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Is Poland slipping into a constitutional crisis?

Former PM Mateusz Morawiecki claimed that Poland now had 'political prisoners'

January 11, 2024 - 1:00pm

Since the new coalition government took power in December, Poland’s institutions have turned into vicious political battlegrounds on a level unprecedented in the country’s modern history. Seeking to hold onto the fiefdoms they had captured for themselves during eight years in power, the-now opposition Law and Justice Party (PiS) party has made it clear that it is determined to foil the new centrist government, led by Donald Tusk, in its mission to rid the state of PiS’s populist, Right-wing legacy — something Tusk has signalled he will do by any means at his disposal.

In the latest volley, Warsaw police arrested two MPs on Tuesday who had served in the Ministry of the Interior under the PiS government, after the pair had sought refuge in the Presidential Palace with the help of President Andrzej Duda, himself a PiS loyalist. The two had previously been convicted of abusing their power in an anti-corruption bureau years ago, before courts sentenced them in December and ordered their arrest this Monday.

The move has been welcomed by Tusk and his cabinet, but Duda, who officially pardoned the pair in 2015, has vowed to use every possible legal tool to free the two politicians, one of whom has reportedly now started a hunger strike. Former Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki went further, calling the pair “political prisoners” in an English-language video posted on X, and compared their detention to the political repression that haunted Poland during the communist period.

Of course, Morawiecki’s hyperbolic speech didn’t mention the context for their arrest, nor the fact that Poland’s Supreme Court had invalidated and rejected Duda’s pardons in June 2023. But regardless of these facts, the arrest of the two MPs means they will likely be stripped of their parliamentary mandates as per Polish law, a reality that is threatening to kickstart a constitutional crisis in a country that remains deeply divided.

Backed by court decisions, the new government’s leadership see these arrests as a much-needed measure of accountability and a return to the rule of law in Poland that was eroded by years of PiS cronyism. At the same time however, it’s hard not to view the political overtone of this move, especially in light of Tusk’s hands-on efforts to “clean house” across several state institutions. Since returning to power, Tusk’s administration has dismissed several PiS appointees at government-backed academic and social insurance bodies, and most notably, in its quest to restore diminishing press freedom in Poland, forcibly replaced the boards of state-funded media organisations that PiS had interfered with too. This time though, its heavy-handed approach was deemed illegal by the judicial system, and was seen by some legal experts as a continuation of PiS’s notoriously authoritarian tactics.

At the core of this intensifying conflict is the role of Poland’s courts, whose integrity has been compromised by years of political appointments by PiS across the legal system. Understandably, restoring judicial independence is a central aim of Tusk’s government, yet if its moves so far are any indication, it seems unlikely to go about doing this without upsetting the applecart and fomenting further political upheaval. But both sides see these battles as existentially important for Poland’s future, meaning that the current conflict is only the beginning of a protracted, bitter, and potentially explosive period in Polish politics in which both sides will fight tooth and nail to safeguard their respective national visions. 

Whatever happens in the weeks and months ahead will likely continue to test the robustness of Poland’s constitutional system — and given Poland’s rise to prominence on the European stage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the whole world will be watching with bated breath.


Michal Kranz is a freelance journalist reporting on politics and society in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the United States.

Michal_Kranz

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El Uro
El Uro
6 months ago

the new centrist government, led by Donald Tusk, in its mission to rid the state of PiS’s populist, Right-wing legacy — something Tusk has signalled he will do by any means at his disposal.
Sounds familiar.

Mrs R
Mrs R
6 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

How any knowledgeable person can deem Tusk centrist is beyond me and after reading that I’m afraid I abandoned the article.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
6 months ago

“…in its quest to restore diminishing press freedom in Poland, forcibly replaced the boards of state-funded media organisations”. Packing the boards of media outlets with government supporters is novel way of restoring press freedom. This article is beyond satire. Nobody who witnessed the manner in which Tusk, as President of the European Council, poisoned EU relations with the UK with his contempt for democracy, diplomacy, and even basic good manners, could be surprised by this turn of events. The EU fixed it for their mate to win the last election by withholding €60bn of funds from Poland, and will do whatever it takes to keep him in power. That is the nature of the EU today.

