Thursday, 31 March 2016

Polish Prime Minister Supports Complete Abortion Ban

The Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, has stated that she supports a complete ban on abortion in Poland. She has said that she backs the 'Stop Abortion' campaign, that is collecting signatures in order to put forward a citizens' bill to parliament to completely outlaw abortion in the country. It also proposes that women (and not only doctors as is the case currently) can be imprisoned up to 5 years if they are caught having had an illegal abortion.

The campaign to completely outlaw abortion is being led by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. This week a letter published by the Presidium of the Polish Catholic BishopsConference, stated that Poland should not halt at the present 'compromise' on abortion, but move towards a total ban. This letter will be read out in Churches throughout Poland this week. 

Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Abortion was made illegal in 1993, in a move that was ludicrously described as a 'compromise'. It banned abortion in all but three circumstances: 
- where there is a high probability of severe and irreversible damage to the foetus or where it will have an incurable life-threatening disease
- where a pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health; 
- where the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act. 

It is worth remembering that in the early 1990s, the parliament rejected a petition signed by 1.5 million people for a referendum to be held on this matter. Also, the then President Lech Wałęsa vetoed a resolution passed in parliament in 1994, that would have eased some of the restrictions (allowing women in poor health or difficult social circumstances to terminate a pregnancy). 

Last year only around 1,812 legal abortions were carried out in Poland (around 500 more than during 2013). The inevitable result of this situation is that huge numbers of Polish women are forced to either undergo illegal abortions or travel abroad to have their pregnancies terminated. It is obviously the least well off women, that are unable to travel abroad, who most often have to have illegal 'backstreet' abortion in Poland. It is estimated that around 150,000 illegal abortions take place in the country each year , which carry significant health risks. 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Members of Far-Right Invited to Polish School

It has been reported that members of the  National-Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny - ONR) visited a school in the city of Płock on March 1. They were invited by the school's Head Teacher to address pupils at a commemoration of the 'Cursed Soldiers' (the underground fighters against Communism after the Second World War). 

The ONR  is associated to the pre-war far-right organisation: the Polish National Movement (Ruch Narodowy - RN). At the event in Płock, members of the ONR boasted that this was the first time since 1934 that they had officially been welcomed into a school. The representatives of the ONR wore the insignia Falanga on their sleeves (see pictures). The Falanga became a popular symbol for Polish far-right nationalists in the 1930s; and continues to be adopted by different organisations of the far-right in Poland today. 

The ONR regularly display the Falanga and have marched under such slogans as: 'Poland for the Poles'; 'Hang Communists'; 'Ban Homosexuality' and 'Islam is the Death of White Europe'. 

Pictures from the ONR's facebook page show members of the ONR wearing the Falanga symbol, standing alongside the Head Teacher of the school. 

Events such as this make it important that the anti-racist march orgnised in Warsaw this weekend is attended by as many people as possible. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Constitutional Crisis Enters New Phase

The stand off between the Polish government and the Constitutional Tribunal has entered a new stage.

The Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that the amendments made at the end of last year by the Polish government to the operations of the country's top legislative court are unconstitutional. This was shortly followed by the Polish government announcing that it would not recognise nor publish this ruling, as it contravened the very rule changes that the government had introduced. 

What we have here is a constitutional crisis, with the highest organs of the state openly coming into conflict with each other: The Court has refused to abide by the government's new rulings as to how it should operate; and the government is not accepting the rulings that this Court is now making. Article 190 of the Polish constitution states that all the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal are universally binding and final and must be published by the Prime Minister's Office. 

All of this comes at a time when the Polish government is facing increasing criticism from abroad. The Venice Commission is about to publish a report on the state of Poland's democracy, with a leaked prelimary opinion from the report stating that the ongoing constitutional crisis in Poland poses a danger to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. The government has said that the publication of this report should be delayed due to this leak, a request that has been rejected by the Venice Commission. 

In recent months divisions within Polish society have sharpened. The Committee in Defense of Democracy (KOD) have organised a series of large demonstrations, whilst the left-wing party Razem (Together) is currently holding a vigil outside the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and have shone an image of the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling on the walls of the building (see picture above).

