Bartek Maj (Current Affairs Editor)
Poland finds itself at a legal, social, and political crossroads. The anti-government protests sparked by a court ruling banning abortions due to serious birth defects, outlawing almost all abortions, has caused the biggest protests since the fall of communism. This upheaval is a reaction to a long pattern of the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) implementing anti-democratic reforms as they push forwards a far-right populistic rhetoric.
The governing party presents itself as the traditionalist party of Catholic values and of Polish nationalism. PiS uses familiar populist tactics of establishing a self-other narrative where a select few “good” Poles are worthy patriots whilst everyone else is the enemy who is trying to undermine the Polish vision (the EU, the LGBT community, Russia, communists, etc).
Alongside its ideological populism, the government has implemented a range of anti-democratic judicial reforms since it was elected in 2015. Through manipulating the retirement ages of judges and the judicial appointments, PiS managed to curb trust in the independence of their courts to the point where in March of 2020 a German court refused to extradite to Poland as they doubted the defendant would receive a fair trial.
These reforms have put Poland and the EU on a collision course as the country fails to live up to its democratic and judicial standards, but there is little the EU can do as Poland is supported by Hungary, a country which has been a more extreme case of anti-democratic populistic rhetoric since the FIDESZ party was elected under Viktor Orbán with an supermajority in its legislature in 2010. The two countries have become the two most concerning cases of democratic backsliding in the EU, after a post-communist period of promising moves away from authoritarianism and towards democratisation.
However, the recent protests show that Poland is not united behind the populist authoritarian agenda of PiS. Over the past weeks, videos of mass protests have emerged as people have come out into the streets, challenging the traditionalist order which has been forced onto them. Poland has always been a strict Catholic nation with some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, even before the recent court ruling, however, it seems the extremity of PiS is pushing the country towards a violent re-awakening. A leader of an organiser of the protests (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) summarises it well when she says the protests are against a wider patriarchal culture of anti-women and anti-LGBT rhetoric, and a religious fundamentalist state with a questionable judiciary.
However, these protests are simply the set up for what is a national showdown between populist religious fundamentalism and those who do not wish to be oppressed, a confrontation which can be seen in many other parts of the continent and the world.
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