poland today is a totalitarian and "uncivilized country."
Though he did not mention Jews by name, his language echoed that of anti-Semites who claim that Jews hold excessive power in Poland and that Polish Jews are not "real Poles" with Polish interests at heart.
The number of Jews in Poland today is tiny. There were 3.5 million Jews in Poland before World War II, but most were murdered by Germany during the Holocaust and many of those who survived fled anti-Semitic violence and prejudice after the war.
Michael Levi, the president of Beit Warszawa, a Jewish Reform community in Warsaw, said he considered Rydzyk's language to be anti-Semitic since it comes in the context of his support for far-right politicians and anti-Jewish remarks his radio station has aired. It is "pure hate propaganda" that encourages extremists, Levi said.
Poland also is far from being a totalitarian state. After throwing off communism 22 years ago, Poland has joined NATO and the EU and stands as a model of democratic transition that has even advised the new Tunisian leadership following the recent revolution there.
Rydzyk runs a conservative media empire that includes the Catholic station Radio Maryja and the television station Trwam, both popular among some conservative, nationalist Poles.
He was at the center of a scandal in 2007 when he was allegedly caught on tape suggesting that Jews are greedy and that then-Polish President Lech Kaczynski was subservient to Jewish lobbies.
International Jewish organizations protested his comments at the time, and were also angered when Pope Benedict XVI held a private meeting with Rydzyk that year.