A rally in support of the Polish government’s ongoing judicial reforms and in “[defence of] Poland’s sovereignty” took place in Warsaw on Saturday, with an estimated 15,000 participants.
The event’s organisers included Gazeta Polska, a right-wing weekly linked with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, and its network of clubs, which brought in supporters from around the country.
“We demand the completion of the judicial reforms; no backward step,” said one of the organisers, Adam Borowski, speaking to crowds gathered in front of the Constitutional Tribunal’s headquarters, as reported by state broadcaster tvp.info.
The protest coincided with a convention of the United Poland party – a PiS coalition partner headed by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro – which took place under the slogan “stand with us to fight for Poland’s right to change its judiciary.”
During the convention, a letter from PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński was read out to attendees: “We [the ruling coalition] will not stray from our path. We will continue to reform the justice system, because that is what the republic and its citizens demand. We will not yield to internal or external pressure.”
— Piotr Drabik (@piotrdrabik) February 8, 2020
Many other Poles are unhappy about the government’s ongoing “reforms”, which have brought it into conflict with the Supreme Court and European institutions over new disciplinary measures against judges. A recent poll suggested that a slim majority (51%) supports the Supreme Court in the dispute while only 22% back the government.
Meanwhile, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) may decide this week to fine Poland up to two million euro per day if it does not suspend the controversial new disciplinary chamber of the Supreme Court, reported Rzeczpospolita.
The European Commission asked the ECJ in January to suspend the disciplinary chamber. In December, Poland’s Supreme Court itself ruled the new chamber not to be “a court within the meaning of EU and national law.”
The Polish government has been given until February 13 to respond with a statement defending the disciplinary chamber.
Saturday’s pro-government rally can also be seen as an indirect response to January’s silent march, organised by Polish judicial associations and attended by over 1,000 judges from across Europe in opposition to the strict new disciplinary measures.
Unlike the January protest, where as many European flags fluttered over the protesters as national ones, Saturday’s march was dominated by Polish flags.
Crowds waved posters saying “The Caste? Enough! [Kasta? Basta!]. Away with lawlessness in the courts”, using the pejorative term popularised by PiS politicians to portray judges as a self-serving clique.
Other protesters held up signs saying “Courts and prosecutors office into the hands of the sovereign” as well as placards in English saying “We support the changes in Poland.”
Main image credits: Adam Stepien / Agencja Gazeta
Maria Wilczek is deputy editor of Notes from Poland. She also contributes regularly to The Economist and Al Jazeera, and has also written for The Times, Politico Europe, The Spectator and Gazeta Wyborcza.