A panel debate on the current situation in Poland was held yesterday in the European quarters of Brussels, organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The expert panel consisted of Prof. Jean-Claude Scholsem, member of the Venice Commission, Mrs Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, MP and spokesperson for the Nowoczesna (Modern) party and Martin Mycielski, KOD International Coordinator. Representatives of the Law and Justice (PiS) party and the Polish government unfortunately did not accept the invitation and chose not to present their point of view.
The event gathered around 100 participants, and among them numerous representatives of European institutions, international and non-government organizations as well as representatives of foreign governments, including Swedish, German, Slovenian, Norwegian, Belgian and even Ukrainian.
The discussion’s main focus was on the future of Poland and possible ways of resolving the constitutional crisis. Many questions, especially those directed to the KOD representative, revolved around the citizens’ reactions to Law and Justice’s actions and what potential support the international community can offer. The panellists had to agree that there’s no feasible way of forcing the government to change their ways without good will from PiS and its Chairman, and European institutions have very limited ways of influencing Poland (mostly due to resistance from Hungary). Due to the above the panellists emphasized a need to build a strong civil society, as a driver of change and the only force able to influence the actions of the government.
Both the panel’s and the attendees’ attention was caught by the initiatives undertaken by KOD in Poland and abroad. Internationally KOD is known mostly through organizing protests and marches, hence the participants were interested to learn about KOD’s other activities, like KOD Cafés, the Flying University of Democracy, but most of all the Citizens’ Constitutional Tribunal Act drafted by KOD and how it fulfils all the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The attendees were also clearly impressed by KOD’s international activities – our cooperation with international organizations (like the 12-page factual report KOD prepared by request of the Venice Commission), KOD’s presence in the European Parliament during the debate on Poland (mentioning our count of PM Szydło’s 14 lies during her 20 minute speech, to the room’s amusement), as well as KOD’s current visit to the US.
The last part of the discussion was unexpectedly dominated by a question from the audience concerning the role of the Catholic Church in Polish politics, and in particular their relationship with the Law and Justice party, which seemed hard to comprehend for foreigners. Martin Mycielski expressed his concern over the actions of representatives of the clergy and the direct influence they have over politics (often against the will of the people, as in the case of the new anti-abortion law). He nevertheless stressed the Church’s indisputable contribution to Poland’s independence and its role in peoples’ lives, which makes criticizing it especially difficult. The relations between parts of the episcopate and PiS Mycielski summed up as simple business – in return for the support received during their electoral battle the government now needs to pay up by introducing legal changes in line with the Church’s interests, irrespectively of people’s beliefs.
Talks held after the debate led to establishing new contacts between KOD International and numerous international organizations, which whom we hope to defend democracy and the rule of law together, not only in Poland, but in all of Europe.