Poland: Restoring Plurality Or A Threat To Democracy?

Protest action from those opposing the Law and Justice Party shows no sign of stopping. In Warsaw on 6 May 2017, tens of thousands of people marched to show their disapproval of the Law and Justice Party strengthening of their central power and limiting by regulating the power of democracy. Civic Platform supporters, minor opposition parties and concerned citizens all took part. Mr. Schetyna, Leader of the Civic Platform Party, told protesters “We are for a democratic Poland, for a European Poland…” He also spoke of developing closer links with Western Europe and the European Union of which Poland is a member. Concerns held by the European Commission involving Poland also relate to democratic values. Poland, as a member state of the European Union, must uphold its democratic values. Recommendations made by the European Commission have been sent to Poland and outcomes are awaited.

The leader of the Law and Justice Party, Mr. Kaczynski, believes the protesters are mistaken and not well informed. He responded by saying, “Freedom exists in Poland and only those who do not perceive reality can question that.” He also stated clearly that everyone in Poland is able to express their own views. The actions of the Law and Justice Party were needed to redress the imbalance of public institutions created by previous governments who appointed supporters to powerful and pivotal roles in such organizations. This party believes winning the 2015 election gave it the mandate to reinstate traditional values into Polish life and democracy. Significant changes in society and rapid economic growth assisted some parts of society more than others resulting in divisiveness. The Law and Justice Party notices the lack of pluralism in the European Union and views it as another barrier to overcome.  Political resentment will have developed from the recommendations the Law and Justice Party received from the European commission. What occurs domestically in Poland is regarded as an internal issue and outside interference would not be welcomed.

Polarization fuelled by entrenched views and aggressive rhetoric on both sides has deepened the divide between the opposing political groups in Poland. Emotive language from those opposed to the governing party draws attention to the issues encouraging fear and angst. Unfortunately, it does little to resolve the issues. Politicians on both sides display little goodwill towards each other or to resolving differences which indirectly affect Polish people. Such stances can only be changed by dialogue in a non-judgemental environment where Polish citizens are made a top priority. This would provide an opportunity for open, honest discussion and increased understanding of the complexity of the issues involved as well as increased understanding of alternative ideas. Eventually, points of commonality would be found and a context of collaboration could result and compromise reached. The Law and Justice Party needs to be highly aware that voters can quickly shift their support if the change is too fast, too great, and there is too much of it. Reducing the power of the judiciary, blurring the separation of power and curtailing the public press has affected Poland’s reputation both domestically and internationally. Such action does not link readily with western democratic norms and has the potential to create conflict especially in a world that is becoming more interdependent and globalized.

By gaining both the Presidency and a majority in Parliament, the Law and Justice Party created political history as it was the first party to do so since Poland became a democracy in 1989. The Law and Justice Party used the Polish people’s lack of faith in European Institutions and their politicians’ indecisiveness in times of uncertainty to spread fear in certain sectors of Polish society and generate support for Law and Justice policies. This party also asserted itself in the European Union by refusing to accept a quota of refugees from war-torn areas of North Africa and Syria going against the wishes of Germany. By also criticizing Germany for accepting the Russian gas pipeline, it has shown the world Poland is not afraid to speak out. The President of Poland, who has strong links to the Law and Justice Party, has suggested a referendum on the Polish constitution be put to the Polish people so they have an opportunity to update this document. Opposition members believe this is another way for this party to gain more authority. Currently, the position of President and the associated power which goes with it is not clearly defined and is open to abuse from those hungry for power.

Politicians supporting Western ideals need to work cooperatively together to formulate a cohesive plan with detailed policies to give the Polish people a real choice of security and prosperity for the future. This will ensure those currently holding power will also have to focus on the needs of Polish people and work harder to produce quality outcomes.  This can only enhance the quality of democratic politics in Poland.

Louisa Slack


The Organization for World Peace