Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Great purges in Poland after Law and Justice (PiS)

Włodzimierz Czarzasty, Szymon Hołownia, Donald Tusk, Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz – Common declaration of opposition leaders (Photo: Klub Lewicy, CC BY-SA 2.0

Starving and frustrated after eight years in opposition, the political-judicial-media grouping is planning a “purge” of the state. There are promises of “rat removal,” trials before a State Tribunal, and prison sentences. Poles are being persuaded that their country is on the verge of collapse, making extraordinary measures necessary.

Zuzanna Dąbrowska

The settling of accounts obviously cannot be a preliminary to revenge. If someone behaved honestly and decently for those eight years, even if they worked in a PiS-controlled corporation or voted for PiS, they will come to no harm. No one will lose their job because they voted for PiS. But people will be held accountable, and some will go to prison, for running a system of organized theft of money and […] a policy of breaking the constitution, violating the rule of law,” Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Platform (PO), said in August. Now he is the opposition’s candidate for prime minister. He may soon get his hands on the tools he needs to turn his words into action. Particularly given that even in May 2022 he promised to “put things in order with an iron broom.”

Numerous statements by media spokespersons from the future government camp give us a picture of how this “putting things in order” is going to look. It will certainly cover state-owned corporations. We can read about this in the PO manifesto: “We will dismiss all members of the supervisory and management boards. We will carry out new recruitment in transparent competitions where competences will decide, and not family or party connections.

This is the soft version. The “hard” version was presented by Civic Coalition (KO) MEP and former head of the Polish central bank, Marek Belka.

We must right away […] begin a slow but consistent process of economic education of society. This is something that we have never remembered about actually since the times of Jacek Kuroń, and now it has to be done. We must make changes in state-owned corporations as fast as possible and get rid of all these so-called brother-in-law appointees,” Belka said in one of his interviews. When asked “how to do this wisely” he proposed “rat removal.” “Wisely in this case means quickly. The democratic parties’ voters will not tolerate seeing people in state-owned corporations who were political nominees. We will not be splitting hairs and wondering when we will have a sufficient number of civil service experts capable of taking over the offices. The rats have to be removed fast,” he claimed.

He warned that “depoliticizing the state-owned corporations” was a priority, although “it is necessary to introduce competitions, strengthen the civil service, we have to do all this, but we can’t keep Obajtek [head of the Orlen oil giant] in place until we find a new candidate after two years. Just no.

A State Tribunal for everyone

Even though he has the law on his side, the present chairman of the central bank may have reason to worry, according to Tusk’s declarations. “Adam Glapiński is there illegally. He will not be central bank chairman for even a day longer. No act of parliament will be necessary,” the PO leader said last summer. Also widely publicized were the words of PO deputy leader Tomasz Siemoniak (who is being named among the potential candidates for Defense Minister). “Donald Tusk, and after him in the evening Mr. Tomasz Siemoniak on TVN24, were kind enough to say that after the election, if they win, they will remove the central bank chairman. Siemoniak, at the request of a bemused journalist, was good enough to explain what this meant. I quote: ‘Strong people will come and lead the chairman out,’” Glapiński said during a press conference. PO politicians argued that there had been an overinterpretation, but it is hard not to get the impression that the central bank chairman read their intention correctly.

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One of the threats most frequently made is to bring officials before a State Tribunal. Even before the election, Włodzimierz Czarzasty, one of the leaders of the New Left, announced that this measure would be taken against Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, former premier Beata Szydło, and the minister for state assets Jacek Sasin. Now a similar threat has been made in the form of an ultimatum addressed to President Andrzej Duda during his post-election consultation with members of the opposition. Szymon Hołownia of the Poland 2050 party warned of a State Tribunal for members of the National Radio and Television Council, for “many months’ delay in considering the application for the extension of TVN24’s license.” The former TVN presenter also wanted such a tribunal for the central bank chairman.

Bringing leading government politicians before a State Tribunal is included in PO’s “100 Concrete Actions.” The party wants a tribunal for Andrzej Duda (“for refusing to take the oath of service from three Constitutional Tribunal judges, for applying the right of pardon ahead of final conviction to former PiS ministers Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik and two other Central Anti-Corruption Bureau officers”), Mateusz Morawiecki (“for issuing a decision to the Polish Post Office on the conduct of an illegal ‘envelope election’”), Jacek Sasin (“for unlawfully spending 70 million zloty on an envelope election”), Zbigniew Ziobro (“for using financial resources from the Justice Fund for party purposes”), Adam Glapiński (“for destroying the independence of the National Bank of Poland”), and the chairman of the National Radio and Television Council Maciej Świrski and culture and national heritage minister Piotr Gliński (“for destroying the public media”).