El Uro
El Uro
6 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

in its quest to restore…
The most interesting thing is that the author does not notice the absurdity of this phrase.

Thomas Bengtsson
Thomas Bengtsson
6 months ago

I really don’t understand why this article could have been posted since it’s filled with lies. Who’s this Michal Kranz? The Supreme Court reversed the appealed judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration. In other words, the Supreme Court unlawfully (contrary to the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling) upheld the aforementioned resolution of 7 judges of 31 May 2017. Who is festering and making a mess by weakening the state?

Imagine if an American president wouldn’t be able to pardon. Unprecedented.
Also The Speaker of the Parliament, Szymon Hołownia who’s the main instigator, a former vaudeville actor suddenly got a fast lane to one judge in the Supreme Court. A procedure that normally takes several years now works within hours. Also remember the MPs are already pardoned!

Not to mention the new minister of Culture, Bart Sienkiewicz, is a former Lieutenant Colonel. Does it ring a bell setting an unprecedented further work of his actions as head of the Culture. Which Western countries put an former officer and apartshik of Office of State Protection head of the Culture, resulting in unlawfully setting up a putsch on Public Media with the help of a private company sending goons in the Middle of the night, 3 am in the morning, to cut communicating lines of public television. This is crazy and only seen in third-world countries.

Michal Lanz please publish the truth not petty lies. I’m also surprised this pulp could have been published here in Unherd.com. Also I have just written an extremely small part of what’s happening in Poland right now and could lead to unknown roads ahead. But first a foremost the truth needs to be corresponded, not EU approved propaganda by Mr. Kranz!
Cheers

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 months ago

I know very little about this situation, but from what I’ve read Poland seems to be following a common pattern occurring in other Western countries where illiberal ‘liberal’ political parties use the state apparatus to punish political enemies. As I mentioned, I know very little of the intricacies surrounding this matter, but will be happy to stand corrected.

Thomas Bengtsson
Thomas Bengtsson
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Julian, I’ve been working here since 2009. I’m not a super expert but enough to have a smaller opinion since I spend 6 months of a year here. Yes you’re very correct it’s the same narrative by the Liberal media. What’s frightening is that Poland is, probably, one of the few countries in Europe where ALL larger media houses are owned by foreign power houses. As usual Soros is very involved but not only, and TVP was the only voice that is truly Polish. I’m not kidding.

TVP is a public service media house and I do agree it has a stronger leaning towards the former PiS ruling party. But people have to understand that this was the ONLY communicating channel whether it’s news about the EU, Ukraine and rest of the world. After the putsch in late December, which was the weirdest experience I’ve ever had, it’s very likely Donald Tusk will liquidate it. Honestly. One minute there was an journalist speaking and warning of the putsch the next second you suddenly watch a still picture of a Christmas tree. The signal was just cut and during a couple of days television was totally unavailable. Believe me I never thought things like this could happen in this neighbouring country.

Of course this isn’t the only thing that’s happening right now and new things are happening every day. Speaking of Orwell which is really scary.

Cheers

El Uro
El Uro
6 months ago

All you need to know about Mr. Kranz:
https://twitter.com/Michal_Kranz/status/1742898051079893170
After weeks of signaling a shift in conservative Poland’s migration policy, new PM Donald Tusk said yesterday that Poland would not agree to host migrants as part of the solidarity mechanism agreed on by the EU. Disappointing news for many liberal Poles
He reminded me of an Italian journalist who accused the Poles of racism. The Poles allowed in Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children. There were men, of course; there are plenty of cowards in any country, but there were more women and children. And the “racism” of the Poles was that when the Belarusian dictator Lukashenko decided to push males from Africa and the Middle East into Poland, the Poles returned them back.
Sometimes I think progressive liberalism is irreversible damage to the mind. I strongly recommend that Unherd inquire into the backgrounds of authors before publishing their articles.
And, in order not to look like a terrible reactionary, I will add that PiS’s idiocy on the issue of abortion is undeniable. You still won’t achieve your goal with prohibitions; this doesn’t work with women. They will find ways to circumvent your laws and they will be right. They invest a lot more in the child than you do, it’s up to them to decide. Limit the period to reasonable limits and close the issue. You can’t be dogmatic. Or deservedly lose the next election. Stupidity is punishable

