Poland at tipping point over Kaczynski power grab

Analysis: Protests grow as draconian media law is straw that has broken camel’s back

An effigy of Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski at a protest in front of Poland’s parliament in Warsaw. Photograph: Marcin Obara/EPA

An effigy of Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski at a protest in front of Poland’s parliament in Warsaw. Photograph: Marcin Obara/EPA

 

A year after taking power, Poland’s national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government has decided to decided to go for broke and push a conservative transformation that critics fear will become an authoritarian regime.

But in the coming days the canny PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has to decide whether weekend protests have put the brakes on his ambition.

Reacting to a protest in and around the Sejm parliament, Kaczynski suggested people were overreacting.

He’s right, to a point. Other European parliaments have strict limits on where journalists can work and what they can film. Visiting the Sejm, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Polish MPs as they run the gauntlet, pursued by journalists wielding microphones, cameras and smartphones. But this new media law is simply the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

After just a year in power, the PiS government has wasted no time: permitting widespread telecommunications surveillance, merging the public prosecutor with the justice minister, and transforming state-owned media into a propaganda machine that nears satire.

If, as the new media Bill demands, journalists are moved out of parliament to a nearby building and audiovisual coverage of parliament limited to an official feed, how will correspondents spot abuses of power, such as the PiS MP spotted voting – illegally – on behalf of an absent colleague earlier this year?

‘Attempted coup’

PiS and their allies have been quick to condemn the parliamentary blockade as an “attempted coup”. But by moving the parliamentary session to a private room, and passing the budget while excluding opposition and press, who here is staging the coup?

A year ago Kaczynski’s party won – fair and square – an absolutely majority from voters, attracted by moderate PiS campaign promises to do more for the losers of Poland’s transformation process.

Barely in power, however, the ultranationalist PiS of old under Jaroslaw Kaczynski reappeared. It worked quickly to eliminate checks and balances on its power and launched a radical overhaul of Polish politics, media, business, justice and education.

Anyone who disagrees with the reach, wisdom or legality of this transformation – opposition, constitutional judges, the EU or humans rights experts at the Council of Europe – are dismissed as wrong or are demonised as enemies of the state.

Poland’s building protests are about forcing a choice. Did Poles vote for Kaczynski’s radical vision of Poland – and does that end justify his means? In the final days of 2016, a freezing, divided Poland is at a tipping point.

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