New Polish government accused of ‘creeping coup d’etat’

Media and artists criticise Law and Justice (PiS) party crackdown on news and culture

Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo and PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski: the new conservative government has taken control of the  country’s top court and secret services. Photograph:  Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

Poland’s prime minister Beata Szydlo and PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski: the new conservative government has taken control of the country’s top court and secret services. Photograph: Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images

 

Poland’s new national conservative government has been accused of staging a “creeping coup d’etat” for seizing control of the intelligence services and curbing the independence of the country’s highest court.

Journalists and artists, meanwhile, have accused the new Law and Justice (PiS) government of pushing an “Orbanisation” of Polish by life by cracking down on controversial plays and intimidating critical media outlets.

After last month’s general election the right-wing PiS party won an absolute majority in the Sejm parliament, ending eight years of rule by the liberal Civic Platform (PO). New prime minister Beata Szydlo and PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, for many the real Polish leader, have attracted controversy for appointing Mariusz Kaminski as head of the intelligence services.

He served in the previous PiS administration from 2005 to 2007 but last March was found guilty of abuse of office. Mr Kaminski appealed the sentence – three years in prison and a 10-year ban on holding public office – but before a higher court could hear the appeal and issue a final verdict he was pardoned by president Andrzej Duda.

Mr Duda, another Kaczynski loyalist who took office in the summer, cited a lack of evidence in dismissing the Kaminski case, which one of his advisers claimed had a “political character”.

A former constitutional court president has suggested it was the pardon, not the quashed criminal case, that has a political character. But the constitutional court, where any challenge to the pardon could be heard, is the next focus of PiS attention.

A decade after the court blocked several PiS legislative projects, the new government has ruled invalid the appointments of five new court appointments made in October by the last, liberal-controlled parliament.

Mr Duda declined to swear in the new judges and, on Wednesday night, the PiS-controlled parliament annulled the five appointments.

“The court is an institution of particular significance with enormous power, but is completely uncontrolled and has very weak legitimacy,“ said Mr Kaczynski. “It is essentially a political body and in today’s [political] realities, that needs to be changed.“

While the Council of Europe has raised concerns, opposition politicians view the changes as an illegal attempt to increase political influence over Poland’s highest tribunal.

Grzegorz Schetyna of PO, former foreign minister, has warned of a “creeping coup d’etat”.Ryszard Petru, head of the opposition Modern party, described the moves as a “blitzkrieg“ to “test and see how far they can go“.

Wednesday’s Sejm vote annulling the judge appointments triggered a protest outside parliament in Warsaw on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the state television station TVP has reinstated a prominent journalist suspended after a heated interview with the new cultural minister, Piotr Glinski.

He was invited onto the television show of Karolina Lewicka to explain his demand that a state-funded theatre in Wroclaw pull a production of a play by Austria’s Elfriede Jelinek, which he described as “pornography in its full and literal meaning”. Rather than answer her questions, Mr Glinski turned on his host and accused her of fronting a “propaganda programme” that has been “manipulating” public opinion for years.

She was then suspended for conducting an interview “contrary to the expected standards of public television”.

On Wednesday an ethics committee ruled the suspension was unfounded, her questions in the public interest and her “relentless adversary” role in the interview a consequence of the minister’s refusal to answer questions.

“If things continue like this it will be a disaster for Poland, “ said Mr Jacek Zakowski of Polityka magazine. “We still don’t know what kind of democracy PiS want to establish: liberal or perhaps illiberal along Hungarian lines.”