Poland’s justice minister has been nicknamed “sheriff” before, and in his role, he’s often accused of shooting from the hip. The latest news about him is unlikely to change that perspective.
Zbigniew Ziobro, the minister of justice and leader of the Solidarity Poland faction of the ruling conservatives, has been spotted with a gun sticking out from under his suit while attending a function last weekend. A gust of wind revealed he was carrying a weapon under his jacket as he was laying a wreath at a commemoration event. At a press conference, on a totally different subject, he answered questions on the “revelation” that he is armed.
Ziobro went into the press conference that took place a little before high noon with all guns blazing. He channeled his inner Gary Cooper and doubled down, dismissing the reports of him carrying a gun as being sensationalist. He said that he was merely acting within his legal right to own a gun.
He argued that he has a right to defend himself and his family, as there was an ongoing investigation into an alleged mafia contract being taken out on him. Ziobro added that he only carries a gun on occasions when he is not covered directly by security officers assigned to him.
“I am a minister who has a right to 24-hour protection, but I am also a human being, and on weekends I want officers protecting me to have time with their families.” The justice minister indeed has a license to own a gun and has been trained in the use of firearms.
But gunslinging is not so fashionable in Poland, and ministers are unlikely to acquire 00 licenses any time soon. The ruling conservatives in Poland do not support liberalizing the very restricted access to firearms. It is instead the right-wing Confederation party that has campaigned for giving wider access to guns to the public.
Former Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak from the liberal PO, a party that has recently had the habit of shooting itself in the foot, took to social media gunning for Ziobro. He asked whether the minister feared his colleagues within the ruling conservatives or the public. He called the practice “grotesque” and said it would be criticized and ridiculed abroad.
The topic was indeed seized on by prominent German MEP from the Green Party Daniel Freund. He asked “what the hell is” wrong with Ziobro and pointed to the minister as being an architect of the “anti-rule of law” reforms in Poland.
At least no one at the press conference used the immortal line: “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” These are the days of PC and MeToo after all.
The gun-toting controversy rather distracted from the real reason for the press conference organized on Tuesday by the justice minister. It was, in fact, to announce an investigation involving the exhumation of the body of Father Franciszek Błachnicki. It has been confirmed that the pro-Solidarity priest, a man very much in the mold of the more famous Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, was murdered. He was poisoned in February 1987 while living in Germany. That is a serious life-and-death matter compared to the revelations about ministers carrying firearms.
Father Błachnicki had been the subject of regular surveillance by the communist security services. His entourage had become infiltrated by an experienced and determined couple who were instructed to destroy the priest. He was the founder and force behind the “Light and Life” movement. He was engaged in the defense of Poland in 1939 and was later a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
After the war, he was persecuted by the communist regime. He resided in Germany from December 1981 after the introduction of martial law in Poland and was a priest at a Polish center in Carlsberg, Germany. He died suddenly on Feb. 27. The official reason given was pulmonary embolism. An investigation into his death had been closed in 2006 but was reopened in 2020 following the emergence of new evidence.