What is going on in Poland?

From “this is creepy coup towards illiberalism” to “nothing is going on”, that’s how widely different many observers react on what is going on in Poland right now. So may I kindly ask also for sharing your view with me on what is going on in Poland? Read few comments.

Benjamin Stanley, Lecturer, SWPS University, Warsaw

My reaction to what is going on in Poland falls roughly between the two poles you outlined. I think that those who are already talking about totalitarianism and dictatorship in Poland are guilty of an absurd overreaction, and one which plays into the hands of Law and Justice, which has always thrived on a “siege mentality” approach to politics. Nevertheless, the idea that “nothing is going on” is equally absurd. Law and Justice is a party which has always had a very ambivalent attitude to liberal democracy. It doesn’t have the kind of majority it needs to make fundamental changes to the prerogatives and independence of the Constitutional Court, which is why it is engaging in a sort of constitutional nihilism; simply declaring that it is not bound by the decisions of the court. I think that the ultimate purpose of its actions goes beyond the question of “whose” judges sit on the Court; it is about persuading the Polish public that PiS’s diagnosis of a dysfunctional political system is correct. First they escalate the uncertainty, then they position themselves as the only party capable of fixing it. In this sense it is a return to the practices of 2005-7, only this time they have a more stable majority.

Konrad Hyży, Senior Analyst at Demagog.org.pl

As for the ‘constitutional’ crisis in Poland, the situation is quite simple. Civic Platform government just before losing the elections in October tried to uphold its dominance in the Constitutional Tribunal (which is quite a powerful body able to stop the legilegislativecess) by appointing the new judges before the terms of the ‘old’ ones were finished. Technically, out of 5 new judges they have appointed, only 3 were chosen legally, as the terms of the remaining two were to be done in December (ergo- few weeks after the elections).

PiS, on the other hand, decided to kick out all five new judges (including the three appointed in a constitution-friendly way) and replace them with their people. That’s where the uproar came from.

To sum up- both parties breached the law. President Duda followed the strategy presented by PiS and organised the oath-celebration of the new 5 judges (this time appointed by PiS) during the night, what caused the accusations of undemocratic methods of destabilising a state of law in Poland.

The situation gets more and more polarised, which gives more points to PiS as the hard-line electorate was actually gathered around the idea of a group oppressed and surrounded by the post-communist establishment which tries to hold the line by all its means.  Apart from that, further tribalization of the Polish society helps to continue the 10 year-old polarisation between PiS and PO, which fueled the last elections and brought Kaczynski’s party to power.

As usually, during such tensions, the first victim is truth and rational dialogue. Media connected either to the government or the opposition will sell their version of the story which actually doesn’t bring any new informations. Trivialisation of the public debate helps both sides and it is hard to assume that any of them will resign.

To wrap up- divide et impera, Polish version AD 2015.

Michael Szporer, Professor of Communications, Arts, and Humanities, University of Maryland University College

One could I suppose characterize it as the end of “rzad kolesiow” [rule by insiders] as Jerzy Giedroyc once characterized Poland. It is why the ruling elites have gotten a bad name, called these days “elyty,” to be distinguished from normal “elity.”

The country is polarized. I think the constitutional crisis is temporary, more imagined than real; it resembles FDR’s packing the Supreme Court in US. The reactions are remarkably inflated just after the election in which PiS [Conservative Law and Justice] received the biggest mandate, bigger than earlier PO [Liberal conservative Civic Platform] that had to rule in coalition.

More drama than there needs to be! Both parties emerged from the breakup of the Solidarity coalition [AWS] and are remarkably at odds. Much of it has to do with the unresolved division between remnants of Solidarity and those who believed in its moral promises and the democratic opposition that formed the ruling elites in the post-communist era. Unfortunately post-1989 history has been twisted and used for political purposes by various sides and very few objective accounts exist inside the country. It is sad but the best historians of modern Poland have been foreigners.

Is democracy threatened in Poland? The protests are not likely to intensify or bring the government down. There are areas of some concern. The value of the zloty could tumble and unwise remarks [such as the recent gaffe about nuclear weapons] may tarnish the country’s image or put needed reforms on hold. I would not be as glib about such gaffes since they undermine the country’s reputation.

Unlike Hungary, Poland does not have a problem with refugees, perhaps because it is bigger and less threatened ethnically. The unilateral decision by chancellor Merkel without proper security measures in place has critics in Germany, not just Poland; at the same time, few Europeans acknowledge a potentially bigger refugee crisis brewing in the East, especially if Russia implodes or provokes disintegration of Ukraine.

Poland has worked hard to establish good relations with Turkey and Israel; to accuse current government of anti-semitism solely for its Catholic component is unsound, given Pope Francis’s call on Christians to reject anti-semitism.

Poland is likely to boost its military, probably following the Scandinavian model, and look to more local alliances–possibly advocate a strong bond with Ukraine and Turkey, that will make it, and Europe, more secure. Media hype and name-calling don’t get us anywhere. A more inclusive dialogue, more tolerant of differing views, makes more sense.


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