Couple of years ago in Tibilisi, Georgia I heard a story about the most powerful oligarch in the country, a former prime minister who had such an influence over the state that when his fancy was to have a bunch of centuries old trees at his seaside residency near Batumi, the police blocked roads along transport routes and railway powerlines were removed so he could move the nation’s treasures to enjoy them in private.
“It was when I understood that this country is nothing like the western democracy it pretends to be”, the friend who told me about Bidzina Ivanishvili’s folly concluded.
Her words rang in my head yesterday, when I saw pictures from Warsaw, where on April 10 a group of about dozen people appeared in a square in the centre of the capital. They did not even pretend to obey the pandemic-era laws that forbid gatherings or more than two and require individuals to keep distance of at least six feet. The group acted like they simply haven’t heard that the country was under full lockdown, that 5,955 people tested positive for coronavirus and 181 people have already died.
It would not be true to say that the police did nothing, as six of them chased a lone cyclist around the square. It was a man who wanted to protest not only against an obvious violation of the rules, but that it came from those who have established these rules.
Correctly so, because the group of lawbreakers were Law and Justice’s politicians. Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński in the middle, sided among others by the Speaker of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek and the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. They visited the Smoleńsk air disaster memorial at Piłsudski Square to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the crash that took 96 people, Mr Kaczyński’s brother Lech among them.
The message was clear:
People are dying all alone in hospitals, families are not allowed to attend their loved ones’ funerals, but Jarosław Kaczyński is above them all and his grief is more important than everyone else’s. “This country is nothing like the western democracy it pretends to be” indeed.
But this is only one of examples how the coronavirus epidemic exposed how Poland is half-way into its transformation from a democracy into an autocracy.
The ruling party also refused to accept the European Court of Justice’s ruling ordering an immediate closure of the Discipline Chamber at the Supreme Court, because the chamber was established in such a partisan way that the ECJ found it falling short to meet the requirements needed for it to be accepted as part of the EU court system. Yet the chamber did not disperse – it filed against the ECJ’s ruling to the Polish constitutional tribunal, which is already completely subjugated to the ruling party. Jarosław Kaczyński will decide whether he still fancies Poland to be a member state of the EU or not.
Yet the most prominent example of the deterioration of the Polish democracy is how Mr Kaczyński pushes forward with the May presidential election. He wants Andrzej Duda re-elected without risking that the pandemic and its economic fallout will terminate his power, so the Sejm trampled the constitution and a huge experiment of a nationwide postal election is to be exercised in a month.
Kaczyński’s folly is as dangerous as unfeasible, but it carries some hope that not all is lost yet. Democratic countries, as the United Kingdom or Austria postpone their ballots for a year or until it’s safe to vote. These, which do not even pretend to be democratic cancel their elections. They were mostly for fun anyway, like Russian people’s endorsement on President Putin’s constitution alterations. And Poland is somewhere in between, still deciding on it its future.
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