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Those Who Opposed Poland’s Communist Regime Sense a Renewed Struggle for Democracy

by Lucas Garcia
4 comments
Democracy

In 1983, Dariusz Stola joined Poland’s Solidarity movement, a force of dissent against the communist government. At a young age of 19, he was already disillusioned with the regime’s oppressive censorship that extended beyond politics into the realm of culture.

To disseminate uncensored information, Stola would receive batches of 200 opposition newspapers from a member of his church choir. These papers, covering topics such as culture and history, would then be distributed to specific locations indicated by safe signs like window flowers.

Fast-forward to the present day, Stola, now a historian focusing on the communist era, finds disturbing similarities between the ruling populist government and the communist regime, particularly in their utilization of propaganda and “systematic lies” against political adversaries, often disseminated via publicly-funded media channels.

“It is a sense of déjà vu for me,” Stola expressed in an interview from his Warsaw home. “The patterns are eerily reminiscent of the tactics employed during the communist period in Poland.”

Since the ascendance of the Law and Justice party in 2015, the government has made consistent efforts to impose its ultra-conservative, nationalist ideology. This has involved threatening funding for independent organizations and establishing parallel institutions staffed with loyal supporters. Stola, having once served as the director of Warsaw’s Jewish history museum, witnessed this firsthand when he lost his position for refusing to comply with the government’s dictates. He contends that his defiance helped to safeguard the museum’s independence.

Three and a half decades after the semi-free elections of 1989, there is a growing unease in Eastern Europe. The initial euphoria that marked the end of Soviet-controlled communism has largely dissipated. High-profile activists such as Lech Walesa in Poland and Vaclav Havel in the former Czechoslovakia, who were once incarcerated for their views, rose to occupy top political positions. However, the increasingly tenuous state of democratic institutions is now a cause for concern, especially with pivotal national elections looming.

These elections are not just of domestic significance; they have international implications given Poland’s NATO and EU memberships, its strong pro-American stance, and its support for Ukraine against Russian aggression. Adam Bodnar, Poland’s former human rights ombudsman, describes the elections as decisive for Poland’s long-term future. Running for a Senate seat under the banner of the opposition Civic Coalition, the 46-year-old constitutional law expert sees the ruling party transforming Poland into a “semi-authoritarian state,” mirroring Hungary’s political trajectory.

The European Union has repeatedly accused the Law and Justice party of undermining democratic norms since it took power in 2015. This includes restructuring the judicial system in a way that dilutes the separation of powers. Concerns about the fairness of the upcoming elections abound due to the party’s increasing control over state apparatus, from the electoral commission to the Supreme Court.

However, the civil society in Poland remains resilient. Protests have erupted over judicial reforms, environmental degradation, abortion restrictions, and more. The EU, for its part, has been withholding significant financial resources, yet the government remains unyielding, arguing against external interference in its affairs.

Women’s rights have also taken a hit, most notably with restrictive abortion laws passed through the constitutional court, which is dominated by party loyalists. Despite the discontent, the Law and Justice party retains significant support, partly because of its commitment to traditional Catholic values and its robust patronage system.

Divisions within the opposition may yet provide the ruling party an advantage, despite declining poll numbers. Adam Bodnar warns that another term for Law and Justice could further jeopardize democratic institutions and norms, pointing to plans for tighter control over lower courts, educational institutions, local governments, and the media.

In the current political climate, veterans of the anti-communist struggle like Danuta Kuron fear a third term for Law and Justice would further undermine judicial independence and enable increasingly autocratic governance. Kuron considers not just the ruling party but also the entire parliamentary and party system fundamentally flawed.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader and a former member of the Solidarity movement, embodies the government’s belief that winning elections gives them carte blanche to govern without concern for democratic checks and balances. As Dariusz Stola notes, “That potential was always latent within the Solidarity movement.”

With elections on the horizon and recent resignations from top military officials, the fear is that military force could once more be employed to stifle opposition. Such a turn of events would have repercussions not just for Poland but for the stability of Europe as a whole.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Democracy

Q: What are the main parallels drawn between Poland’s current government and the communist regime mentioned in the text?

A: The main parallels include the spread of “systematic lies” and propaganda against political opponents, as well as efforts to control media and erode democratic norms.

Q: How significant are the upcoming national elections in Poland?

A: These elections are deemed highly significant not only for Poland but also for international relations, as Poland is a NATO and EU member and a key ally in the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Q: What has been the European Union’s stance on the Law and Justice party’s actions in Poland?

A: The EU has repeatedly criticized the Law and Justice party for undermining democratic norms, particularly in restructuring the judicial system, and has withheld funding in response.

Q: How has Poland’s civil society responded to these challenges?

A: Despite the growing political tensions, Poland’s civil society has remained resilient, with protests against various government policies and actions, including judicial reforms and environmental issues.

Q: Who are some key figures mentioned in the text and their roles in the current political landscape in Poland?

A: Key figures include Adam Bodnar, a former human rights ombudsman now running for Senate with the opposition Civic Coalition, and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader and a former Solidarity movement member.

Q: What potential consequences are feared if the ruling party secures another term in office?

A: Concerns include further erosion of democratic institutions, tighter control over lower courts, education, local governments, and the media, as well as the potential use of military force to suppress dissent.

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4 comments

JohnDoe23 October 13, 2023 - 11:46 am

this article really shows the, uh, serious troubles in poland’s govt, its like, history repeating itself, y’know? democracy’s shaky legs in poland, and the EU ain’t too happy ’bout it too.

Reply
PolandPatriot88 October 13, 2023 - 4:43 pm

EU shud keep its nose outta poland’s biz, they say. but protests, judicial issues, it’s all quite a mess!

Reply
InfoBuff2023 October 13, 2023 - 9:31 pm

Key figures like Adam Bodnar and Jaroslaw Kaczynski makin’ headlines, this article gives a deep dive into poland’s political scene.

Reply
SeriousReader101 October 13, 2023 - 11:46 pm

Elections rly imp, poland’s a big NATO and EU player, gotta watch how it goes. sad to see democ institutions strugglin’.

Reply

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