Sunday, 23 July 2017
Defend Polish democracy but not with sanctions
Your editorial (23.7.17) is right to highlight the danger of “Poland’s flight from democracy” but your readers should not be under the illusion that Poland has no democratic traditions. The multi-ethnic Polish-Lithuanian Republic, which saw itself as a continuation of the Roman Republic, had been a bastion for parliamentary democracy, religious tolerance and humanism in the XVth and XVIth centuries. These ideas re-emerged in Poland’s national revival at the end of the XVIIIth century when it voted itself Europe’s first liberal constitution. In its struggle to reclaim its independence in the following two centuries it did so under the banner of “Your Freedom and Ours”. It was Poland that produced one of the most celebrated and successful peaceful civic resistance movements in the Solidarity Union led by the iconic Lech Wałęsa, after which it was able to restore parliamentary democratic rule and a vibrant economy which over the next 25 years successfully rode out the recession and was a model for developing nations.
Of course, the Third Republic was not a perfect institution and many did not share in its wealth. Spooked by regional inequality, unresolved retribution for its Communist past, the refugee crisis and the tragic plane crash in 2010 which killed President Kaczynski and a large slice of Poland’s military and political leaders, Polish society underwent a similar populist crisis to that of the Trump election victory and the Brexit referendum, and at one stage threatened us with a victory for extremist parties in France, Holland, Italy and Austria. Robust national democratic institutions and a continuous democratic tradition in those countries prevented a total subversion of democracy. It could still do the same in Poland, even though its current democratic institutions are less than one generation old.
Western Europe and the EU institutions are right to sound the alarm and to support the democratic opposition, but actual economic sanctions against Poland would be counter-productive as they would increase the current Polish paranoia and bind the majority of the electorate closer to the ruling party. It would be more productive to give specific moral and even material support to independent Polish institutions such as OKO Press that monitor transgressions of the law and ensure consistent and unbiased coverage of events in Poland.
Polish society, which voted in the current authoritarian government in 2015, must resolve the current crisis in Poland with its own resources.