The handing out of threats of a State Tribunal does not end there. Tusk has proposed such a measure for everyone who bears responsibility for the non-receipt of EU funds for the National Reconstruction Plan.

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In turn, Borys Budka has said that such a fate should await Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jarosław Kaczyński, among other things “for the fact that during the pandemic women had to go out on the street to defend their elementary rights.” “For all of this there is not only the Criminal Code, but also the State Tribunal. I can promise that no one will ever repeat the mistake of failing to hold Kaczyński to account for breaking the Polish constitution and the Polish Criminal Code,” Budka announced.

A grand “settling of accounts”

The settling of accounts with PiS will also affect judges and public prosecutors. Someone who seems particularly excited by that vision is Ewa Wrzosek of the Warsaw-Mokotów District Prosecutor’s Office. She is a star of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, and had been suspended for a period for possibly supplying confidential information to assist the mayor of Warsaw. “You say that after eight years of Zbigniew Ziobro the legal re-verification of all public prosecutors, leading to the potential possibility of removing from the profession about 30 percent of those who went to serve Ziobro, is excessive and inhumane?” she asked rhetorically on X (formerly Twitter). She went on to argue that she and those like her have no desire whatever for revenge: “If for eight years, deliberately and for the lowest motives, for your own profit, you have taken part in the demolition of the state and set about destroying people – don’t then complain that being held to account is an act of revenge. It is basic responsibility for what you did, and a warning that no one else should ever follow in your tracks.

The possible removal of judges was also discussed by Senator Krzysztof Kwiatkowski. All in the name of unlocking the National Reconstruction Plan funds. “The most significant symbol of what minister Ziobro did is the prosecution or disciplining of judges. Minister Ziobro appointed his political nominees who then prosecuted judges Juszczyszyn, Gąciarek and Tuleya simply for judgments that they had made,” he added. “It is necessary to remove those people and appoint people who will represent the judiciary on the one hand, and the public on the other. But they certainly cannot be representatives of politicians. This decision can be made in five minutes – dismiss the political appointees and appoint those who will defend the independence of the courts and the impartiality of judges,” the senator argued.

On the subject of the justice system, the avengers do not plan to overlook the Constitutional Tribunal itself. The molding of public opinion with the aim of discrediting that institution and its head has been going on for months. The phrase “Julia Przyłębska’s Constitutional Tribunal” has been repeated like a mantra. The Wirtualna Polska website says that one of the first actions taken regarding that tribunal will be the removal of the three judges known as “doubles.” This means Mariusz Muszyński, Justyn Piskorski and Jarosław Wyrembak. The head of the Iustitia Association of Polish Judges, Krystian Markiewicz, has claimed that these are not judges. “It has to be said directly that they were elected in an illegal manner. Therefore the Sejm, which elected them, ought to admit its error and say: they are not judges, because the judges are those who almost nine years ago were properly appointed to their position,” he said.

Someone who has long been preparing for the role of chief “purger” after PiS is Roman Giertych. There is an idea on the table to make him prosecutor general. Interestingly, even Anna Maria Żukowska of the New Left, who has often distanced herself from the former League of Polish Families leader, says today that he is the right person for that post. “Roman Giertych would be suitable for prosecutor general. If his aim is to get PiS and to draw up charges against them, it is a dream job,” she claimed. She explained that “it is a job in which he would realize those dreams that he has spoken of, his determination to hold PiS to account.

Giertych himself promises that he will submit to Tusk’s decision. “I can’t be on a commission investigating unlawful surveillance using the Pegasus system, for example, because I was the subject of such surveillance myself. I can’t be on a commission investigating illegal actions by services and prosecutors, because I myself was the victim of such actions,” he explained. “I don’t think that Tusk would want me on some commission of that kind, but I will do as he orders. Work will certainly not be lacking. We have to deal with a huge number of cases, hundreds of people damaged by that government. I will make sure that all of them get justice, and that those guilty of breaking the law and stealing from Poland are punished. That is my commitment,” he promised.

Online, however, we can find much sterner warnings. “We will seek you the whole world over. You will have nowhere to hide. Nowhere will you find shelter or gain asylum. We will look for you and we will find you. For those offenses that you commit from very low motives, with very great social harm, you will answer before the law in an impartial court and I expect that every one of you who belongs to a group employing intimidation will have to atone for that over many years […]. We will get you,” he warned the persons who allegedly harassed his family and those of PO politicians.

