Sunday, January 14, 2024

Poland is heading in a dangerous direction, jeopardizing the most basic civil rights and undermining democratic institutions

(If you are up to date on events in Poland, you can keep this long introduction and go to the appeal below.)

When communism was finally defeated in Poland and later in Eastern Europe, democracy returned, with some unexpected problems. 

There was a popular demand to clean up all structures of government and law enforcement, which was defeated by those who claimed that it would violate the spirit of real democracy, the rule of law, and even human rights, even though the idea was to not punish but simply remove from power those who under communism violated those right.

One of the most glaring examples of unequal treatment of citizens that followed was that those who, under communism, served in numerous law enforcement agencies, including those that secretly tortured and killed anybody voicing their opposition, received pensioners several times larger than the minimum and even medium wages.

Many communist-era judges found themselves in a position to control the judiciary, preventing many reform attempts. They created a system that would not allow anybody out of their circle to become a judge or a lawyer. 

Since 2015, the government, created by a coalition of conservative and some right-wing parties, has started to implement reforms that slowly dissolve this undemocratic system.

That's when the European Union decided that all those reforms broke their definition of "rule of law" even though the new law in Poland was not just similar but, in many cases, based on laws in other European countries. 

The EU politicians known in Poland as the "Eurocrats" supported the heavily supported opposition parties to the point that the EU refused to distribute the post-Covid funds to Poland, whose purpose was to protect member states' economies. Those funds were used as fiscal tools to defeat the governing parties.

Also, as far as I know, Poland never received any meaningful financial help in its support of Ukraine.

All those factors contributed to a small margin victory of opposition parties in parliamentary elections change of government. 

Now, in just one month, the new government managed to violate the constitution several times and break many laws, causing ZERO reaction from the European Union.

Independent media in Poland decided to formulate and publish an appeal to the democratic West: 

Appeal regarding the threat to democracy and human rights in Poland

Three months ago, parliamentary elections were held in Poland, in which a coalition of parties advocating for the improvement of democratic standards and the restoration of the allegedly endangered rule of law came to power. However, within a few weeks, not only were there attacks on democratic state institutions, and many basic principles of the Polish Constitution were violated, but there was also a radical threat to freedom of speech. The first political prisoners have emerged. Institutional and increasingly physical violence is replacing the debate. Politicians, the judiciary, and even private businesses are being intimidated.

After years of communism, Poland struggled to rebuild its democratic institutions, casting off the yoke of the totalitarian past imposed by Moscow's occupiers. Despite significant economic progress, changes in some areas were slow and not without serious mistakes, especially in the judiciary. To this day, individuals responsible for the repression during the martial law of the communist regime still sit in the courts despite their advanced age.

Criticism of the ongoing changes united parties that recently assumed power in Poland. However, instead of improving democratic standards, we are witnessing an attack on democratic state institutions and a dangerous threat to freedom of speech.

The new government's first decision was the forcible takeover of public media. According to Polish law, these media outlets should be managed by government-independent institutions, with specified terms outlined by Polish law. However, individuals appointed by the government disrupted the signal of the main news television channel and, with the help of hired private security personnel, forcibly removed the legal boards of the media outlets. They were not allowed to return to work even after court decisions declared the government's actions illegal.

Hundreds of journalists are unable to work, and dozens have already been dismissed. The ruling coalition's camp also organizes attacks on private media critical of its actions, using familiar mechanisms of defamation and intimidation seen in authoritarian regimes.

At the beginning of the year, the police stormed the presidential palace, arresting two members of the parliament without the knowledge and consent of the president, who were persecuted for fighting corruption. Both parliamentarians have undertaken a hunger strike, and their lives are in danger.

These arrests would not have been possible without the government rejecting the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court, which had previously deemed the actions against the members of the parliament illegal. A similar decision was made by the chamber of the Supreme Court designated for this purpose by law, and both parliamentarians were pardoned by the president.

Unfortunately, the will of neither of these key institutions for Polish democracy has been respected. The Speaker of the Sejm, representing the government majority, ordered the trial to be held in an unauthorized chamber of the Supreme Court, the only chamber still occupied by individuals responsible for the repression during the martial law of 1981.

A significant number of prosecutors and judges refuse to succumb to pressure from the new government, leading to further unlawful acts. The leadership of the prosecutor's office was completely unlawfully stripped of power, contrary to the law. The Minister of Justice is attempting to obstruct the actions of independent prosecutors seeking to investigate allegations against the new government.

There are serious signs of intimidation of private businesses as well, especially those that could be associated with initiatives unfavorable to the government. The independence of the Central Bank is under threat, and decisions of the Polish Constitutional Court are completely ignored.

For many people in Poland and around the world, it is shocking that politicians who came to power with slogans of improving Polish democracy and restoring the rule of law are implementing standards reminiscent of those seen today in Belarus or Russia.

Poland is heading in a dangerous direction, jeopardizing the most basic civil rights and undermining democratic institutions. Such actions cannot be accepted in the name of any political plan. These actions must be met with the opposition of the international public opinion.