Monday

16th Jul 2018

Analysis

What is KOD, the Polish pro-democracy movement?

  • Pro-democracy protest in Bydgoszcz, in central Poland, in December last year (Photo: Jaap Arriens)

Poland was used to public resistance under communism.

Mass protests became a thing of the past in 1989 when the regime fell and, in recent times, only papal visits and nationalist rallies drew big crowds.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

  • KOD delegation in Brussels. From left to right: Martin Mycielski, Radomir Szumelda, Mateusz Kijowski, Maciej Kozlowski and Katarzyna Morton. (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

But on Saturday (4 June), the 27th anniversary of Poland’s first semi-free elections in 1989, thousands of Poles will march to defend their hard-won freedom.

It is the latest in a series of demonstrations since the Law and Justice (PiS) party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski won power last October.

The largest event is to take place in Warsaw, where three former presidents - Lech Walesa, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Bronislaw Komorowski - will lead a march that is to end, symbolically, at Constitution Square.

They will be joined by Mateusz Kijowski, the frontman of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD).

The KOD movement organised this weekend’s protests, as well as several others in the past few months.

They accuse PiS of trying to subvert Poland’s constitutional tribunal and public media.

They have also defended Walesa, a Nobel laureate who helped to overthrow communism, against PiS accusations that he was a regime informant.

The six month-old movement has become the face of the Polish opposition.

On Friday, KOD was among the winners of the European Parliament’s European Citizen's Prize.

Kijowski and two other KOD members, earlier in Brussels, also met top EU officials. They spoke to Donald Tusk, the EU Council chief and former Polish PM. They met Frans Timmermans, the Dutch EU commissioner who is in charge of monitoring rule of law in Poland, and European Parliament (EP) president Martin Schultz.

The EP’s conservative ECR group, which contains PiS, declined to meet them.

Model for Europe

KOD’s Kijowski, Radomir Szumelda and Maciej Kozlowski, told EUobserver that their activism went beyond Poland.

”We think Europe can learn from the Polish example”, Kozlowski, a former Polish ambassador to Israel, said.

”We, as a civic mass movement, may be the best kind of answer to the rising anti-European and nationalistic tendencies [in the EU]”, he said.

In May, KOD brought tens of thousands of people onto the street. Warsaw's opposition-affiliated mayor counted 250,000 people. PiS-controlled public media said 45,000.

With the Euro 2016 soccer finals starting on Friday, Kijowski said: ”We now need to make KOD more attractive than football games”.

According to the TNS pollster, 1.5 million Poles, equivalent to 5 percent of the population, have taken part in at least one KOD-organised event.

Forty percent said they supported the movement, 28 percent were against it and the rest had never heard of it.

What is KOD?

The movement is closely associated with Kijowski, an 47 year-old IT entrepreneur, who created it last November.

It is developing internal structures and will soon let people become official members.

Kijowski also wants to create KOD's own media, a think tank and to host arts and culture events that stimulate political discussion.

But it does not aim to become a political party and its aims go beyond PiS.

”Our main goal is to create civil society in Poland … We want people to talk to each other, but also to listen to each other’s ideas. We want dialogue”, Kijowski said.

He said post-communist Polish society “focused very strongly on personal success” and “stopped caring about politics”. He said that PiS offered its constituency “a sense of community, albeit one built on not so positive values”. But he said that its post-election behaviour shocked others out of apathy.

KOD’s Kozlowski said: ”The problem is not with PiS, it’s with the people who voted for them. They are uneducated in civic values”.

He said KOD does not want to become a political party because politics is divisive. “We want to unite, while ’partia’, in Latin, means to divide,” he said.

Katarzyna Morton, a Brussels-based KOD coordinator, said the movement is about more than PiS.

“We are not anti-PiS. Our goal is much broader than that. We want to create … a sense of community, a way of being Polish that isn’t based on hate, but kindness”, she told this website.

”KOD is a long-term project”, she said.

Ousting PiS

The movement does want to work with opposition parties to help oust PiS in the next election in 2019.

But some commentators said it could end up having the opposite effect.

