Polish PM Angers Human Rights Campaigners with Plans to Shake Up NGOs



We are worried that Poland is going the way of Hungary or Russia, with NGOs having to register with the government as ‘foreign agents’. They are testing the water, and the more silent we remain, the braver they will be.


The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydło, has angered human rights campaigners by announcing plans for a new department of civil society to centralise state funding and “bring order to the whole sphere of NGOs”.

Law and Justice has been accused of turning accepted notions of human rights upside down by portraying advocates of minority rights and anti-discrimination legislation as a threat to the rights and freedoms of Poland’s Catholic majority.

You can read my report here.

New Polish Military Force Worries Political Opposition


“It’s too early to say what precisely the government intends to do with these units. But it’s not too early to say that it appears to be constructing a parallel army outside of established military structures.”


The Polish parliament on Wednesday approved the creation of a new territorial defense force aimed at deterring a possible Russian attack that critics say could end up serving as the armed wing of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party.

The force would be made up of 53,000 part-time soldiers stationed throughout the country by 2019. That would constitute a third of all Polish military personnel.

According to the government’s plans, in addition to their military duties the units will have responsibility for “anti-crisis measures, anti-subversion, anti-terrorism and anti-disinformation in defense of civil security and the cultural heritage of the Polish nation.”

You can read the article here.

Poland Exhumes President Lech Kaczyński’s Remains


The expertise of one member of the commission was revealed to have been based upon experience of constructing model aircraft, sitting in a fighter jet’s cockpit during an air show, and observing plane wings while looking out of a passenger window.


The remains of the former Polish president Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria were removed from the crypt at Wawel Castle in Kraków on Monday evening and re-examined by state prosecutors.

The move is the latest step in the ruling Law and Justice party’s efforts to demonstrate that the Smolensk air disaster in April 2010, which killed the pair and 94 others, was engineered by Russia and covered up by domestic political opponents.

You can read the article here. For a much longer analysis of the poisonous legacy of Smolensk in Polish politics, my essay for Foreign Policy can be found here.

Polish Women Vow to Step Up Pressure Over Abortion Restrictions


Whether you have experienced childbirth, or you know someone whose child died after delivery, or you know someone having to raise a disabled child alone, women are sharing stories. These are not topics you raise at the dinner table at Christmas, but thanks to the abortion bill, people started to talk about them.


My latest report for The Guardian describes how Poland’s growing women’s rights movement has responded to the backlash from its victory over a proposed blanket ban on abortion earlier this month. You can read the article here.

Leaders have vowed to keep up the pressure on the country’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), with ongoing protests against proposed restrictions on abortion.

Many women have been incensed by the ruling party’s characterisation of the protesters as unwitting victims of manipulation by the government’s political opponents.

The protestors also include many self-identified Catholics dismayed by what they regard as an excessively politicised church failing in its duty to show compassion.

And recent instances of online shaming and attempts to bully and humiliate a number of high-profile supporters of the so-called “black protests” have sparked a national conversation about the treatment of women in Polish society at large.


Poland’s Abortion Ban Proposal Near Collapse After Mass Protests


The protest was bigger than anyone expected. People were astonished. Warsaw was swarming with women in black. It was amazing to feel the energy and the anger, the emotional intensity was incredible.


My latest report for The Guardian documents a temporary – and partial – victory for pro-choice campaigners in Poland, after senior politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) backed away from it and a parliamentary committee urged MPs to vote it down.  The article can be read here.

The justice and human rights committee, which reviews proposed legislation, recommended that parliament reject the bill following a wave of protests earlier in the week that appeared to catch the government off guard.

In a humiliating climbdown, PiS members who had referred the legislation to the committee less than two weeks ago threw it out. Among the PiS committee members to vote to reject the bill was Krystyna Pawłowicz, who before Monday’s protest had denounced opponents of the abortion ban as “fans of killing babies” who should be ashamed of themselves.


Women To Go On Strike in Poland in Protest at Planned Abortion Law


A lot of women and girls in this country have felt that they don’t have any power, that they are not equal, that they don’t have the right to an opinion. This is a chance for us to be seen, and to be heard.


My latest article, for The Guardian, is about Polish women going on strike against a barbaric proposed abortion ban being considered by the Polish Parliament. You can read it here.

Under the plans, a woman could be prosecuted simply for having a miscarriage, and doctors could be put off conducting proper pre-natal care or even routine procedures on pregnant women or even women more generally, for fear of being thrown in prison for unwittingly facilitating a termination.

The #CzarnyProtest appears to be mobilising support not just against the proposed ban, but away from the status quo and towards liberalisation.

It isn’t simply “pro-abortion” – the far right in PL and elsewhere are waging a wider war on women that is putting their lives in danger. The Catholic church needs to think very hard about this – if women start dying, support can start to collapse very quickly, like in Ireland or Quebec.

