Friday

23rd Feb 2018

Polish protesters intensify stand-off with government

  • "Free media". Protesters demonstrated in front of the parliament against new rules restricting media access to MPs' debates. (Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

Thousands of people gathered across Poland over the weekend to protest against the government, stepping up a confrontation that began as a dispute over media freedom.

Protesters rallied in the capital Warsaw, around the parliament, the presidential palace and the seat of the constitutional court.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Police and protesters near the presidential palace. State TV said the protest was "an attempt to destabilise the state". (Photo: Dariusz Kalan)

They waved national and EU flags, chanting slogans including “Free media, free people”, “Solidarity with journalists”, “Freedom, equality, democracy”, and “Enough, we want election”.

According to the Warsaw City Council, around 5,000 and 3,500 protesters demonstrated on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Smaller groups took to the streets in Krakow, Poznan, Gdansk, and several other cities.

"I have never seen so many young people at our rallies," Radomir Szumelda, one of the leaders of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD), Poland’s leading civil movement, told EUobserver.

"They perfectly understand that the most crucial value, freedom, can be taken away from them."

“I have nothing to do with communists; I am neither left nor right. I just think my country is not going in the right direction,” said Marek, a 25-year-old who joined the protests.

The crisis started when the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) limited the number of journalists allowed to cover parliamentary sessions.

The government said the rules would help journalists to better organise their work, and are no different to those in many other EU countries.

The move provoked resistance from most of the press and leaders of opposition, who on Friday blocked access to the podium in the parliament's lower house.

PiS then moved the session to a smaller room, where no media and only a few opposition MPs were allowed, and passed next year’s budget bill with a show of hands.

The opposition said the vote was unlawful but a PiS spokeswoman insisted that "everything was in accordance with Polish law".

'We will stay on the streets'

Opposition MPs said they would continue a sit-in until Tuesday and some protesters said they would continue the protest.

“We will stay on the streets,” said KOD's Radomir Szumelda.

“We want protests to spread to smaller cities and to engage all the people dissatisfied with the government," he said, adding that KOD planned to join teachers and parents on Monday to protest against an education reform.

On Saturday, prime minister Beata Szydlo said the blockade of parliament by the opposition was “scandalous”. She added that people were free to protest, but had to respect the views of others.

Public TV stations said that the protests were "an unsuccessful attempt to destabilise the state” and accused protesters of “protecting former communist state security".

Pro-governmental outlet wPolityce even started to spread rumours that the opposition planned a violent occupation of the parliament.

On Sunday, president Andrzej Duda offered to mediate between the two sides, but a meeting with leaders of all parliamentary parties brought no results.

There is still time to calm things down, said Agnieszka Pomaska, an MP from Civic Platform, the main opposition party.

“Everything depends on Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the actual leader of Poland," she told EUobserver, referring to the influential former prime minister and PiS leader.

Kaczynski's power

She said she thought Kaczynski might be preparing to step up the confrontation with the opposition, and that he did not appear to be afraid.

On Saturday, the president of the European Council and former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who was in Poland for the weekend, urged the government to respect the constitution.

Since taking power in October 2015, the PiS government has taken control of the public media, its state prosecution and civil service, and it has neutralised the constitutional court.

The government passed a law last Tuesday (13 December) that would restrict rights to assembly. The bill is now waiting for the president’s signature.

A PiS-controlled parliament and a loyal president mean Kaczynski can wield power with more freedom than almost any political leader in Poland’s modern times.

The 67-year-old politician however said in October that he was considering stepping down.

At pro-government rally on Sunday evening, people chanted Kaczynski's first name in an effort to dispel any doubt. “Our side has only one leader, and this is Kaczynski,” said Joachim Brudzinski, the deputy head of parliament.

Opposition not united

The three parliamentary opposition parties, centre-right Civil Platform and the Polish People’s Party, and liberal Nowoczesna, took a unified stance against PiS.

“We have this feeling that for today the opposition stays united. We don’t see each other as enemies, we don’t compete, as we all think that the enemy – not ours, but Poland’s – is Jaroslaw Kaczynski,” said Civil Platform's Agnieszka Pomaska.

But the opposition is far from being united, noted KOD's Szumelda.

It "must know what kind of Poland it wants after PiS loses power someday", he said. "Now, there is no such a positive vision. Being anti-Kaczynski is simply not enough."

According to sources close to PiS, Kaczynski is expected to defend the legality of the budgetary session, but to withdraw from restrictions for journalists.

