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The Beginning of a Diplomatic Crisis Between Poland and Norway?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Olivier Bault.

Poland/Norway – Case of the Barnevernet (Norwegian Child Welfare Services) – A Polish consul has disrupted the Norwegian establishment

Is it a retaliatory measure after the asylum granted to a Norwegian mother and her 2-year-old daughter? In reality  Sławomir Kowalski has been disruptive of the Norwegian authorities before that. The issue is that he does a good job as a consul in supporting Polish families that are victims of the Norwegian social services’ behaviour – the Barnevernet. Norway has eight cases linked to the Barnevernet before the European Court of Human Rights and has already lost one last September. According to the Polish newspaper Nasz Dziennik, and people in contact with Kowalski, such as  the leader of the union Solidarność Norway, a lawyer, and also the lawyers association Ordo Iuris and the Norwegian Christian coalition (KKN), Oslo has been willing to get rid of the disruptive consul since at least one year and a half. Last June, the Norwegian authorities seemed to violate the Vienna Convention on consular relations. With the help of the police that has been called by Barevernet employees, they physically blocked the way of the consul to a meeting happening in Oslo between Barnevernet officials and Polish parents who had lost custody of their 6-year-old son after denunciation from the school.

But it is only in the second half of January 2019, a bit more than one month after the announce of asylum granted by Warsaw to the Norwegian Silje Garmo and her daughter, that the Norwegian government officially asked Poland to revoke her consul in Oslo. The Norwegian Foreign Affairs’ spokeswoman Ane Haavardsdatter affirmed that Sławomir Kowalski was persona non grata and that he had three weeks to leave the country. For Norwegians, the consul said things that are incompatible with his diplomat role. Norwegian television TV2 received the confirmation from the ministry.

Sławomir Kowalski who has been holding office since 5 years has been appointed “consul of the year” in 2016 by the Polish Foreign Affairs ministry. After quite vivid reactions in Poland the Norwegian Foreign Affairs ministry seems now hesitating. Kowalski knows that he will not be subject to an expulsion request, and eventually it will be up to the Polish part to decide if it wants to take the Norwegian government’s wish into consideration or not.

The Polish Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki implied that Poland would refuse to changer her consul, since he affirmed that: “We will always defend Polish citizens in the world. It is the role of Polish citizens and consuls, and we will not change our mind on that.” Regarding the Polish Foreign Affairs ministry, it declared that it has a really positive opinion on the way its consul in Oslo defends the interests of Polish families and estimated that his revocation is not justified. In case of expulsion of its consul, Polish reaction would be “calm but appropriate”, declared the Secretary of State Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk – implying that a Norwegian diplomat could then be expelled from Poland.

The incident in June when Norwegian police was called to bring the consul of Poland out of the Barnevernet premises have been the subject of an interpellation in the European Parliament of the Czech deputy Tomáš Zdechovský. He has been really involved against the Barnevernet since the case of his compatriot Eva Michaláková who has been denied access to her children in 2011 because of sexual abuse suspicions that have not been confirmed by justice. This does not mean she could get her children back, they are now 9 and 14 years old and she can only see them twice fifteen minutes a year, with the presence of Barnevernet officials, and speaking Norwegian language only! The case caused diplomatic tensions between Norway and Czechia, but it’s the Barnevernet that got the last word, to such an extent that the Czech grandfather of the children hasn’t been able to see them one last time before dying in September 2017. Czech President Miloš Zeman publicly compared the Barnevernet‘s practices to those in vigor during Nazi Germany.

In 2011 a Polish mother succeeded to repatriate from Norway her 9-year-old daughter, who was in a foster family, to Poland, with the cooperation of the daughter. The mother engaged a Polish private detective and his team and benefited from the help of the Polish consul of that time, which provoked a diplomatic incident between Norway and Poland. Polish justice claimed the superior interest of the child and then refused the Norwegian request of giving back the little girl, and let her be with her parents.

Because of the Barnevernet, Norway had diplomatic tensions with Romania too. In 2015-2016, Norwegian social services removed the five children from the Bodnariu family, which leaded to protests in front of the Norwegian embassies all over the world. Today the Romano-Norwegian family is back together thanks to international pressure and has chosen to live in Romania. It is that case that caused an investigation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and leaded to a report last June, that has been adopted by a large majority particularly criticizing abuses on families’ rights in Norway.

Translated by the Visegrád Post.