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Democracy is at stake. Time for solidarity


By launching the "There is no freedom without solidarity" cause Gazeta Wyborcza and Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation aim at creating a movement of people of solidarity in times difficult both for Poland and its citizens, as well as Gazeta Wyborcza and its journalists. 

With this new, international newsletter we are asking you to join our cause and let us inform you, in a weekly manner, about key news from Poland. There is no freedom without solidarity and so it is our obligation to monitor and report government’s attacks on all communities and groups which are scapegoated for political gain and actions that are eroding our democracy. 

Please, share this newsletter with your friends and colleagues interested in Polish affairs. Let both - the message "There is no freedom without solidarity" and the truth about the situation of free Poles in their own country - be heard as widely as possible.

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Gazeta Wyborcza Team

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Disturbing news from Poland

Deputy MinJust resigns after report reveals he ordered a smear campaign against defiant judges

On Monday, August 20th, an investigative report published by Onet.pl portal revealed that the deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak has ordered and financed a smear campaign against a number of judges critical of the judicial reforms implemented by the government. The report contained excerpts from an online correspondence between Piebiak and a woman called Emilia according to which she sent out around 2,500 e-mails besmirching Krystian Markiewicz, the head of Iustitia, an association of judges critical of the judicial reforms. The e-mails, which contained rumours about Markiewicz’s alleged affair, were sent to right-wing media outlets, other judges, and Markiewicz himself. 

According to Onet.pl, Piebiak supplied both the (potentially fabricated) information about the judge’s indiscretions and the instructions on who to send them to. After the publication, Piebiak was asked to resign by Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, and he offered his resignation on Tuesday, August 21st. However, the published excerpts point to the fact that the Minister himself was aware of his subordinate’s activities, which led the opposition to call for Ziobro’s dismissal.  

Deputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak resigned on TuesdayDeputy Minister of Justice Łukasz Piebiak resigned on Tuesday 

Anti-LGTQIA campaign continues

The governing Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) is hoping to frame the parliamentary elections, which will take place on October 13th, as a referendum on traditional conservative values. It uses scare tactics by denouncing the “LGBT ideology” as a threat to Polish families and as an attempt to “sexualize” schoolchildren orchestrated by the opposition and sexual minorities. This narrative is being peddled by party officials during rallies as well as by government-controlled public TV and radio broadcasters.

On Sunday, August 18th, PiS leader and the de facto most powerful politician in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński thanked Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski for his efforts to defend “traditional Polish family” during a rally in Stalowa Wola. This was in reference to Jędraszewski’s comments from August 1st in which he spoke about “the rainbow plague” and compared the “LGBT ideology” to Soviet communism. In his fierce defense of traditionalism, Kaczyński mentioned that “Polish freedom means the right for our sanctities to be respected (...) [the right] to have our lives governed by the same rhythm which was formed centuries, millenia ago by those who laid the foundation for our faith. At the center of it all is the family.” He contrasted that with “the West”, where “freedom is in fact being eliminated, where people are being punished for speaking their mind [...] with the use of administrative and legal repression”.  

Jarosław KaczyńskiJarosław Kaczyński 

The government also supports initiatives which organize counter protests against the increasing number of Equality Marches taking place in cities across Poland. Some of the counter protests end up violently assaulting those marching, as was the case in Białystok on July 20th. As we revealed in Gazeta Wyborcza, the National Institute of Freedom, an institution founded by the current government to support NGOs, awarded 150 thousand euros to, among others, Institute of Sovereign Republic from the Białystok region, which tried to block this year’s Equality March in the city and is in charge of organizing the annual far-right Independence March.  

PiS celebrates Nazi collaborators

On August 11th, an official state ceremony under the patronage of president Andrzej Duda commemorated the 75th anniversary of the formation of the National Armed Forces brigade in the Świętokrzyskie region. The honorary guests included the head of the National Institute of Remembrance Jarosław Szurek and the deputy marshal of the Sejm, Małgorzata Gosiewska. 

The brigade was a partisan military grouping formed in 1944. It did not recognize either the official Polish government in exile or the underground armed forces in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Home Army. It was created by former activists of the National Radical Camp, a fascist organization which was banned by the Polish authorities prior to World War II. The brigade openly collaborated with Nazis, receiving both provisions and, in some cases, training from the occupying forces. It was then sent to the Soviet-occupied part of Poland to organize resistance against the Red Army. There were several instances of Jewish executions organized by the brigade. 

The organizers of the state ceremony invited the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, who responded by calling the gesture “a personal indignity”.  

The government ignores the court ruling in another effort to dismantle the rule of law

On August 13th, a group of MPs from PiS petitioned the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to nullify the court ruling according to which the marshal of Sejm has to make public the lists of support backing the new members of the National Council of the Judiciary (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa, KRS). KRS is a key institution in the Polish judicial system as it is in charge of proposing appointments for the leading court vacancies. 

After coming to power, PiS used the standard legislative procedure to change the way KRS members are appointed, a move which was in blatant disregard of the Polish constitution. In addition, it also discontinued the constitutionally-guaranteed term of the sitting KRS members. The newly appointed KRS consists entirely of judges closely linked to the government, many of whom came directly from the Ministry of Justice. 

However, even according to the new law, each appointee required a list of support with signatures from at least 25 other judges. Over the last 18 months, the government has refused time and again to publish the lists, raising doubts over whether all current members of KRS succeeded in gathering support from 25 of their peers. 

