Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

On the character of Polish protests

Expert: “The attempt to limit media access to the Parliament is yet another act in demonstration of the intention to consolidate power on behalf of Kaczynski’s party”
20 December, 2016 - 12:19

Mass protests have been going on in the Polish capital for several days in a row against the proposed ruling by the nationalist-conservative party Law and Justice (PiS), which would place restrictions on journalists’ access to the Parliament.

On December 16, thousand protesters blocked the exits from the Parliament building, chanting: “Constitution,” “Free media!” and “You will not leave here until Christmas!” Police fired tear gas, pushing the protesters away from the Parliament building. On the same day, more than 20 Polish media boycotted the Sejm session in protest against the plans to limit parliamentary work of journalists. For one day they did not publish any photos of the politicians and came out with empty pages.

On Friday, about 30 opposition MPs blocked the work activity of the parliament’s lower house in protest against the journalistic limitations and also against the vote on the 2017 state budget, considering it illegal in the circumstances. As a result, the budget was adopted in another room.

According to German broadcasting company Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk, the proposed changes will render almost any audio or video recording in the Polish Sejm illegal. Only five selected TV channels would be able to carry out live broadcasts from the Parliament, but even their journalists would be restricted in their movement through the building.

All other media would have to accredit no more than two parliamentary correspondents, who would be allowed to work in the Polish parliament only in turns – and without any audio or video recording devices. An interview with elected officials would have to be taken in a reserved place, which must be booked in advance. Also, the press center would be the only place where journalists are allowed to move about freely, and it would be located in the neighboring building. They will be able to follow the events in the session hall via broadcast, which is now carried out on the Internet.

These restrictions on journalists would make any independent work in the Parliament impossible and there would be much less reliable information about events taking place in the Sejm, the opponents say. For example, Polish journalists have earlier managed to record how MPs voted in place of their colleagues, ate salad right in the session hall, showed obscene gestures, or slept during the Parliament sessions.

Human rights activists point out that Article 61 of the Polish Constitution guarantees “the right of citizens’ access to meetings of collegial government bodies that were elected on a general election” as well as “the right to make audio and video recordings at such meetings.” Adam Bodnar, Polish civil rights ombudsman, also said that journalists should be ensured the right of access to information, as cited by dpa agency.


Michal KOBOSKO, Director of the Wroclaw Global Forum at the Atlantic Council of the US, Warsaw:

“It is not clear why the ruling coalition acts in this way. Although it looks quite logical that the agenda of PiS is to centralize power and curtail the powers of independent institutions. And it was quite evident last year, when the conflict unfolded around the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland. Before that, this body was still an independent institution that could actually block some of the laws proposed by PiS.

“The same concerns the state media. Over the past year, state television and radio companies have fired dozens of journalists who were disloyal to the government. Theoretically, the authorities now find itself beyond the control of the public. Moreover, the authorities began investigating the so-called corruption scandals against mayors of influential cities like Gdansk and Warsaw.

“The attempt to limit media access to the Parliament is yet another act on behalf of PiS in demonstration of the intention to consolidate power and reduce the presence of independent institutions.

“Another example is the relations between the authorities and the NGOs. The government came out with the idea of creating a new state agency that would oversee such organizations and decide on public donations to certain NGOs. To put it mildly, the idea of state control over non-governmental organizations is a bit strange.

“Regarding the EU’s impact on Poland. Past year has seen regular discussions between the Polish government and Brussels on democratic values and laws in Poland. And it was like an endless story. The EU had studied our legislation on the Constitutional Court and criticized a range of amendments to this law, which in the end had the goal of eventually paralyzing all of the court’s meaningful activity. The powers of the EU institutions are limited. The Brussels authorities could perhaps criticize and initiate discussions about Poland, but they cannot do anything. However, Brussels has a kind of ‘nuclear weapon’ – namely the limitation of Poland’s voting rights in the EU institutions. And another weapon is the ability to decrease the EU structural funds. And those funds have been one of the major sources for funding the state programs of the Polish government in the recent years.

“Consequently, relations between Brussels and Warsaw are not very good. And Donald Tusk, who spoke yesterday at a ceremony in Wroclaw dedicated to the end of the city’s year term as European cultural capital, completely revisited his speech. And instead of talking about culture, he spoke of democracy and on violation of democracy by the government regulations.

“In light of the processes taking place in Europe, including the next year’s elections in Germany, France, and Italy, I do not think that Poland intends to leave the European Union. This is contrary to Polish national interests.

“Regarding the impact of the protests on the policy of PiS. Nowadays there is a battle in Poland between the current government and the opposition. The liberal and centrist opposition would consider any opportunities and options to shorten the tenure of the parliament and the government. At the same time we cannot say that Poland only sees the struggle between those politicians who were in power and those who replaced them. The recent events have shown the growing public discontent, especially in large cities. People fear that many democratic standards will be put to an end, or that they will be changed after the introduction of the laws proposed by PiS. A civic movement has risen from the concern that the achievements of Poland since 1989 may be lost during the reign of PiS and that Poland might make one, two, or even three steps backwards and eventually become isolated on the international arena. The country is already in a conflict with Brussels, Berlin, and Paris. Our relationship with Russia is difficult, so we need to have enduring and stable relations with our EU partners.

“The prognosis on the continued confrontation between the authorities and opposition. Now PiS has all the cards, and this political power can do whatever they want. The party can continue to insist on their own agenda and increase tension, or make one or two steps back and seek a political compromise with the opposition, the media, and the journalists. And the media are very unhappy that the government is trying to limit their activities in the Parliament. The protesters are not going to give up on their action, at least for this week. President Andrzej Duda is very active – yesterday he met with protesters, and now he is going to meet Jaroslaw Kaczynski. They will look for a compromise. The opposition has kept the parliamentary sessions blocked inside the building, and said that the action will continue until January 10 or 11. I hope that a compromise will be found. The worst-case scenario is that people would continue to protest in the streets. And everything now depends on the actions of PiS, on the willingness of this political power to compromise.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day