In Europe - East

Agence France Press (AFP) agency, Sept 24, 2016

Tens of thousands of protesters hit the streets of the Polish capital Warsaw Saturday to rally against moves by the rightwing Law and Justice government that they say undermine the rule of law.

Latest anti-gov't rally in Poland organized by Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) on Sept 24, 2016 (Wojtek Radwanski, AFP)

Latest anti-gov’t rally in Poland organized by Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) on Sept 24, 2016 (Wojtek Radwanski, AFP)

WARSAW – Warsaw City Hall officials said up to 30,000 people took part in the demonstration organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD). The protest targeted reforms of the Constitutional Court that the populist PiS government pushed through soon after it swept to power late last year.

The changes to the top court’s decision-making rules, which according to the opposition were intended to paralyse the institution, have notably alarmed the European Union and triggered a string of demonstrations across the country.

Adam Michnik, a leading journalist, left-wing intellectual and former dissident in Poland’s historic anti-communist Solidarity union, warned the PiS it would suffer the consequences of its actions at the ballot box.

“The KOD doesn’t want to overthrow the government… it wants the government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski to respect the law and the Constitution, but if they don’t comply, society will be obliged to remove them from power through democratic elections,” Michnik said.

“We cannot accept politics that isolate Poland and trigger conflicts with neighbours,” Michnik added.

Although he holds no government office, PiS party leader Kaczynski is widely regarded as the real powerbroker of Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s administration.

In late July, the European Commission handed Warsaw a three-month deadline to reverse the changes to the top court or face sanctions for breaching EU norms on the rule of law and democracy.

Without a satisfactory response in three months, the Commission, the European Parliament or a group of ten member states can propose Poland be stripped of its voting rights in EU institutions if it is guilty of serious and persistent breaches of the rule of law.

Kaczynski has responded by saying the European Commission was acting illegally: “This process is totally outside the EU’s treaties.”


Thousands march in latest anti-govt protest in Poland

Associated Press, Sept 24, 2016

Waving Polish and European Union flags, thousands of Poles marched Saturday in downtown Warsaw in the latest protest against the conservative government, whose policies critics say are dividing the nation and leading it away from EU values

WARSAW – Waving Polish and European Union flags, thousands of Poles marched Saturday in downtown Warsaw in the latest protest against the conservative government, whose policies critics say are dividing the nation and leading it away from EU values.

People came from across Poland for the protest organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, or KOD. Warsaw police estimated that 12,000 people participated.

KOD has organized regular protests against Poland’s ten-month-old Law and Justice government and party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The march started at the building that houses Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, an independent court that EU leaders have criticized the Polish government for trying to control, in violation EU principles.

Protesters also denounced the government’s backing for moves by lawmakers to ban abortion and criticized a newly-announced school reform plan that reverses a 1999 reform. Artists and public figures spoke at the march, saying they were alarmed at the course of events.

The government insists the eight-year reign of its centrist, pro-EU predecessors did not serve ordinary Poles and that sweeping reforms are needed to change that.

A separate rally in Warsaw on Saturday demanded more funds for the country’s chronically strapped health care system and for its medical personnel.

Related news:

Polish lawmakers push on with near-total ban on abortion

AFP, Sept 23, 2016

Right-wing lawmakers are pushing ahead with a near-total ban on abortion in devoutly Catholic Poland, while rejecting a rival bid to liberalise an existing law which is already among the most restrictive in Europe. The governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which controls parliament, has sent to committee a bill that would allow terminations only if the mother’s life was at risk, and increase the maximum jail term for practitioners from two years to five.

The citizen’s initiative tabled in parliament by the Stop Abortion coalition would also make mothers liable to prison terms, though judges could waive punishment. Poland’s influential Catholic church gave the initiative its seal of approval earlier this year, though its bishops have since opposed jailing women.

The head of Poland’s KAI Catholic information agency, Marcin Przeciszewski, said he expected the PiS would axe the provision on jailing women during legislative work.

The proposal, which the Council of Europe called a “serious backsliding on women’s rights”, inspired several large pro-choice marches and a rival drive to liberalise the law. Lawmakers struck down that initiative in its first reading on September 23. Tabled by the Save Women pro-choice coalition, it would have allowed abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy.

Save Women activist Barbara Nowacka vowed on Friday to try again. “Parliament doesn’t want to talk about women’s rights, dignity, a decent life, sex education or birth control, but that doesn’t mean that we’ll give up,” she said.

Although the PiS generally favours banning abortion, its leaders are well aware that most Poles support the existing legislation. Passed in 1993, the current law bans all terminations unless there was rape or incest, the pregnancy poses a health risk to the mother, or the foetus is severely deformed.

A poll published this week by the Newsweek Polska magazine showed that 74 per cent of Poles want to keep the existing law. The country of 38 million people sees less than 2,000 legal abortions a year, but women’s groups estimate that another 100,000-150,000 procedures are performed illegally or abroad.

Lawmakers also sent to committee a PiS-proposed bill intended to limit in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), the treatment that involves fertilising an egg outside a woman’s body to produce an embryo that can then be implanted in her womb. The measure would notably make it illegal to freeze embryos, which its proponents say are human beings from the moment of fertilisation. It would also only allow women to fertilise one egg at a time, thus considerably reducing the chances of a successful pregnancy.

*   Stop this crackdown on abortion in Poland, commentary by Krystyna Kacpura, The Guardian, Sept 21, 2016.

Krystyna Kacpura is a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative, European Society for Contraception and Reproductive Rights, the Programme Council of the Congress of Polish Women, and executive director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning

*   Thousands protest in Warsaw against proposed abortion ban, Reuters, April 3, 2016

*  View the extensive news of contemporary Poland in the news archive of New Cold War.org by using the website search function: https://newcoldwar.org//?s=poland

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