However, this was quickly picked up as a declaration that he planned to settle scores with PiS, which Giertych did not deny. The attorney is already lining up as sheriff. “To the first CBA [Central Anti-Corruption Bureau] agent who comes to my law firm and reveals everything about the wiretapping of the opposition, submits a crime report and recounts everything to the media, I promise that I will do everything to ensure that his criminal liability for his part in that crime does not lead to his imprisonment,” Giertych wrote on social media, commenting on the revelations of Paweł Wojtunik, who previously headed the CBA under PM Donald Tusk, about the alleged surveillance of opposition figures.

Giertych is so virulently anti-PiS that he dreams of tearing down statues. “And maybe alongside the local government elections in Warsaw we’ll hold a referendum on whether we want to have monuments and streets dedicated to Lech Kaczyński?” he asked on X, setting up a poll where respondents could vote for or against removing the late president’s statue from Piłsudski Square.

The Catholic Church is not to escape the squaring of accounts. The primary target is the director of Radio Maryja, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. “All of the public money that in recent years has flowed in a broad stream to Toruń will be checked and accounted for,” promised KO MP Dariusz Joński. He does not exclude the possible confiscation of property. “How much of the money we are able to recover will become clear when we have checked and calculated everything exactly. We are also considering confiscation of property as an option. Of course, that decision will be made by a court,” Joński noted.

The dislike felt for the Toruń-based Redemptorist is nothing new. In 2007, Tusk’s government tried to block 15 million zloty in funding for geothermal wells. “There won’t be such an institution in Poland – private, governmental, local authority, church – that operates outside the law, that is, in contravention of the rules,” the PO leader said then. The probable future prime minister also claimed recently that “the state needs to be cured of its pathological dependence on people like Father Rydzyk, because it is the state’s fault that it gives money to Rydzyk.

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Anti-PiS ultras

Not only politicians, but many journalists too are awaiting a revolution at the Polish national broadcaster TVP. The former because they want to bring it under their control. The latter, meanwhile, particularly those who worked in the public media before 2015, are no doubt looking forward to a possible return. As well as a feeling of moral superiority over those colleagues who are now to be thrown out of work.

The media have much to say about the supposed “opposition’s plan.” It apparently includes placing the public media corporations in a state of liquidation. This would make it possible to avoid a veto from the National Media Council, which is dominated by PiS politicians. In that situation, TVP and Polish Radio would be taken over by commissioners. The real changes to the public media would then be introduced by means of new laws. Here, it is claimed, the idea is to remove that council’s authority over TVP and public radio and to return it to the National Radio and Television Council.

The former head of TVP, Juliusz Braun, when asked about another idea, that of “starving TVP out,” replied that this was “radical, but fully in accordance with the law.” “Zero hour will come when a government is appointed, no earlier. But then it will be possible to find solutions in accordance with the law, for example by exercising the rights of the corporation’s general shareholders’ meeting. It may be necessary to travel close to the mark, but without overstepping the mark,” Braun admitted. Warsaw University sociology professor Maciej Górecki has not been mincing his words. He describes the future of the best-known TVP journalists in terms of “imprisonment and confiscation of all assets.”

The many announcements of how accounts are to be settled are being cheered on by the anti-PiS ultras. At their head is Tomasz Lis, who has raised the question of banning PiS. “I have doubts about the delegalization of PiS. I only know that it should not be a political decision. If a court determines that there are not pretexts, but grounds for delegalization, then it should simply issue such a decision,” the journalist said. The former editor of Polish Newsweek supports every planned action announced by the future coalition. “The CBA, which was supposed to be an anti-corruption agency, has become a political police force for PiS. Either the zero option, or re-verification of officers, or the appointment of a new service. One way or another, this cancerous growth on the state has to be removed,” he wrote.

Lis does not hide his deep satisfaction at the election result: “When they came to power, PiS politicians responded to every voice of dissatisfaction with their own refined commentary: ‘You hear moaning? Splendid.’ Now for two weeks they themselves have been howling and moaning. And that’s splendid.” Another proponent of “purging” the state is Professor Wojciech Sadurski. Speaking on Radio TOK FM, he said that “the adversaries are Kaczyński, Morawiecki, Duda and the like, and not ordinary PiS voters like Mariola from Łomża or Waldek from Mława. For the first category – no leniency or politics of love. For the second – let’s understand the reasons.” In spite of attempts to give a nuanced message, it seems that the avenging forces will have no scruples. “The previous governments must be held to account. That process should be ruthless. If we fail to make them accountable, people won’t forgive us,” said newly elected MP Michał Kołodziejczak.



This article was first published in Polish in the Do Rzeczy weekly in October 2023.