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Polish democracy is under threat and few people seem to be concerned about it.
Polish democracy is under threat and few people seem to be concerned about it. But the truth is that the rise of right-wing nationalist parties across Europe, many of which lean towards the far-right, is something we should all be worried about. Poland is no exception.
A few weeks ago, the mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, was stabbed to death at a charity event in the Polish city by a young man who claimed that Adamowicz’s former party, Civic Platform (PO), had wrongly imprisoned him. Adamowicz was a popular mayor who took a liberal stance on issues such as LGBT rights (a rarely championed cause in a predominantly Catholic country) and immigration.
The death of Adamowicz speaks volumes about the political climate in Poland in the present day. When it became a democracy after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, it looked as though Poland was set to enjoy the kind of democracy seen in many Western countries. Since the election of the Law and Justice (PiS) party in 2015, however, the level of democracy in Poland has been regressing. A right-wing nationalist party with illiberal ideas, PiS has been tearing apart the Polish constitution, from judicial reforms that make it easier for judges that aren’t in favour of the incumbent government to be dismissed, to the passing of a law that forbade the attribution of atrocities committed during the Holocaust to Poland and its people.
These laws are moving Polish politics to the right of the political spectrum in what is already a conservative nation. It is difficult not to regard Adamowicz’s assassination as a symbol of this reverting to extremist politics. When liberal-minded politicians start being bumped off by radical lunatics such as the one who murdered the mayor, it’s clear that democracy is fragile. This killing reflects the dangerous time Polish people are living through, as their government becomes more and more extremist.
What needs to be remembered is that this is not the first time Poland has fallen prey to an authoritarian regime. In fact, the country has a long and complicated history of dictatorship. However, this is not to say that Poland’s history is completely devoid of democratic and/or liberal tendencies. For example, it was one of the main countries to allow the Jewish people to settle in Europe back in the 15th century. Beyond this, the Polish people have stood up against tyranny, from the struggle against the Russian Empire in the Polish-Russian War 1830-31 led by Tadeusz Kościuszko to the opposing of the Nazi regime during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It should also be noted that during the interwar years between the First and Second World Wars, Poland (or The Second Polish Republic, as it was then called) was one of the first countries in the world to grant women the vote and prided itself on having an independent judiciary, amongst other things.
These are all things that Poland can and should be proud of; the rise of PiS, however, is not one of those things and flies in the face of any sense of democracy the Polish people have ever had. It is time for the international community to speak out against what’s happening in Poland and across the rest of Europe, so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Poland is still a democracy, even if it may be flawed in comparison to other models of democracy, but in order for this to remain so, it is necessary for Polish people to realise the dangerous impact of its current government and to vote for more progressive parties. A vote for the Law and Justice party is a vote against democracy. For this reason alone, Polish people must be wary. As for those who aren’t Polish, they should look to Poland as an example of democracy starting to fail and why it is urgent to do all they can to keep democracy in their own countries healthy.
A big thank you to the following sources which I highly recommend you all give a read if you’re interested in what is going on in Poland.
Christian Davies, (2018), ‘Poland makes partial U-turn on Holocaust law after Israel row’, The Guardian.
(2018), ‘Poland: Country Profile’, Freedom House.
Laurent Pech, (2018), ‘Poland’s democracy is being boiled to death while the world watches’, Euro News.
(2019), ‘Pawel Adamowicz: Poland mourns stabbed Gdansk mayor’, BBC News.
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