October 2015’s general elections in Poland were won by a hardline Catholic conservative party PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – or Law and Justice). Its 37 per cent share of the vote hardly spoke of mass support, but it was sufficient to earn it a working majority in both the upper and lower houses of parliament.
Since then the country has been plunged into a political crisis that many fear is splitting the country apart – and perhaps even challenging Polish democracy itself. Tens of thousands of people have been on the streets demonstrating for or against the new right wing administration, protests that escalated towards the end of 2015 when the PiS emasculated the country’s constitutional court by replacing 5 independent judges with political appointees and effectively put the court under party control.
It was done, say critics, purely so that the PiS could sidestep legal checks and balances ahead of secret plans to drastically change the constitution – a nascent coup in the making. “The government plans legislation with implications for human rights that could curtail free speech and the right of assembly,” warned Jacek Kucharczyk of the county’s Institute of Public Affairs.
As a result, Poland has rarely been more divided, with 56% of Poles saying they feel their freedoms are in danger while the government’s supporters charge that compromises made by liberals with the Communist leadership to bring about the country’s transition to democracy in 1989, left a nation that is excessively anti-religious and secular.
As this film for People & Power explains, throw in rising xenophobia exacerbated by Europe’s refugee emergency, the PiS’s increasingly strident Euroscepticism, tense relations with the country’s neighbours and another recent highly controversial law introducing tough state control over media – and you have a crisis that looks set to boil over at the heart of Europe.
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