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Prof. Bartosz M. Rydlinski explains the new program of the Law and Justice Party and the implications these ‘copy and paste’ policies from Hungary are having on Polish democracy

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Mass protests have been taking place in front of the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland. The former president, Lech Walesa, who is known for his leadership in the Solidarity Party that led to the liberation of Poland from the Soviet Union in the ’80s, and then for abandoning the labor struggles of working class in favor of neoliberalism, is a part of these protests, and is calling for civil disobedience.

LECH WALESA: It is getting serious when they ruin our courts. Sooner or later, this may lead to a civil war. We understand each other. And if you last out here outside the Supreme Court, I will visit you every now and again, and then we will talk.

SHARMINI PERIES: This is all because the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland does not have the two thirds majority needed to change a constitution in Poland. So it is tampering with the judiciary in order to ensure that the anti-democratic and anticonstitutional legislation that it intends to pass will not be challenged by the Supreme Court. In addition, the leader of the party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has announced his plans to form a Fourth Republic in Poland, which is incompatible with Poland’s membership in the European Union. Although the European Union has tried to use Article 7 to revoke Poland’s voting rights in the EU until the rule of law is respected, such a decision requires a unanimous vote at the EU, and the close relationship between Poland and Hungary allows the two countries to readily veto any negative decision relating to each other at the EU.

Now joining me to talk about all of these developments is Professor Bartosz Rydlinski. He’s at the Institute of Political Science at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski Institute in Warsaw. He was also a visiting scholar at Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies. He also has been a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Recently he authored an article titled “Nationalism and Neo-Fascism under Jaroslaw Kaczynski: About the Justice and Law Party.” I thank you so much for joining us today, professor.

BARTOSZ RYDLINSKI: Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Let’s start off with Lech Walesa’s involvement, and his warning that Poland may descend into a civil war. Is this realistic? And is there widespread opposition to the government’s policies here? As I can see from the numbers at the rally we just rolled in, there seems to be a lot of discontent and dissent about these decisions.

BARTOSZ RYDLINSKI: Indeed. But we must remember that Lech Walesa is a professional revolutionary. So very often use very tough language, let’s say. But I seriously doubt that we will witness the kind of civil war in Poland. And we must remember that those rallies, you know, against the violation of the Constitution, violation of the separation of powers, are mostly connected with the big cities. Not necessarily with the Polish province.

So because of that, such protests are very important and valid for many of the people from the, from the bigger [inaudible]. And Lech Walesa is kind of a political star for such people. Not necessarily for the people who lost on the neoliberal transition, and not necessarily even for the people who didn’t vote for him in the mid ’90s, when he lost his elections, when he lost a second term of his presidency with Alexandr Kapuściński, who was a Social Democratic candidate at the time.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. So let’s get into why the government is actually engaged in this tampering with the judiciary at the moment.

BARTOSZ RYDLINSKI: We must remember that Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his regime is copying the political practice from other liberal follow, namely Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orbán. So Jaroslaw Kaczynski knew that executive role in Polish politics must be much more important in his view, in his eyes. But this is, but this is a copy-paste policy from Hungary. Very often independent Supreme Court or a Constitutional tribunal could stop many reforms introduced by Law and Justice. And because of that, Jaroslaw Kuczynski decide to paralyze judiciary in Poland, to be sure that most of his ideas will be implemented in Poland.

SHARMINI PERIES: Prof. Rydlinski, give us a sense of where the opposition to the government measures are coming from. Who are they, are they strong enough to resist these kinds of moves on the part of the government?

BARTOSZ RYDLINSKI: First of all, we must remember that the Polish opposition is very fragmented, which is nothing new, nothing bad, nothing unusual. Because this is how the political system in Central Europe was created after 1989. But we can mention at least two circles of the opposition. One is so-called center-right opposition, connected with the previous government of city platform. But we must remember that this circle is still very, very neoliberal, and quite conservative. And the second circle is the Democratic Left opposition.

And then there is a problem, because both circles very often go hand by hand. Because very often the leftist opposition claimed that there is no freedom without social solidarity, without the strong welfare state. At the same time, other parts of the opposition are much stronger, is claiming that the free market very often is the solution for everything. By that we can see that the action of the, of the opposition in Poland can be very limited, and can be heard and understood by mostly liberal circles in the big cities, not necessarily in the provinces. And I think the opposition would like to defend the constitutional system with the success. They must also appeal to the lower classes, to the lower-middle class. And currently, you know, we cannot hear such a message from the opposition.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, I understand that the EU has held marathon discussions about the direction Poland is taking, and it is obviously at odds with EU policies. How is this playing out in Poland? And does the government of Poland actually care what the EU thinks?

BARTOSZ RYDLINSKI: First of all, we must remember that the European Union is a much stronger part of the struggle, because they can impose smart sanctions by cutting a lot of funds in the new perspective, in the new budget perspective. However, the Polish government is playing, in a way, smart policy, because they are collecting also non-liberal governments from the region, like Orban’s government in Hungary. But also they are trying to collect a lot of votes from the region, so in a way they can stop other political sanctions from the European Union.

So because of that we can see that even if the European Union, European Commission is much stronger, part of the struggle then, Law and Justice don’t necessarily care about the possible consequences of their own actions in Poland.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Prof. Rydlinski, thank you so much for joining us today. This is obviously an ongoing conversation that we will keep an eye on here at The Real News, and I hope you can join us then.

BARTOSZ RYDLINSKI: Thank you for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).