Jaroslaw Kuisz, the editor-in-chief of Kultura Liberalna, a centrist media organisation in Poland, told EUobserver that KOD activism “relieves opposition parties from doing their own ground work: finding leaders, forming a programme that mobilises the masses”.

He said “it’s great that KOD exists” and that it has showed that “many Poles won’t put up with authoritarian rule”.

But he said Polish opposition parties are too weak to challenge Kaczynski, who has twice the support of the largest opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO).

“It would take a political party to remove PiS from power. The current opposition wouldn’t be able to do that,” Kuisz said.

He said PO “seems unable to recover from its election loss,” while Nowoczesna, a new liberal party, is trying to poach its votes.

KOD has suggested the creation of a cross-party opposition coalition, but PO refused to join a KOD-brokered alliance. Kuisz said that if KOD did decide to become a party “that would divide the votes further”.

Baby subsidy

One reason for PiS’ popularity is a baby subsidy known as 500+.

Families receive 500 zloty (€110) for every second and subsequent child they have.

It also plans to increase tax revenue with a new bank tax and to give public aid to coal mines.

Michal Sutowski, a journalist at Krytyka Polityczna, a publication created by a group of left-wing intellectuals, said PiS’ plans “aren’t credible” from an economic point of view and that some of them could fall foul of EU anti-state subsidy law.

But he said that KOD would struggle to attract PiS defectors even if things go wrong for Kaczynski.

”Many of KOD’s members identify themselves as liberals. KOD wouldn't be credible to miners, for instance,” he noted.

He said that if the movement is seen as being anti-PiS, it could attract more middle-class urban supporters but alienate PiS voters. ”The situation would be ideal for PiS”, Sutowski said.

He said that KOD should target deeper issues “about the failures of Poland’s [post-communist] transformation.”

Left-wing

Monika Platek, a Polish professor of criminal law and a feminist, said KOD has broader political support.

Platek ran in the last election for the United Left party’s list.

She said that Kijowski’s movement showed “that one man can enkindle the masses, because many Poles feel responsible for the democratic future of our country.”

”I will keep going to KOD protests,” she said. ”It’s up to us all to take our responsibility that KOD turns out right”.

She said PiS was “breaking the constitution, weakening Poland’s position in the EU and putting us at risk of Russian influences”.

She also accused it of using hate speech and of inciting violence. “I really hope they will not tell their boys [PiS-linked youth groups] to take up street violence," she said ahead of Saturday’s rally in Warsaw.

Platek said KOD should unite all Polish people who respect democratic values.

The feminist said that she herself did not like some KOD leaders’ “fossil views on women’s rights”. But she added: ”We cannot afford to chisel out people who respect democratic order just because we don't share their [political] views”.

"There aren't that many of us”, she said.

“Even if we were more numerous than them, we are weaker because we are not willing to use violence”.

Analysis

EU still shy of 'nuclear option' on values

The EU commission has moved forward with its rule-of-law probe on Poland, but critics say that a better framework is needed to uphold values.

Opinion

Poles must defend hard-won democracy

The Law and Justice party is chipping away at Poland's hard-won democracy. Now polls are showing that many people are unhappy with the changes, and a new alliance around the Committee for the Defence of Democracy has sprung up.

Poland questions legality of EU probe

On eve of potentially damning EU decision, Polish strongman Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said EU rule of law monitoring could be challenged in Luxembourg court.

Interview

EU populists not actually that 'popular', says global activist

"The populists are not popular. It's 14 percent of the vote in Germany and smaller percentages in other countries," says global campaigner Ricken Patel, considering to use his organisation, Avaaz, to raise turnout in next year's European parliament elections.

Opinion

Rutte - from 'Mr No' to 'next Tusk'?

Make no mistake – Rutte, sometimes considered as a potential candidate to succeed Donald Tusk, is one of the toughest of the EU's current heads of state.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  2. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  3. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  4. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  5. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism
  6. Stage set for Trump-Putin finale
  7. Trump scuppers trade deal with UK under May's Brexit
  8. Trump wades into Brexit after Nato fiasco

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  3. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  4. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  5. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  6. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  7. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  8. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us