Poland ‘still a democracy’ – but illiberal?


Polish President Andrzej Duda, who fell out with the ruling party last month over judicial reform, risked escalating tension by blocking army appointments proposed by the NATO member’s government, Bloomberg reports. Duda’s decision follows his partial veto in July of government court overhauls amid nationwide street protests and warnings from the European Union and U.S. over risks to democracy.

Poland’s foreign minister denied Wednesday accusations his EU country is drifting towards authoritarianism amid a string of government reforms that have triggered mass protests at home and EU warnings about rule of law violations, AFP reports. “We are still a democratic country,” Witold Waszczyskowski told the BBC when grilled over recent court reforms that critics insist erode judicial independence and threaten democratic standards in one of the EU`s leading eastern former communist states.

Polish citizens still show high levels of support for transatlantic institutions, as well as concerns for the country’s trajectory and threats to Europe’s peace, according to a poll of residents from the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Center for Insights in Survey Research, the fourth in a series by IRI’s Beacon Project, an initiative dedicated to documenting and countering Russia’s soft power grab in Europe:

Levels of support among Poles for NATO, the European Union and a strong alliance with the United States was higher than IRI’s polls in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. More than half (52 percent) believe that NATO is “vital” to maintaining “peace and security” in Europe, and see Russia as an external threat (51 percent). Sixty-eight percent think the peace of Europe is under threat from terrorism, a resurgent Russia and increased migration. Seventy percent of respondents agree (38 percent strongly; 32 percent somewhat) that Poland’s interests are best served by maintaining strong relations with the European Union, and 60 percent believe the United States is a natural partner for European security.

“Even in the midst of ongoing debate in Poland about independence of the judiciary, our poll indicates that decades of investment in securing the country’s democracy and European integration have paid off,” said IRI Regional Director for Europe Jan Surotchak. “In contrast to some of the more disturbing vulnerabilities to Russian influence we’ve seen in other surveys of the Visegrad Four countries, Poland remains solidly committed to transatlantic institutions, and appears to be less susceptible to Russian influence—underscoring the importance of continued engagement with this critical region.”

“Clearly, Poland’s political leadership, both government and opposition, must address the sense of pessimism over the country’s future prospects,” said Surotchak. “The future of a strong, united Europe depends on governments taking action to address citizen concerns through robust democratic institutions.”

Illiberalism not on the rise?

Poland is becoming an “illiberal democracy,” writes Anne Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. But other observers insist that illiberalism is not on the rise, and, indeed, does not exist, according to Ramesh Ponnuru:

Yoram Hazony develops that thesis in an interesting essay in the Wall Street Journal. Hazony defines liberalism as the view that it is “possible and desirable to establish a world-wide regime of law, enforced by American power, to ensure human rights and individual liberties.”….For Hazony, liberalism’s ambition “to eradicate illiberalism in all its forms” poses even more severe dangers at home. It has no room for the nationalist and religious sentiments that animate many conservatives. “Neither nationalism nor support for religion can be derived from liberal theorizing about universal human rights or individual liberties.” And so, “anyone who advocates nationalist and religious ideas in the wrong circles gets tossed straight into the basket of illiberals, with Messrs. Putin, [Erdogan] and Kim.”

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