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Another Voice: Freedoms are quietly being curtailed in Poland

By Jim Schultz

My wife and I recently visited Poland and learned a little about its politics and people. The far right government rules with a heavy hand, while the U.S. treats the Polish government as a great democracy. Even Buffalo has unwittingly inviting Polish government officials to visit and to honor them.

During the last 18 months, many essential Polish democratic freedoms have been curtailed or eliminated. While all laws are supposed to be published, they have not been published for over 500 days and counting. The Supreme Tribunal is supposed to rule on the constitutionality of laws; however, the president of Poland has ignored the courts and has imprisoned peaceful protesters.

Recently, a law was presented that would have caused the “liberal” justices on the court to be fired (with more compliant judges to be installed). Unexpectedly the president just vetoed the most extreme portion of the law – but only following daily massive street protests throughout Poland.

The Polish constitution guarantees separation of the three branches of government, but Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of former Polish President Lech Kaczynski, apparently runs the country and has decided that only the executive branch matters, which he controls. The list of curtailed freedoms is almost endless. Criticism of the government alone is a criminal offense.

Freedom of assembly has been curtailed and the two main television channels are controlled by the government and church. The Catholic Church is either being co-opted or is being complicit.

Anne Applebaum’s recent excellent article entitled “The real threat to the West” was among the few to address the threats not just to Polish democracy. She accurately stated that President Trump’s visit and endorsement of the present regime emboldened it to act upon its anti-democratic ideas. Because of the general absence of U.S. press coverage, we lack understanding of Polish politics and its global impact. It seems that Poland’s survival as a democracy should be at least as important as Trump’s tweets about morning show hosts.

Will our government’s blind support of this dictatorship and our country’s benign acceptance of this regime as normal and appropriate contribute to the demise of a democracy less than 30 years old? In Buffalo many of our families have roots in Poland and we tend to think that the “old country” is doing well since it left the Soviet sphere. Listen to Poles. They will say all is not well. The pro-democracy opposition may be fighting for their lives and may be losing the battle for basic human freedoms.

Does the absence of any significant media coverage of what is happening in Poland indirectly signal our country’s culpable neglect in defending freedom and democracy elsewhere? One of the reasons Lech Walesa and other leaders of Solidarity didn’t “disappear” was because Western media kept the spotlight on the strikers and issues. The media was instrumental in helping to promote a free and democratic Poland. More must be done to refocus the spotlight today on a people who are being denied basic democratic rights.

Do we want to look back and think, why didn’t someone speak up? Where is the media?  Where are our politicians? Poles look to America as the bulwark of democracy throughout the world. Is this not an important issue?

Jim Schultz, of Clarence Center, and his wife toured Poland for two weeks in early June.

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