Whether it is the war on women, the legitimisation of race hate, or the erosion of checks and balances on the exercise of power, extreme ideas are increasingly being legitimised across the developed world. Support for Polish women is also a form of resistance to an erosion of the pillars of our precious liberal democracies.


Europe’s Last Dictator Steps Into the Unknown


Lukashenka remarked that if Crimea was an historically Russian territory, then virtually all of Russia itself should be given back to Mongolia and Kazakhstan because it had once been ruled by the Golden Horde


My latest article, co-authored with Belarus specialist Paul Hansbury for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab, takes a look at how Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka (in the article, his name is written using the latin-Russian transliteration, Alexander Lukashenko) has tried to cope with the regional economic fallout of the Ukraine crisis. The article can be found here.

Paul and I describe Lukashenka’s dilemma: heavily dependent on Russia for its security and for much of its prosperity, Belarus cannot stray too far from Russian orbit, and yet its economy is being dragged down by a Russian economy suffering grievous harm from a combination of low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

But there is a strong political dimension to this issue too. Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine, and its use of the language of having the right to ‘defend’ not only ‘ethnic Russians’ but ‘Russian speakers’ has spooked the leaders of many post-Soviet countries, especially those of Belarus and Kazakhstan.

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Poland’s New Nationalism: In Conversation with Aleks Szczerbiak


In the 1990s, the feeling was very much that if you learned how to speak English, if you got good qualifications, if you worked hard, lots of opportunities would be available to you – and I think a lot of young people have found that that’s simply not the case.

When Poland joined the European Union in 2004, it was widely assumed that young Poles afforded the opportunity to work and study abroad would go forth and liberalise.

But for many, the European Dream has long since turned sour. This has had significant implications for the country’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which I examine in my most recent article for Politico Europe.

Earlier this year, I had a fascinating conversation with Professor Aleks Szczerbiak, Professor of European Politics at the University of Sussex and the author of The Polish Politics Blog, a respected English-language source of commentary on Polish affairs.

We discussed the rise of nationalist and eurosceptic sentiment amongst the young, the disillusionment of many young Poles with Poland’s European future, why so many young Poles appear to be turning to the radical right – not the radical left, as in many other European countries – and the idea of defending Poland from EU influence as a means to defend ‘Western Civilisation’. Our conversation was as follows:

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Poles to the Right of Jarosław Kaczyński


We had a situation in Poland where for 20 years we were pushed to change the national culture to reach so-called ‘European standards.’ But this point of view has completely collapsed — people understand that we can be different, and that’s OK.


My latest article, for Politico Europe, takes a look at how Poland’s ruling party has responded to the challenge of the far-right by turning a blind eye to its increasingly visible activity. It can be found here.

There’s a new force rising in Polish politics, and it isn’t the fragmented and dispirited centrist and left-wing opposition. Since sweeping to power in 2015, Law and Justice has had to contend with a political challenge that has received little attention outside of Poland – a surge in nationalist sentiment, particularly amongst the young.

Fuelled by a perceived lack of economic opportunity at home and resentment at often menial and unfulfilling work abroad, youthful hostility towards liberal elites was ignited by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and the onset of Europe’s migrant crisis.

The phenomenon has proved awkward for PiS, which portrays itself as engaged in a patriotic struggle for the reclamation of national independence from the forces of liberalism, but which has found itself under pressure from radical voices even further to its right like the National Movement (RN), a coalition of national-Catholic and far-right organisations, including the ONR and All-Polish Youth.


Britain: An Unhappy Country Seeking Catharsis


Blair confronts us with a version of ourselves of which we are terrified: not just weak, but unprincipled; not just demoralised, but undignified; no longer the world’s aristocrats, but butlers for the new super-rich.


This is the original, English-language version of an article published in Polish this weekend in Gazeta Wyborcza.  The Polish translation can be found here.

As outsiders and Britons alike try to understand the result of Britain’s EU referendum, it is tempting simply to refer to Acheson’s dictum that ‘Britain has lost an empire but has not yet found a role’ and assume that all can be explained by a surge of imperial nostalgia, reflecting Britain’s mental semi-detachment from the continent and the natural insularity of those who dwell on an island.

But although those things are still relevant, they do not go nearly enough in explaining the state of British politics and society today.  Acheson was right, but a lot has changed since 1962.  After decades of agonising, Britain did find a role with which it appeared to be comfortable, as a medium-sized power with special privileges, one of the United States’ major allies and its European lieutenant within NATO, and one of the three major powers within the European Union.

It is a much more recent loss of faith in this post-imperial role that helps to explain why Britons opted for what Prime Minister David Cameron – who has announced his intention to resign – described during the campaign as “the self-destruct option” of departure from the European Union.

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