Thousands of Poles demonstrate against PiS government

Protests were held across Poland on the weekend against government plans to limit journalists' access to the Polish parliament's sessions. Demonstrators in Warsaw blocked the exits of the Sejm, and opposition members of parliament occupied the plenary hall. The protesters need Europe's support, some commentators argue. Others fear a Polish Maidan.

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NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Unworthy of an EU member state

The demonstrators in Poland deserve EU backing, NRC Handelsblad admonishes:

“Thirty-five years after General Jaruzelski imposed martial law in Poland to stifle an anti-communist and pro-democracy movement, the current right-wing government is chipping away at democratic achievements. The government is so passionate about its goals that it threatens to undermine the democratic rule of law. This is unworthy of an EU member state. … [The ruling PiS] owes its popularity to changes in social security legislation: child benefit and a lower retirement age. Many Poles are willing to give up their civil rights for child benefit. This is perhaps understandable in a country with a low average income but it remains a short-sighted approach. The EU must remain in dialogue with the Polish government. The demonstrators deserve support.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Not the time for a Polish Maidan

Poles must remain calm at all costs, Witold Gadomski writes in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“I read on Facebook how a sort of 'Maidan' could be organised in Warsaw. Hopefully it won't come to that. Such a rebellion against a legally-elected government without the backing of a clear majority of the population would paralyse the state. It would also do untold harm to Poland's international reputation - at a time when the states that have considerable clout are radically changing their political strategies. New elections, as demanded by the leader of [opposition party] Nowoczesna, Ryszard Petru, are also no solution because they would just reaffirm the current balance of power. And anyway the Sejm can't be legally dissolved without the consent of the PiS.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Sejm blockade sends wrong message

The opposition hasn't done itself any favours with its blockade action, Der Standard argues:

“Once again the ruling 'Law and Justice' party (PiS) is revealing an utter lack of respect for basic democratic freedoms. Many members of the opposition feel reminded of the censorship during the communist era, from which the PiS in particular works hard to distance itself in the media. But the demonstrators should not underestimate the symbolic power of a parliament. To block the Sejm's exits from outside is hardly constructive and sends the wrong message. The interior minister is already talking about the opposition wanting to 'seize power illegally'. And once again a 'truth' has been born that will do little to promote the culture of debate.”

Nasz Dziennik (PL) /

Opposition wants confrontation at any cost

After opposition politicians occupied the lectern in parliament on Friday the Sejm's vote on the public budget was moved to a different room. The opposition then declared the vote unlawful on the grounds that certain MPs had been left out. The nationalist Catholic daily sees the whole process as a cheap setup:

“We're not going to believe that the opposition only made such a fuss because it is worried about the media and the working conditions of journalists. That was just an excuse. The opposition has long been planning a conflict and stirring up emotions. And if it wasn't the media it would have found some other reason to stage hysterical protests and block off the plenary hall. … This is not about the media but about sabotaging the government. The opposition wants to block the budget vote. It will resort to any means to sabotage the government's work.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

Poland could become a security risk

It is extremely worrying that one of Estonia's key allies is curtailing democracy, Eesti Pääevaleht believes:

“Unfortunately the PiS's transformation into a regime like that of Hugo Chávez is not something we can observe as calmly as we watched the decline of Venezuela under Chávez, who was also given absolute power by his people. Poland is a large European state and a close neighbour, militarily the strongest state in Eastern Europe and a Nato member. And we share common security and other interests. In view of the heightened security threat from Russia, Poland has defended Estonia's interests more than any other European country. Certainly, the conflict in the Polish parliament and the demonstrations on its streets will not affect its security policy. ... But absolute power is like cancer. It won't be confined to domestic issues.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Attack on civil rights

The national-conservative PiS government wants to keep critical journalists at bay, Gazeta Wyborcza believes:

“The fact that journalists and reporters finally had free access to the Sejm was a symbol of the victory of the democratic revolution of 1989. This basic principle was respected for 27 years. ... Now those in government are breaking with this liberal tradition just to give themselves the upper hand. They want to gag media that pose inconvenient questions and seek to convey information. As of now the only ones to have full access to 'information' will be the state media and those favourably disposed towards the government. This is a curtailment of the right to full information and a violation of basic civil rights.”

Super Express (PL) /

PiS planning to go even further

This is just a first step towards the reintroduction of censorship, comments Sławomir Jastrzębowski, chief editor of Super Express, adding sarcastically:

“We had finally regained our freedom after the despicable practices of the Communists. … But then along comes [parliamentary speaker] Marek Kuchciński of the PiS and decides to change the Poles' right to information from the parliament. … Three cheers for the PiS! Because after all why should the public observe and see how the MPs of the leading parties work? And even if certain shady dealings do go on there, the people needn't know about it. I get the impression that the PiS is only going halfway here. Wouldn't it be better to go the whole hog and reintroduce censorship? Or perhaps for you people of the PiS it's just a matter of time before you do?”