The opposition and legal NGOs have been battling the government’s refusal to make the lists public in courts. The Supreme Administrative Court of Poland has recently sided with them in a binding ruling which called for the marshal of the Sejm to publish the lists. Yet the battle continues. First, the head of the Personal Data Protection Authority, a longtime PiS party member, blocked the verdict by alleging that it would constitute a violation of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. According to lawyers, however, he has no authority to undermine the binding verdict of the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland. 

The aforementioned group of MPs from PiS is going even further in disregarding the court’s ruling by petitioning the Constitutional Tribunal to annul it. The Constitutional Tribunal is chaired by Julia Przyłębska, the wife of Polish Ambassador to Germany and a close friend of Jarosław Kaczyński, who frequently visits her in her private apartment. If Przyłębska and her partisan constitutional court voids a binding ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland, it would spell the definitive end of any judicial independence in Poland, giving the governing party the power to annul any inconvenient verdict. 

PiS dreams of silencing the media - Op-ed by Roman Imielski  

“We want Budapest in Warsaw”, Jarosław Kaczyński proclaimed in the run up to the 2015 elections, which ended up giving his party a parliamentary majority. The intention was clear - to follow into the footsteps of Viktor Orban, the self-proclaimed critic of the liberal democracy. 

One of Orban’s crowning achievements was the dismantling of independent media. Today, virtually all newspapers, TV broadcasters and online portals speak in unison, openly praising the Fidesz government. Media which were critical of the governing party were either closed or taken over by businessmen and companies closely associated with Orban, and then donated to the government-controlled Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA), which currently owns around 500 outlets.  

PiS dreams of a similar scenario. Jarosław Kaczyński is convinced that by controlling the media it is possible to fully shape the public opinion. This is why he chose Jacek Kurski, a media-savvy PiS propagandist politician once caught on tape saying that “ignorant mob will buy it”, to lead the public television broadcaster TVP. Both believe that once you have the media, you can force feed Poles with any narrative. 

Kurski fired several hundred employees and turned TVP into a propaganda machine for the government - PiS is always in the right, the opposition is evil and plotting, George Soros is the devil, and Western Europe is in decay under the weight of islamist migrants, sharia law zones and LGBT ideology. That this has nothing to do with reality is immaterial. What matters is that many of those who tune in to watch TVP appears to believe it. And in many Polish regions this is the only channel one can watch without subscribing to satellite TV. 

After coming to power, PiS has on multiple occasions threatened media outlets such as Gazeta Wyborcza or the Swiss-German owned Onet.pl with “repolonization” and “deconcentration”. One of the first decisions taken by the PiS government was to forbid ministries, government agencies and state-owned companies from publishing their announcements and publicity in independent media. This was accompanied by constant attacks on these outlets for being engaged in “anti-Polish activities” and for “following orders” coming from Soros or Merkel. 

In the run up to the October 13th election, PiS is trying to rebrand itself as a conciliatory party which works tirelessly to avoid conflict. This strategy has a clear purpose of demobilizing undecided voters who lean towards the opposition and are somewhat critical of the government’s loose attitude towards the rule of law, but can be placated into staying home on election day with an appeasing narrative of national reconciliation. 

To give an example of that logic, it is enough to read one of the latest interviews given by deputy PM and Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński. On August 11th, he stated that “the topic [of media] is on the backburner now because it is impossible to reform everything at once. The legislation is ready and it is compatible with the European standards (...) We know exactly what this is about. (...) When the society allows it, we will do it. Reforms like that always have to take place in the atmosphere of social approval.” Gliński then labelled the independent media criticism of PiS as slanderous. 

There can be no doubt about the fact that following a likely repeat victory on October 13th, PiS will introduce the Orban’s model in Poland. It will try to take over some of the media outlets, potentially with the use of a foundation similar to the Hungarian KESMA. It will pressure publishers to change their editorial line to one which refrains from criticising the government. Finally, it might change the antitrust law to weaken independent media groups, for example by forbidding a single entity from controlling both a nationwide newspaper and the largest company in outdoor advertising in the country. Such a law would target specifically Agora SA, the publisher of Gazeta Wyborcza. 

This scenario is even more likely given that the coming four years might be much more challenging for the government. PiS introduced a number of expensive social programmes, including a monthly child support scheme, while reducing the retirement age. Combined, these initiatives are a heavy budgetary burden, which could spell trouble if the economic indicators were to decline. Under such circumstances, controlling the narrative that reaches the voters is key. It would be much easier if there were no independent media that would allow Poles to hold the government accountable. 

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO SHOW SOLIDARITY WITH POLAND? 

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Let us know what you think:

If you want to offer us your advice or opinion, contact Joanna Krawczyk at joanna.krawczyk@agora.pl

If you need more information for editorial purposes, contact Roman Imielski roman.imielski@agora.pl

 ***

We need to show solidarity, or else no one will stand in protest when the authoritarian power comes after you, after me, after us. We need to stand with those who are beaten, not those who beat them.

Authoritarian states flourish not when bad people do bad things but when good people allow them.
 Today we are asking fellow Poles and our friends abroad to join the movement of people of solidarity. Your position gives you the right to speak out loud when others are being hurt. We do not have an army to defend ourselves, but we have words that can help those who are being harassed. Your voice is valuable because it can open the eyes of those who still prefer to turn their heads and remain silent. Now is the time to call things by their names. Let us speak the truth about the situation of free Poles in their own country. Let us remember that there is no freedom without solidarity.

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