Don't Take the State as Your Prey

Foto: Jaap Arriens (CC BY 2.0)End of February: Thousends demonstrate in Warsaw against the new national conservative government. Photo: Jaap Arriens (CC BY 2.0)

The new government is attempting to restructure Poland to an authoritarian state, according to journalist Peter Pragal. He hopes a strong civil society in Poland can stop this.

An opinion by Peter Pragal (German version)

Translation: Lisa Kühn

When the Polish political party “Law and Justice” (PiS), led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, won the last parliamentary elections in Poland on October 25th, gaining an absolute majority in the Sejm, critics both in- and outside of Poland saw the country on a fatal path. This shift to the right, they claimed, would change the country profoundly and for the long term.

Other voices - both from Poland as well as from other neighboring countries - called for more careful consideration. The change of government, along with the ensuing redeployments, they said, was not only normal in democracies but could also be rationally explained: The previously governing Civic Platform (PO) had acted economically successfully, but neglected social politics. PiS, on the other hand, had promised social reliefs and gained many votes of citizens who previously felt neglected. Furthermore, it was argued that PiS had undergone a transformation since its first time in government; many of its officials and elected representatives were now more politically moderate than the party’s leader.

Democracy is put to question

I do not share this view. As someone who is constantly observing the situation in the neighbouring country, I remember very well the politics of Warsaw between 2005 to 2007. I remember how Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the Euro-critical Prime Minister at that time, stood shoulder to shoulder with his twin brother Lech, the then-president, trying to turn Poland into an authoriatarian republic. This plan only failed because his coalition government broke apart and the voters showed him the red card.

My concern that Kaczynksi would do everything to exert his power over government institutions in his second round was unfortunately confirmed. As soon as they were confirmed, the parliamentary majority, controlled by the PiS-boss, passed several laws, unified and in a rush, which put the basis of democracy, the seperation of powers, into question. The Constituonal Court was deprived of its power, the independence of prosecutors was abandonded, and state television brought into line.

Kaczynski, who holds no position in government, claims to fulfill the will of the people. Supposedly, this stands above the law. What a vital error. Majority rule that is not controlled by an independent judiciary destroys the base of democracy. Not even the highest electoral victories entitle the winners to take a liberal state as their prey.

Harsh judgements have been counter-productive

However, I believe it’s too early to speak of a “coup d’état” on these grounds. The parliamentary opposition, to which a new liberal party belongs, is admittedly without power, but not without influence. Freedom of expression and the freedom of assembly are still guaranteed. Well-known newspapers sharply criticise the political leaders. Week after week thousands of citizens are protesting against the decisions of the governing party. And it is yet to be seen whether the monitoring procedure initiated by the European Union will leave the government unimpressed in the long run.

I consider the massive media attacks in Germany and other EU-countries as justified. To denounce these attacks as hysteria, as one can hear from Warsaw, is unreasonable in my opinion. The analysis and comments that I have read seem appropriate and accurate on a factual basis. The harsh judgements of German EU-politicians on the other hand have been rather counter-productive. They only serve to strengthen the anti-German ressentiments of Kaczynski and his followers. The German government, in abstaining from public censorship so far, is acting wiser.

It is my hope that Poland remains intact as a democracy and does not turn its back on Europe. This hope rests primarily on the civil society. Our neighbouring country Poland builds on a great tradition of resistance against authoritarian rule. This was the case during times of Communism. And the current governing party will feel this resistance, should it continue to rigorously expand its claim to power.

About the Author

Peter Pragal is a Breslau-born, Berlin-based journalist and author; strongly connected to Poland.

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