Sunday

9th Aug 2020

How Kaczyński ruined Poland, judges tell MEPs

  • Warsaw: Song satirising ruling party chairman was pulled from radio playlists (Photo: metaphox)

The fact Polish ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński has been visiting cemeteries, while no else can due to the pandemic, is a symbol of the new Poland, a top European judge has said.

Lockdown-flouting by officials also happened in the UK, where a top aide travelled secretly to see family.

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  • Jarosław Kaczyński, the PiS party chairman (Photo: pis.org)

It has happened in Austria, where its president was a bit late leaving a restaurant by the evening curfew.

But the way Kaczyński has been doing it - multiple times, in limousine convoys, with his security detail - showed he thinks he is above the law and ordinary people, José Igreja Matos, the president of the European Association of Judges (EAJ) told MEPs in the civil liberties committee by videoconference on Monday (25 May).

The fact a popular song satirising Kaczyński, called "Your pain is greater than ours", was silenced on public radio is another sign of the new Poland, a member of the Polish judges' association, Iustitia, Joanna Hetnarowicz-Sikora, also said.

The committee hearing was the latest in a long, long line of European Parliament (EP) meetings bemoaning what Kaczyński has done to the Polish judiciary since his party, Law and Justice (PiS), came to power in 2015.

The European Commission has also instigated court cases and triggered a sanctions process to try to halt his crackdown on independent judges.

And some member states are keen to punish Poland, as well as Hungary and other democratic backsliders, by cuts in EU funds.

"If a judge loses his independence, he's not a judge any more ... he becomes a sort of legal expert," Igreja Matos said on Monday.

"Several countries in central and eastern Europe have dropped even the pretence of rule of law," he said.

"There's a danger of a copy-paste phenomenon of what we're seeing in Poland and Hungary to other member states," Igreja Matos, who led a protest march of hundreds of judges from around Europe in Warsaw earlier this year, also said.

Kaczyński was now easing lockdown measures, for instance to allow weddings.

But laws forbidding two or more people to gather in the street in protest rallies have stayed in place, Hetnarowicz-Sikora noted.

The pandemic had given rise to "dystopian temptations" in Hungary and Poland, Igreja Matos added.

He quoted medieval Italian writer Dante Alighieri to say one of "the hottest places in hell" was reserved for those who remained neutral in times of crisis.

Place in hell

"We are in a rule of law crisis," in Europe, Sophie in 't Veld, the EP rapporteur on Poland, also said on Monday.

"Poland has become a travesty of democracy under PiS," she added, listing also Kaczyński's attacks on electoral norms, gay rights, women's rights, and academic freedom in Poland as markers of how un-European it already was.

Taken together, it showed that PiS "did not want to be an EU member anymore", she said.

The judges and other liberal and left-wing MEPs in Monday's talks urged the commission to speed up legal action against Warsaw and to slash Poland's EU funds.

But the largest EP group, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which counts Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in its ranks, was content for the commission to keep on "monitoring" the Polish situation to see what happened next.

The Polish government, as usual, denied wrongdoing and said the EU had no legal right to "interfere" on national judicial reform.

And it was supported, as usual, by eurosceptic and far-right MEPs.

"We've ben talking about if for four years now and it seems that the Polish government doesn't care at all [what EU institutions think]," in 't Veld said.

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