Why Polish rights groups oppose bill prioritizing 'nationally important' rallies

Under the new rule, the government could prohibit counter-demonstrations within 100 meters of a rally authorities deem to be of national importance.

Alik Keplicz/ AP
Anti-government protesters march through the downtown on the anniversary of imposition of the 1981 martial law by the country's former communist regime, in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016.

After lawmakers passed a bill that would give the Polish government power to prioritize rallies of national importance over demonstrations and other gatherings, nearly 200 groups urged President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday to veto the measure.

Both the Polish Ombudsman and Constitutional Tribunal, the country's highest constitutional court, have already said the bill would violate freedom-of-assembly rights guaranteed by the Polish constitution. But it remains unclear whether Mr. Duda will take action or permit the measure to take effect, continuing a spree of nationalistic and pro-Catholic legislation enacted by the nation's ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS).

"We call on you, Mr President, to veto this bill as it violates the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and international conventions ratified by Poland," a petition signed by 194 human rights groups and other organizations wrote to the president, who has worked closely with the PiS. A spokesman said the president would review the bill carefully before making his final decision.

Currently, local authorities give precedence to public events according to the order in which they were received, regardless of the organizer's intent. Under the new rule, a government official would have power to prohibit counter-demonstrations from taking place within 100 meters of any rally authorities consider to be of national importance. Officials have said the bill is needed to ensure public safety.

Sharp political polarization has been brewing in Polish society for some time, erupting this week with two warring protests in the streets of the nation's capital. But the discord also points "to the awakening of civil society," as The Christian Science Monitor reported from Warsaw:

The massive protests against the ruling Law & Justice Party (PiS) in the past year – specifically their moves to neuter the Constitutional Tribunal, the country's highest court; make it harder to have an abortion; and even make it harder to protest – come from an opposition worried about the state of Polish democracy. Supporters of their ultraconservative government have simultaneously protested back.

It’s a sign of division and a certain amount of dysfunction. But the fact that the protests are gathering steam has, perhaps unwittingly, led to a sense of political empowerment in Poland that has been largely dormant since its transition to democracy.

Some suggest divisions in 2016 have grown even worse than they were under communist rule, with members of individual families refusing to speak with each other over their differences in political perspective.

"At that time the front line was between 'we' the Poles and 'them' the USSR. The common goods were freedom and solidarity," Maciej Dębski, a sociologist at the University of Gdansk, told the Monitor in September.

"Today division is within the society, there is no outside enemy," he added.

Earlier this year, the PiS passed laws to make it harder for the constitutional court to pass rulings, prompting the European Commission to say Polish democracy and rule of law were under threat. Frans Timmermans, the commission's vice president, said Wednesday he is concerned by the new laws limiting the tribunal.

Nonetheless, Poland's Supreme Court has described the freedom-of-assembly bill – an earlier draft of which had sought to grant special privileges to events organized by the government and the church – as an effort to undermine the constitutional order.

This report includes material from Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.