“It would be reasonable,” said Szumelda.

“He has heard the voice of the people. If he continues to oppose it, anti-PiS sentiment will grow in society."

MEPs urge tougher action on Poland

Dismayed by the lack of progress in solving Poland's rule of law crisis, some MEPs are demanding that the EU begins formal breach proceedings that could end up with Poland being stripped of voting rights.

Interview

Polish government in bid to defund NGOs

Ruling Law and Justice has promised to overhaul the NGO sector. The move could strain relations with Norway, a major donor to Polish civic life.

Polish politicians try to defuse political crisis

The coming days will be crucial, liberal opposition leader Ryszard Petru told EUobserver, after a weekend of street protests and escalating confrontation over media freedom and the budget.

Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress

Italians, Czechs and Latvians perceive less corruption than a few years ago in Transparency International's annual ranking. The Berlin-based NGO said Finland was a 'worrying case', whilst Bulgaria - which holds the EU presidency - is EU's most corrupt.

Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress

Italians, Czechs and Latvians perceive less corruption than a few years ago in Transparency International's annual ranking. The Berlin-based NGO said Finland was a 'worrying case', whilst Bulgaria - which holds the EU presidency - is EU's most corrupt.

News in Brief

  1. Report: EU to increase sanctions on Myanmar
  2. Juncker 'worried' by Italian elections
  3. EU migration to UK at lowest since 2012
  4. MEP Andrieu will chair parliament pesticide committee
  5. Juncker's right-hand man warns of 'institutional blockage'
  6. Greek parliament to open probe on PMs and EU commissioner
  7. May gathers Brexit ministers to hammer out UK position
  8. Tajani asks Juncker for all EMA Brexit relocation documents

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUMovie Premiere: 'Up to The Last Drop' - 22 February, Brussels
  2. Aid & Trade LondonJoin Thousands of Stakeholders of the Global Aid Industry at Aid & Trade London
  3. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.European Free Alliance Joins MHRMI to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism Year to Promote Business and Mutual Ties
  5. European Jewish CongressAt “An End to Antisemitism!” Conference, Dr. Kantor Calls for Ambitious Solutions
  6. UNESDAA Year Ago UNESDA Members Pledged to Reduce Added Sugars in Soft Drinks by 10%
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsUzbekistan: Investigate Torture of Journalist
  8. CESICESI@Noon on ‘Digitalisation & Future of Work: Social Protection For All?’ - March 7
  9. UNICEFExecutive Director's Committment to Tackling Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region 2018: Facts, Figures and Rankings of the 74 Regions
  11. Mission of China to the EUDigital Economy Shaping China's Future, Over 30% of GDP
  12. Macedonian Human Rights Movement Int.Suing the Governments of Macedonia and Greece for Changing Macedonia's Name

Latest News

  1. EU leaders to kick off post-Brexit budget debate
  2. Greek government's steady steps to exit bailout programme
  3. Frontex: Europe's new law enforcement agency?
  4. Poland and Greece broke EU environment laws, rules court
  5. Dutch MPs vote on ending 'Ukraine-type' referendums
  6. Corruption report: Hungary gets worse, Italy makes progress
  7. UK seeks flexible transition length after Brexit
  8. Commission defence of Barroso meeting leaves 'discrepancies'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformBeyond the Errors in the War on Terror: How to Fight Global Militarism - 22 February
  2. Swedish EnterprisesHarnessing Globalization- at What Cost? Keynote Speaker Commissioner Malmström
  3. European Friends of ArmeniaSave The Date 28/02: “Nagorno-Karabakh & the EU: 1988-2018”
  4. European Heart NetworkSmart CAP is Triple Win for Economy, Environment and Health
  5. European Free AlllianceEFA Joined the Protest in Aiacciu to Solicit a Dialogue After the Elections
  6. EPSUDrinking Water Directive Step Forward but Human Right to Water Not Recognized
  7. European Gaming & Betting AssociationGambling Operators File Data Protection Complaint Against Payment Block in Norway
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Expresses Deep Concern Over Proposed Holocaust Law in Poland
  9. CECEConstruction Industry Gets Together to Discuss the Digital Revolution @ the EU Industry Days
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Relations in the New Era
  11. European Free AlllianceEnd Discrimination of European Minorities - Sign the Minority Safepack Initiative
  12. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Diversity Shouldn’t Be Only a Slogan” Lorant Vincze (Fuen) Warns European Commission