Is Poland drifting away from the European Union?

Posted on Posted in Analyses, EU & NATO, International Developments

By Aleksandra Beldowicz, Journalist and EU Diplomacy Expert based in Poland

On May 1st, 2004, when Poland along with 9 other countries joined the European Union, it was an exciting day for most of the Polish citizens. In referendum on joining the EU almost 78% of them voted in favour and it seemed like a rational consequence of all the political changes having been occurring since 1989, after the fall of communism.
Back in 2004 Poland was meeting all the criteria required to become a member state.
It was a pure symbol of newly born democracy, which was not given easily, but required a great effort. Poland was accomplishing its romantic dream of becoming a Messiah of nations; Europe knew it mostly because of two great Poles: its first post-communist president Lech Walesa, leader of a trade union “Solidarity”, and its Pope, John Paul 2nd. Both epitomized the changes that Europe was going through after 1989, freedom and democracy.
It was a country with stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.
Nowadays, all the information about Poland transmitted by foreign media is full of anxiety about the direction the changes are going in. At some point there were so many of them, that the Poland-fatigue phenomenon was noticeable.
What gives rise to a number of doubts is how the country is changing under the rule of Law and Justice. This right-wing, extremely conservative party is clearly taking advantage of the victory of both the parliamentary and presidential elections.
The most controversial incident so far was the widely commented, Polish Constitutional Court crisis. It was obvious that the governing party tried to use its parliamentary majority to take over polish highest court. It neglected candidates that were appointed by Civic Platform and argued that any ruling issued by them was illegal. As a result, the Polish Prime Minister decided not to publish its verdict, although that action was against the law. According to the Polish law system, legal acts have to be published in the Official Journal or the Polish Monitor; otherwise they do not constitute a legitimate source of law in Poland.
Moreover, President Andrzej Duda signed the amendment that changed the court’s decision-making power by prescribing a two-third majority vote and mandatory participation of at least 13 of the 15 judges on the Constitutional Tribunal.
Since this Court’s main task is to supervise the compliance of statutory law with the Polish Constitution, any threat to its sovereignty may have tragic consequences.
As a response to many protests that took place all over Poland – also outside Prime Minister’s office in Warsaw, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Witold Waszczykowski, requested an opinion from the Venice Commission, regarding the controversial amendment. To the disappointment of Law and Justice, the Commission not only did not agree with them, but also stated in their draft report that “As long as the situation of constitutional crisis related to the Constitutional Tribunal remains unsettled and as long as the Constitutional Tribunal cannot carry out its work in an efficient manner, not only is the rule of law in danger, but so is democracy and human rights”.
The government did not seem concerned about the criticism, which proved how little it cared about the opinion of the European institutions. After all, it was Law and Justice’s MP, Krystyna Pawłowicz, who called the flag of EU “a dirty rag”.
Along with disrespect towards any law that is not suitable for them, members of Law and Justice do not hide their contempt for anyone who does not fit their standards.
Its co-founder and chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, recently in his speech divided citizens into “better” and “worse” sort of Poles. And and what is the most terrifying is that the government clearly does not see any reason to respect the opinion of the “worse” sort at all, recognizing its own point of view as the only one that matters.
Variety is no longer welcome in national TV and radio as well. Jacek Kurski, who was appointed as a new Chief of national TV, has a certain reputation as a Jarosław Kaczyński’s “bull terrier”. During presidential elections in 2005 he accused Kaczyński’s rival, Donald Tusk, of his grandfather having served in Wehrmacht in WWII. He never presented any proof supporting his accusation, but his move was just as pathetic as it was effective.
Polish media changed from public to national, which was supposed to be “the cure” for them. Instead it turned out to be another weapon for the government to spread its beliefs and opinions. Freedom of the press is a fundamental right of any democratic system, and public media should provide people with adequate, politically balanced information.
It is commonly known that public media are never completely free from politics, since they are sponsored by the government. Nevertheless, the scale of influence nowadays is shocking and can be compared to that of the era of communism with its propaganda and censorship.
There are also major changes when it comes to employment – just like in every other department; people are being replaced with those who favour the ruling party.
Journalists, who dare to stand up for their own opinion, are being laid off. Some of them protested against their freedom of speech being limited and left voluntarily.
Although we could say that some Polish officials should have their freedom of speech limited, at least when they speak on behalf of the nation. The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Witold Waszczykowski while commenting on public TV the possibility of polish president not having a one-on-one meeting with Barack Obama during nuclear summit in Washington, expressed his opinion by saying “No more ‘negro mentality’ toward US”.
After he was criticized – also internationally – for this highly inappropriate choice of words, he explained that what he meant was that Poland has changed its previously servile attitude towards the US.
That was not the only occasion he was not able to express himself properly. In an interview for the German Bild daily, he presented his opinion about the “leftists vision of world evolving towards a new mix of cultures and races, a world of bicyclists and vegetarians.”, adding that it has nothing to do with “traditional, polish values”.
Apparently, one of those values is aversion to refugees. Despite the fact that Poland is a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Polish Prime Minister consequently states that the country will not accept any refugees anytime soon. Government explains that this position is a result of recent terrorist’s attacks in France and Belgium.
Law and Justice spares no effort to convince the world to the conspiracy theory on the tragedy that took place on April 10th, 2010 when the TU-154 plane with 96 polish officials, President Lech Kaczyński included, crashed in Smoleńsk, Russia.
In spite of the fact that the whole nation united after the tragedy happened, most people assessed the situation rationally: serious technical issues and adverse weather conditions combined, caused the plane crash. However the idea of Russian conspiracy and assassination has become Law and Justice’s flagship for the elections.
On July 8, 2010 Macierewicz’s Commission was established in order to discover the cause of the crash. It tends to undermine the findings of other Commisions and all evidences and reports provided by Russia or by any sciencist who presents rational explanations, based on the laws of physics and so on. Antoni Macierewicz, its Chairman and currently Minister of National Defense, recently commented that Smoleńsk was in fact “the first major act of terrorism we recently witnessed”. Although there is still no evidence to support the government’s theory, in 2016 a movie called “Smoleńsk”, will present their version in cinemas.
Law and Justice also has the idea of rewriting the history, in order to prove that Poland owes all its glorious moments to its leaders. As a consequence of this strategy, Lech Wałęsa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, symbol of victory over the communist regime, was recently accused of cooperating with the communist government.
As Poland becomes more and more narrow-minded, another idea that may effectively limit human rights is to totally ban abortion. At the moment, in Poland abortion is legal in 3 cases: when woman’s life or health is endangered by the continuation of pregnancy, when the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act or when the fetus is seriously malformed. Pro-life activists claim that none of these cases matter and demand abortion to be completely illegal. Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydło revealed that she favoures total ban as well, which led to mass protests and made women all over the world – including stars and celebrities such as Mila Jovovich – show their support for Polish women.
In conclusion it is clear that some fundamental attributes of Polish democracy are presently undermined. Each and every example of it is disturbing and may have some serious repercussions, national and international.
What is the most alarming is the fact, that if the Law and Justice party remains in power, this lack of respect to Polish people, international treaties, independent Polish and international authorities, may even lead to POL-EXIT.
This scenario would not only be a colossal step back for Poland, but also a real threat to the future of the whole EU.