The Cable

EU Debates Poland’s Government on 35th Anniversary of Martial Law

The government has said the debate date is in bad taste. But who's really insulting democracy in Poland?


On Tuesday, members of the European Parliament are debating the state of rule of law in Poland in response to eroding democracy at the hands of the governing Law and Justice party. But the inquiry is not likely to to halt the Polish party in its illiberal march — member state Hungary is expected to block the European Commission from taking any action against Warsaw. And so, on Dec. 19, Poland’s ruling party is expected to have control of the country’s courts.

The Polish government, for its part, has not only questioned the legitimacy of the debate, but also said it is in bad taste. On Monday — that is, the eve of the EU discussion — the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the debate “unfounded. There is nothing to justify having such a debate.”

The MFA then added, “The date of the debate is unfortunate, painful for Poles: Dec. 13 is the anniversary of the introduction of martial law.”

The implication here is that the European Union is disrespecting Poland’s history and democracy, since the debate comes on the 35th anniversary of the day its then-socialist regime cracked down on the “pro-democracy” Solidarity movement.

This is, of course, one argument. Another is that it is not the European Union, but Poland’s ruling party, that is disrespecting the memory of Solidarity by, for example, trying to take control of an independent judiciary and banning judges from publishing judgments critical of the ruling party. Or by removing the director of the Polish Culture Institute in Berlin for, apparently, sharing too much Jewish culture. Or by investigating and questioning a historian who writes about how Poles in the 1940s treated their Jewish neighbors. Or even by trying to discredit the literal founder of the Solidarity movement by accusing him of collaborating with the secret services of socialist times.

And perhaps this is why, on Tuesday, it was not in Brussels but in cities around Poland — from Warsaw to Lublin to Lodz to Bialystok — where people, on the 35th anniversary of a martial law that was not lifted for over a year and a half, marched to protest what has become of their country’s democracy.

Photo credit: JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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