Introductory note. This is an opinion piece written by Ricardo Silvestre, of the Democratas.
In the summer of 2010, walking along the streets of Warsaw’s Old Town, hand in hand with the wonderful Ania (Anna B), who I had the happiness to meet, and love, I was shown, here and there, the scars which the city proudly displays of a recent past, where the Polish people, and particularly the inhabitants of Warsaw, suffered horrible acts of cruelty.
Ania explained to me many things I already knew, from reading books on the history of World War II, and having observed, even if from a distance, the dynamics of the Warsaw Pact. Despite that, I let lovely Ania, with her English with Polish accent, tell me about the things she had learned in school and in conversations with her family.
As we passed the Presidential Palace, right next to the Catholic Church and Warsaw Seminary (where Ania confessed, one day she would like to marry), she explained that her father had been one of the members of the cleaning team in the Palace, shortly after the end of World War II. One of the biggest reasons for Ania’s father to be proud (apart from the two wonderful daughters he has) is that he was one of the inhabitants of Warsaw who helped the city return to some normalcy, which would only be fully answered in 1989 with the Polish Round Table Agreement.
Therefore the Poles know what fascism and totalitarianism is, and what it is to fight for its self-determination and freedom.
Anna B is fine. I spoke to her recently. Together with tens of thousands of Poles, she took to the streets to express her peaceful, but determined, opposition to what is happening in her country.
Last week, the Polish Parliament passed a law that ended the terms of the members of the National Council of Judiciary (this is a Constitutional body that garantees the independence of the courts and judges). The same law aimed to empowering the parliament to choose 15 of the 25 members 25 of the NCJ. There was also a bill that aimed to allow the Parliament to appoint judges to the Supreme Court.
This proposed change, promoted by the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS) the party in government, was approved by the lower house (the Sejem) and by the Senate, where PiS has a majority. This caused the biggest street protests since PiS came to power, in late 2015. General population, political opponents of PiS, human rights groups and the European Union say these changes undermine the separation of powers between the executive and judiciary branches, which is a fundamental democratic principle. Now it is in the hands of President Andrzej Duda to veto or enact the law.
Since being elected in 2015, PiS has strengthened government control over the courts and prosecutors, as well as the state press. It also has introduced restrictions on public meetings and the activities of non-governmental organizations. Few expected that the party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, now led by Maria Szydło, would destroy the foundations of Polish democracy in less than two years.
The European Commission has be following of what they call “the rule of law in Poland”. The President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, wrote a letter to the Polish President asking for “respect for the law, and for the values of the European Union”. The European Commission, according to the Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, is about to activate Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, which may lead to Poland’s suspension of voting in European affairs. However, the threats of the European Union appear not to deter PiS in the path it has decided to follow, perhaps because the threat of suspension of the right to vote will be vetoed by Hungary, another country going through a period of walking back of liberties and democratic processes.
Polish Minister for European Affairs Konrad Szymański assured that Poland “will respond” in case Article 7 is activated, although we do not know what that means. In some of the demonstrations, this time in front of the Presidential Palace, protesters carried flags of Poland and the European Union, chanting “Free, European and European Poland!”
What we can do? Complain to national, and European institutions, so that the pressure continues to be placed on the Government of the Law and Justice Party, with his anti-democratic tendencies, fundamentalist religiosity, suppressing free expression, persecution and threats to journalists, and promotion of isolationism and xenophobia.
This in a country that gave the world Solidarność, Joseph Conrad, Maria Skłodowska Curie, Fryderyk Chopin, Nicolaus Copernicus, and that also gave an example to the worl of of courage: when surrounded by people who wanted to conquer and subdue them, the Poles rose, and said “Nie!”, fighting, against everything and all, until the final victory. Now, the enemy “is inside the walls”. They were invited to “come in”, true, but you can also be asked to leave when the next opportunity comes.
Ania tells me that the fight is only at the beginning.
Below, some photos of the Polish people, again, to defend their country.