Nevertheless, the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) is maintaining a strong lead in the opinion polls and has itself been able to mobilise large numbers of its supporters on the streets. The language used by leading members of PiS and the government against the opposition movement and those that criticise it is becoming increasingly hostile. The President of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, has said this week that a broad coalition lies behind KOD that would like to reduce Poland to the level of a colony. He stated that they are the same people that like to blame Poland for all the negative things that have happened in Europe over the past century; that laugh at everything connected to patriotism, who broke all cultural standards after the the Smoleńsk tragedy and have trampled on all that is sacred in Polish culture. 

Likewise in a speech this week  attacking those who have criticised the government from abroad, President Andrzej Duda said that:

We are all intelligent people. We are proud of our fatherland. We are people who understand the processes of history and who understand what it means that our state is being used. And that we are being treated as second category people means that it is high time that we said that here in Poland that we are people of the first category. 

Although PiS was the first party in Poland's modern history to have gained an overall majority in parliament, it still only won 38% of the vote in an election with just over a 50% turnout. Neither the government nor the opposition command a majority in society and both sides are increasingly coming into conflict with one another. With the government demonsing those in the opposition as being of the 'worse sort' in Polish society, then the possibility of further conflicts and even a new authoritarian crackdown increases. 

Monday, 7 March 2016

Violent Attacks on LGBT Organisations in Warsaw

Last week two attacks took place on LGBT organisations in Warsaw.

On the night of 1-2 Match the windows of the headquarters of the Warsaw Lambada Association were smashed. A day later, 3 March, three men shouting abuse, started to bang and kick the door of the offices of the Campaign Against Homophobia and attempted to break into the building. They ran away before the police arrived.

All of this comes in the wake of a previous attack on the Lambada Association headquarters during the night 6-7 February, when its doors were sprayed with the Celtic Cross and the slogans 'White Power' and 'Ban Homosexuality'. During this attack a poster hanging on the door was also burned. As yet noone has been caught for carrying out these attacks. 

According to a statement by the Lambada Association: 

This is the latest in a series of incidents motivated by homophobia against our organisation during recent months. The perpetrators of both of these attacks are telling the LGBT community that they do not have the right to a calm and dignified life in this country. We cannot accept this and we will publicise every such attack, in the expectation of a decisive response from the authorities. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Remembering the Polish Volunteers from the Spanish Civil War

A memorial to commemorate those from Poland that fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War took place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw on March 1st. 

Organised in the Dąbrowski Brigade, more than 3,000 Poles volunteered to fight in Spain during the 1930s, under the banner of 'For Your Freedom and Ours'. During the 1930s, these volunteers had their Polish citizenship taken away from them. Then in the 1990s, the inscription remembering them was erased from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other monuments in Warsaw. According to the Institute of National Remembrance these volunteers 'served the interests of Stalin in Spain'. 

This week’s action was organised by a group of art students, led by Zuza Ziółkowska, the grand-daughter of one of the volunteers. Participants carried anti-fascist flags and banners from the Spanish civil war and laid a reef in the shape of the symbol of the International Brigade. 

The action took place on the year of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. It also coincided with the day in Poland that commemorates the so-called 'Disavowed Soldiers' (or 'Cursed Soldiers'), a term applied to the armed resistance movement to Communism after the Second World War. This has taken on a strong significance for the right-wing in Poland, who honour all the 'Disavowed Soldiers', including those that killed an estimated 5,000 civilians (amongst them 157 children). 

At the event Ziółkowska said that those who fought in the Spanish Civil War are now Poland's 'Disavowed Soldiers'. She added that the lack of memorials to these Polish volunteers has helped to fragment historical memory in Poland and that they wish to help make history once again more pluralistic. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Polish Government Supports 'Strong' TTIP

Although the ruling Law and Justice Party has claimed that it is a patriotic party that defends the sovereignty of Poland, it is taking a strong line in support of the Translantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). 

During a meeting at the American Chamber of Commerce, the Vice PM and Minister of Development, Mateusz Morawiecki, said that Poland supports the US position on TTIP and are in favour of 'a stronger version of TTIP during negotiations on this matter'. He went on to add that Poland is a trade-orientated country and that  a 'soft' TTIP is not an option for Poland. 

Negotiations around the bilatareal trade agreement between the USA and EU have largely been taking place in secret. It will reduce the regulatory barriers to trade for big business in areas such as the environment, banking and health and undermine the sovereign power of individual nations.