As the country's ruling party seeks to subvert the rule of law, Poles of all ages and political stripes are fighting backby Annabelle Chapman / September 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Summer in Poland was punctuated with protests. Night after night, thousands of people bearing candles gathered outside the Supreme Court, parliament and residential palace in Warsaw. They were protesting a law that would have sacked the supreme court’s judges. More broadly, they had come out to ensure that the government respect the constitution. The symbol of the protests became a simple grey poster with the word konstytucja—constitution—printed on it, held up by Poles of all ages and varied political stripes. The word is the “lowest common denominator” capable of uniting Poles in defence of democracy, its creator, Polish artist Luka Rayski, told me.
For a long time, Poland was held up as a democratic success story. After the peaceful fall of Communism in 1989, it emerged as a stable democracy firmly rooted in Europe and the west. This made it a model for countries further east, such as Ukraine or Georgia, to emulate as they sought to shrug off autocratic leaders, Russian meddling and corruption. Yet recently, liberal democracy has taken a beating in Poland. Since returning to power in 2015, the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS in Polish) has been weakening checks and balances. The public media has become a government mouthpiece. Power is wielded by Jarosław Kaczyński, the party’s reclusive leader. He shelters behind the prime minister and president who PiS use as a public face. But just as when Vladimir Putin notionally served under Dmitry Medvedev for a spell, everybody still knows who calls the shots.