Saturday, 12 May 2007

Dramatic Crescendo in Polish Battle over Democracy

(Sorry for the 3-day silence - more blog entries to come over the next days, so be sure to check back!)

The Polish Constitutional Court struck down important parts of the so-called “lustration” law Friday, thereby temporarily derailing the government's anti-communist witchhunt, which many consider a danger to democracy. A battle between institutions has ensued, and is likely to determine the political future of the country.

As discussed in this recent blog entry, the law, proposed by the Kaczynski government, would have required Poles to sign a declaration about whether they had any involvement with the Polish secret services during communism. Failure to comply, or past collaboration with communism, would have been punished by suspension from work for ten years. The forms, now obsolete, had already been sent out and were due back by May 16th.

The government had made it amply evident that it fully intended actually to remove anyone who did not return the questionnaire in time from their work. This would have included revoking the mandate of MEP Bronislaw Geremek, an opponent of the Kaczynski government who had been a famous dissident during communism.

Frustrated in their scheme by the Constitutional Court's ruling, the government immediately tried to question the court's legitimacy in a full-blown smear campaign against its judges – demonstrating just why its unhealthy obsession with the past could spell real trouble for Polish democracy.

Even before the verdict was officially announced, Arkadiusz Mularczyk, who initiated the “lustration law”, accused two judges of having worked for the Communist secret service. The allegations have since turned out to be ill-founded, but not before the court had excluded the judges from deliberation on the case.

The reputation of the judges has survived intact, but the government thereby demonstrated its readiness and ability to use privileged access to state archives for partisan political advantage. Worse, it has reinforced fears that the “lustration law” functions more as a declaration of allegiance to the Kaczynski twins than a serious attempt to gather information about past wrongs.

The fierce broadsides the government fired against the Constitutional Court over the last 48 hours have also raised fears that it might not respect the judges' institutional prerogative to ascertain whether laws are in conformity with the constitution. Comments by both Prime Minister Jaroslaw and President Lech Kaczynski, who insisted that "we're not through with this case yet", were seen as an indication that a power struggle between executive and judiciary may be fast approaching.

If the executive prevails, Poland's first democratic constitution since World War II might soon have as little to do with reality as Socialist declarations of human rights.

The stand-off between the ideological follies of the Kaczynski government and democratic forces such as the judiciary has undergone a tense crescendo over the last forty-eight hours. In the best case scanario, the Constitutional Court has reigned in an ailing government, helping Polish democracy to survive until more moderate forces are elected. In the worst case scenario, the wrath it now faces will make Poland's judiciary – and, along with it, political liberty – obsolete.

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