If you follow international news about Poland, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the country’s politics consist exclusively of an authoritarian government – intent on silencing critics, bringing state institutions under party control, destroying the environment, denying women their rights, and leading the country into conflict with its European partners – facing off against mass street protests in defence of democracy.
While serious struggles over such issues are taking place, and rightly receive attention, a vital part of the story has got lost in this coverage: despite the occasional photogenic street protest, the government is extremely popular. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s poll numbers are currently at their highest level since it returned to power almost two years ago. At around 40%, its support is equal to the next three parties combined. Continue reading
Białowieża Forest in northeastern Poland is the last of the vast primeval forest that once stretched across the European lowlands. Strictly protected for centuries by royalty as a private hunting ground, it is now a living museum of ancient natural processes replete with species extinct elsewhere. But the serenity of this fairy-tale forest has recently been disrupted by a bitter environmental conflict triggered by a huge spruce bark beetle infestation.
The State Forests Service, backed by the environment minister, argues that the only way to save the forest from oblivion is to cut out the million infected trees – a plan that is now around a third complete. Scientists and environmentalists, on the other hand, have roundly condemned the plan, arguing that it has no chance of halting the bark beetle, and will in itself cause untold damage to critical protected habitats. The issue has also become another front in the multiple conflicts between Poland’s national-conservative government and the EU, with the European Commission suing Poland over the logging at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and the Polish government refusing to comply with an ECJ order to immediately halt logging.
Who should we believe in this complex and politicised debate? Continue reading
By Stanley Bill
Two days ago President Andrzej Duda astonished both politicians and pundits by vetoing 2 of 3 controversial judicial reform acts proposed by the Polish government. In his justification, Duda indirectly attacked the Justice Minister – who is also the Public Prosecutor General – for attempting to acquire undue influence over the judicial system. Inspired by the advice of veteran “Solidarity” campaigner Zofia Romaszewska, Duda argued that “in the Polish constitution and in the Polish constitutional system the Public Prosecutor General has never had any supervision over the Supreme Court.” In a possible clue to a more personal motivation, he also expressed his disappointment that he had not been consulted – presumably by the Justice Ministry – during the preparation of the bill.
By Stanley Bill
In the Polish parliament’s recent passing of three controversial judicial reform bills, it is easy to point to two interrelated motivations: (1) a naked power grab from the Law and Justice (PiS) party; and (2) an attempt to hobble institutions that have ruled against the party’s legislative proposals in the past and posed a threat to its key members. However, these potential motivations are less important than the background of a consistent ideological program propounded by PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and his allies since 1989. The current legislative attack on judicial independence – including the anticipated dismissal of the entire Supreme Court – is part of a much broader plan for radical change. Kaczyński’s position has been unwavering: Poland’s state institutions need a revolution.
The dispute within the EU over the relocation of refugees from Greece and Italy to other countries is now reaching a head, pitting eastern member states, who refuse to take in their allocated share, against their western partners. Following recent calls from the likes of Sweden and Finland to punish those who fail to play their part in easing the burden of the migration crisis, the European Commission today began legal proceedings against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
This is a terrible idea. Continue reading
By Stanley Bill
The British Council recently set Notes from Poland editor Stanley Bill the fiendishly difficult task of summarizing the history of modern Polish literature in a mere 800 words for the Poland Market Focus at the London Book Fair 2017.
Bill argues that writers have wielded unusual power in Poland’s dramatic and often painful history: “To see this importance, we need look no further than the Polish city of Krakow. On the main square of the former royal capital, in the space of greatest symbolic significance, we find not a monument to a king or statesman or warrior, but a statue of the Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. In Poland, the writer has often been sovereign.”
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon are in the White House. The British parliament has given Theresa May the signal to start Brexit negotiations. Populist forces are surging in France, the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe. Russia is emboldened. The liberal consensus of globalism and international cooperation seems to be faltering, as national movements gain traction. The end of an era could mean a return to a less ceremonious contest between the strong and the weak. This would be bad news for Poland. So why has Warsaw been part of the trend?