Thomas Bengtsson
Thomas Bengtsson
6 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

Thank you. I’m not surprised anymore and do agree about checking credentials of journalists (activists) being able to publish rubbish on Unherd.com. In most polls in regard of immigration, more than 80% of citizens in Poland are opposing immigration. It has nothing to do with hate or racism but of returning Poles who have worked abroad in western EU countries documenting and reporting of what they have experienced in the West.

I’m sure Tusk is aware of this and he’s too sharp to make any changes (at least that’s what I think). But in the end I would never trust any leftist politicians, but on the other I can only look at what our own “conservatives” have done here in Sweden. And still do until today.

Cheers

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
6 months ago

When the PiS enacted similar shenanigans, Poland was fined by the European Commisison for “rule of law” infringemnets. Now that Saint Tusk is doing the same thing, can we expect the Commission to take a similar hard line?
I know the answer – “no”, because Tusk is a liberal and Morawiecki is a conservative.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
6 months ago

Tusk is ‘doing a Biden’ albeit without fondling girls on stage and not being able to find his way off it without help.

Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
6 months ago

I hope Tusk prevails and the corrupt anti abortionists get their heads stamped upon

Avro Lanc
Avro Lanc
6 months ago

Why do you want to kill unborn babies? Show your working.

El Uro
El Uro
6 months ago

Relax, buddy. Life is short

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
6 months ago
Reply to  El Uro

For aborted babies, very short indeed.

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
6 months ago

I’ll get you a set of shiny jackboots Doug and a brown shirt and you can do it yourself. Illiberal liberal.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
6 months ago

Goodness. I’ve heard of being opposed to the ‘Pro-Life’ agenda, but you really take it to extremes.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago

I assume you have adopted this position because of your mother’s regret

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
6 months ago

Welcome to the new democracy, where the old rules of vigorous exchange, the rule of law, and relative civility no longer apply. Constitutions and bills of rights are nice things, but they rely on leaders acting in good faith.
Interesting that judicial independence is cited as an issue. It’s something Team Biden is working to scrap altogether through its combination of lawfare and the cockeyed scheme of packing the Supreme Court, as if a Repub majority could not do the same thing.

Mrs R
Mrs R
6 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

New democracy or New Fascism?

Paul Curtin
Paul Curtin
6 months ago

Tusk is a stooge for the EU.
Surprise surprise. He complained bitterly with his EU pals that the PiS put their stooges into law media and government. He now fires them and puts his own EU stooges in place.
Radio silence from the EU about it.
The silencing of any form of opposition in media or institutions is the latest game from the EU getting the NGOs to cull the offenders of anything but the party line prior to the elections this year.
https://brusselssignal.eu/2024/01/ngos-can-police-the-internet-with-ec-blessing/
https://brusselssignal.eu/2024/01/what-is-happening-in-poland-is-setting-a-dangerous-precedent-for-the-whole-of-europe-autocracy-in-the-name-of-liberalism-is-coming-to-a-parliament-near-you-soon/
The illiberal liberal elite at its finest. Not a squeak about this from your average Islington Guardian reader.
Totalitarianism and its so brazen by the EU they’re not even bothering to hide it.

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
6 months ago

A bitter laughter erupted from my throat still untouched by the no-longer-very-novel coronavirus, upon reading the author lamenting  Poland’s courts, whose “integrity has been compromised by years of political appointments”. In the land of the free and the home of the brave (or the other way around?), in one of the warmer corners of which I have taken up abode some time ago, ALL of the courts have been stuffed with political appointments, since … oh … maybe since the beginnings? [bitterly] Haha, haha, haha [/bitterly]

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago

“At the core of this intensifying conflict is the role of Poland’s courts, whose integrity has been compromised by years of political appointments by PiS across the legal system”
Of course it was OK when the Labour party did the same thing in this country.