Looking to Poland
Protests against the governing party signal tensions in advance of fall elections.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Warsaw on Sunday in a huge display of opposition to the governing party before an October general election, summoning memories of Poland’s rejection of Communist Party rule decades before.
The event, organized by the government’s political rivals, sought to deprive Poland’s deeply conservative Law and Justice party of its claims to the legacy of Solidarity, the trade union movement that led the struggle against a Communist system imposed by Moscow after World War II.
Large protests also took place in Krakow, Szczecin and other big cities controlled by the opposition, which is strong in urban areas but struggles in the countryside.
This all strikes me as noteworthy, as Poland, like Hungary, has been experiencing significant democratic backsliding and the Law and Justice Party has been a major force in that process. As such, the mobilization this past weekend should be seen as pro-democratic.
Law and Justice, which regularly smears its foes as Communists and Russian agents, recently pushed legislation through Parliament to establish a commission to investigate Russian influence and bar individuals from public office for up to 10 years if they were found to have succumbed to it.
The opposition denounced the move as a ploy to tar politicians critical of the governing party with the taint of Russia and disqualify them from running in October. The United States and the European Union voiced concern about the law, widely known as “Lex Tusk” because one of its targets is expected to be Donald Tusk, the main opposition party leader.
Law and Justice, in power since 2015, has a big advantage going into this year’s election for Parliament because of its tight control of state television and radio, and its backing by a large battery of nominally independent outlets dependent on state funding. Most opinion polls predict it will win more seats than Civic Platform but will fall short of a majority and could have trouble forming a stable government.
All of this is straight out of the basic autocrat’s handbook and is part of a broader global trend of democratic erosion.