Poland and authoritarianism

A chara, – The Polish ambassador objects to the labelling of Poland as an "authoritarian regime". While referring to historical items such as Poland's constitution of 1791, her rebuttal completely ignores the sharp anti-democratic turn the country has taken since the Law and Justice (PiS) party took power in 2015. Since 2015, Poland has become known worldwide for the PiS government's crusade to bring Poland's independent courts under party control. Judicial independence is central to any democracy, and the courts had stood in the way of a prior PiS government. Among the new government's first actions was neutering the constitutional court by packing it with loyal judges, and changing the way verdicts were decided. In 2017, PiS passed a Bill to sack all supreme court judges, whose replacements would then be chosen by the party. New councils have been set up to punish judges for their rulings.

The government’s attempts to capture Poland’s courts have been so serious, and so successful, that Poland has become the first and only EU member to be investigated over government attacks on the rule of law.

Poland’s government has also attacked the media, granting control of the national broadcaster to PiS loyalists, and turning it into an arm of the party. Since 2015, Poland has fallen from 18th to 59th on the World Press Freedom Index. Leaving aside entirely the party’s demonisation of Poland’s LGBT community (calling for “LGBT-free zones“), and its frequent attacks on Muslims, Germany, the EU, and even the Solidarity movement which the ambassador invokes, the label of “authoritarian regime” seems not only just and objective, but necessary.

Poland’s retreat from democracy since 2015 has been abrupt and saddening, and is a stark warning to us all. Unfortunately for Poland, it is not the constitution of 1791 that matters, but the current one, whose careful separation of powers is being eroded more and more, day by day, as the country sinks back into authoritarianism. – Is mise,