Why Poland’s conservative government is causing alarm at the EU

Why Poland’s conservative government is causing alarm at the EU


JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: European Union leaders
have watched with alarm as Poland has reduced the independence of judges and the press. The E.U. has threatened to crack down on member
states that fail to uphold modern democratic values. However, as special correspondent Malcolm
Brabant reports from Warsaw, Poland’s special relationship with the Trump administration
may encourage Poland’s resistance to its European neighbors. MALCOLM BRABANT: “Free courts now” is the
clarion cry. Outside a courthouse in Central Warsaw, demonstrators
demand the removal of a judge appointed by the populist conservative government to replace
one of a more independent spirit. They accuse the country’s justice minister
of being a judicial puppet master. MICHAL WAWRYKIEWICZ, Free Courts Initiative:
We are still in a battle for the rule of law in Poland, the rule of law that is dismantled
during the last four years permanently. MALCOLM BRABANT: Michal Wawrykiewicz is a
lawyer and founder of a campaign group called the Free Courts Initiative. MICHAL WAWRYKIEWICZ: Independence of judiciary
is one of the grounds of the democracy. If the courts are not independent and the
judges are not independent, then we have a very serious problem with the democracy. ELZBIETA JASTRZEBOWSKA, Archaeologist: We
are old enough to remember how it was under the Soviet regime. And, right now, it is incomprehensible to
me that this is repeated now, even worse. JAKUB KOCJAN, Democratic Action: The rest
of the world should be worried about Poland’s democracy, because it’s the model of Turkey
and Hungary, where judges are not independent, which really means dictatorship. ELZBIETA JASTRZEBOWSKA: Under the Soviets,
we normal people, we knew that the papers were lying, that the TV is lying. MALCOLM BRABANT: The liberal newspaper Gazeta
Wyborcza sprang from the venerated solidarity labor movement of the 1980s, pivotal in the
collapse of communism in Poland and across the former Soviet Bloc. But the paper is feeling the squeeze. Government entities have pulled advertising. Its reporters have been denied access. VADIM MAKARENKO, Gazeta Wyborcza: It’s pretty
similar to America. The media are being demonized by the government. They’re calling us fake news every time we’re
being critical towards the government. MALCOLM BRABANT: Vadim Makarenko is a senior
editor at Gazeta Wyborcza. VADIM MAKARENKO We have state-owned television
which is bringing propaganda to Polish households. My newspaper appeals to the European Union
more or less regularly, asking it to preserve media freedom in Poland, as well as judiciary
independence. ZDZISLAW KRASNODEBSKI, European Parliament:
Based on the distorting and distorted image of Poland, I consider this as fake news of
this century. MALCOLM BRABANT: Zdzislaw Krasnodebski is
a member of the European parliament, and an influential member of Poland’s Law and Justice
Party. ZDZISLAW KRASNODEBSKI: It is rubbish to say
that in Poland we have any slide towards autocracy or any danger, profound danger to democracy. Of course, our democracy is not perfect, but
I think British is not perfect and German is not perfect. MALCOLM BRABANT: Despite the concerns, Poland
of today is nothing like it was behind the Iron Curtain. There are no troops on the streets, and the
police did not disrupt the protests over the courts. Nevertheless, alarm bells are ringing. PAWEL MARCZEWSKI, Batory Foundation: I believe
what government is doing can be potentially dangerous. MALCOLM BRABANT: Pawel Marczewski is an analyst
with the Batory Foundation, established by American philanthropist George Soros to promote
open democratic societies in Poland and across Central Europe. PAWEL MARCZEWSKI: I do not believe that they’re
offering enough space in the public discourse to dissenting voices. I think that they’re trying to build a monolithic
political culture in Poland, a culture that is based basically on the Catholic faith and
a certain vision of Polish history, a very heroic version of Polish history, a simplistic
vision of Polish history. MALCOLM BRABANT: Such as the music of Frederic
Chopin, Poland’s greatest composer and this key monument, the Warsaw Rising Memorial,
honoring 63 days in 1944 when patriots fought in vain against the Nazis. Behind is a modern battleground, the Supreme
Court. Last year, the Polish government forced 40
percent of the court’s judges to retire early, in a move the European Commission condemned
as illegal. A change in leadership at the top of the European
Union in Brussels is now under way. And that could make it a lot harder for countries
like Poland to resist Pan-European laws and values. The new European Commission is determined
to stop what’s been called democratic backsliding. So, in the future, member states will be subject
to an annual review to make sure they’re abiding by the rules. In the 15 years since Brussels admitted nations
from the former Soviet Bloc, business in Poland has boomed, boosted by $14 billion worth of
European funds for state-of-the-art infrastructure. It’s now the sixth largest economy in the
E.U. The implicit warning from Brussels is that,
unless Poland behaves, the money will dry up. But such sanctions have been threatened before
and, according to some E.U. officials, have had no impact. ADAM BALCER, Foreign Affairs Analyst: I think
that Poland is going to resist the pressure of the European mainstream. MALCOLM BRABANT: Foreign affairs analyst Adam
Balcer believes the governing Law and Justice Party will easily win this autumn’s forthcoming
general election and will be emboldened as a result. ADAM BALCER: They are going to have more than
50 percent of the seats in Parliament. And, of course, they count a lot on the support
of the United States, which definitely, in the case of this administration, is very supportive
of this type of governments in the European Union. MALCOLM BRABANT: President Trump looks favorably
on Poland, not least because it meets his requirement that NATO members spend at least
2 percent of GDP on national defense. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
The United States and Poland continue to enhance our security cooperation. Poland will still provide basing and infrastructure
to support military presence of about 1,000 American troops. The Polish government will build these projects
at no cost to the United States. The Polish government will pay for this. We thank President Duda and the people of
Poland for their partnership in advancing our common security. MALCOLM BRABANT: Poland is planning to buy
32 American F-35 Lightning stealth fighters, total cost, $2.5 billion. President Andrzej Duda was given a personal
flyover at the White House last month. And in what some critics label an act of outright
sycophancy, Duda intends to call the new American base on Polish soil Fort Trump. ANDRZEJ DUDA, Polish President (through translator):
One of the agreements I signed personally concerned security and military cooperation. As you mentioned, sir, there will be more
American troops in Poland. There’s going to be an enhanced cooperation. MALCOLM BRABANT: So could the bond with the
White House thwart the E.U.’s intention to force Poland to conform? Building Fort Trump on Polish soil would have
a propaganda effect in any confrontation with Russia. PAWEL MARCZEWSKI: But I do believe this is
aimed at strengthening Polish position within the E.U., not as a serious alternative to
a strong Polish position in the E.U. MALCOLM BRABANT: This month, Poland has been
courting the leaders of Lithuania and Slovakia. It’s trying to forge alliances within the
E.U. to challenge the dominance of France and Germany. If and when Brexit happens, Poland could become
more powerful within the E.U. The loss of Britain’s moderating presence
could make it harder to stop the Poles from marching off the designated course. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant
in Warsaw.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *