By Daniel Tilles
Critics often accuse Poland’s government of seeking to introduce measures that would limit free speech. But it is often overlooked that they already have a powerful set of tools at their disposal to stifle debate, restrict artistic freedom and intimidate opponents.
This month, a 67-year-old man was charged with the crime of insulting a monument for placing a t-shirt reading ‘constitution’ on a statue of former President Lech Kaczyński (pictured above). Last month, prosecutors launched an investigation into whether two men at an LGBT pride parade who added a rainbow flag to the national coat of arms (pictured below) had publicly insulted a state emblem, an offence that carries a prison sentence of up to one year. Earlier this year, a poet, Jaś Kapela, was found guilty of contempt for the nation after changing some words of the national anthem (adding a reference to refugees). Although he successfully challenged the verdict, the appeals court instead found him guilty of contempt for the anthem of the Republic. Continue reading
A cabinet reshuffle suggests that the new prime minister is no puppet and indicates a new direction of travel at home and abroad – one with potentially great rewards for PiS, but also significant risks.
By Daniel Tilles with Stanley Bill
Poland’s cabinet, which has remained almost unchanged in the two years since Law and Justice (PiS) returned to power, underwent a major reshuffle today, with a third of its ministers replaced. While all of the individual decisions had been rumoured, some for quite a long time, the scale of the overall change, and the decisive manner in which it transforms the nature of the government, still came as something of a shock.
Previously, Jarosław Kaczyński, the country’s unofficial but de facto ruler, has carefully and successfully balanced the various factions within the ruling camp (which, as well as his own PiS party, includes the smaller Solidarna Polska and Porozumienie). But he has now granted clear dominance to the more moderate, business-friendly wing. Meanwhile, major figures associated with PiS’s traditional national-conservative and religious base have been demoted or removed entirely. Continue reading
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
Poland’s media and civil society have reacted with concern to Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s announcement that the government wants to bring NGOs under more centralised control, because, in her view, too many of them are still ‘subordinate to the policies of the previous ruling system’.
To this end, her office is in the process of establishing a Department of Civil Society which will be responsible for ‘bringing order to the whole sphere’ of NGOs. It will collect and disburse all money intended for such organisations, and set goals for their work.
Leaving little doubt as to the purpose of this move, Szydło says that, although NGOs should ideally not be under government control, ‘it turns out we have not yet got to the moment at which politicians do not want to control social organisations’. Continue reading
The recent upheaval in Turkey has been seized upon by opponents of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to accuse it of leading the country in a similar direction. On a political chat show on Sunday, an opposition politician claimed that Poland is currently under a ‘dictatorship’ of the same type as Turkey’s. When pressed further on what was clearly an exaggerated claim, he admitted that ‘there are dictatorships and there are dictatorships’ – the point being that ‘Poland is on the wrong track’. Continue reading
By Daniel Tilles
Just like the Brexit campaigners, Poland’s own ruling party has been guilty of stoking resentment of outsiders, with the result that xenophobes have been emboldened and hate crimes have increased. The danger of leading the country in such a direction should be even clearer now that Poles themselves are falling victim to precisely such rhetoric in Britain, writes Daniel Tilles.
Since Friday’s announcement that the UK had voted to leave the EU, there has been a wave of hate crimes against immigrants in Britain. At this early stage, most of the evidence is anecdotal. But what appears absolutely clear is that the Brexit vote – which was motivated in large part by a desire to reduce immigration – has given xenophobes greater confidence to express their views publicly. Continue reading
By Stanley Bill
A new museum in the village of Markowa in the east of Poland honors the sacrifice of Poles who lost their lives in the attempt to save their Jewish neighbors from the Holocaust. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II is housed in the place where Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children were murdered along with Saul Goldman, Gołda Grünfeld, Lea Didner and five other children by German gendarmes in 1944. Their tragic story symbolises the fate of hundreds of others who paid the ultimate price for kindness in Nazi-occupied Poland, where aiding Jews was punishable with death. In a recent ceremony, Polish President Andrzej Duda opened the museum in the presence of other politicians, religious leaders, journalists, and guests from Israel. Notes from Poland co-editor Stanley Bill attended the event. He reports on the museum, the ceremony, and Poland’s new politics of history.