Populist approach of Law and Justice Party (PiS) caused substantial amount of damage to democracy in Poland. PiS dominates the Polish Parliament for a long time. Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski enjoy disproportionate share of power. Poland faced with significant declines in terms of democratic principles under PiS regime. Recently, PiS has been on the spotlight for their attempt to ban abortion. With this law, Poland has near total-ban on abortion and Polish women are furious.
Hundreds of thousands of people joined protests since 22 October, the date constitutional court ruled that abortion of fetuses with congenital defects violates law. This ruling permits abortion only when a pregnancy endangers a women’s health or results from crimes like rape or incest. Pro-Choice protest were held across the country and it turned into a rebellion against the government and the church. It is said to be the largest demonstrations in Poland since the fall of communism in 1939.
The decision is part of a conservative agenda of PiS. Protecting traditional family values has been the center of PiS political discourse. Poland has a strong Catholic identity. Similarly, gay rights had been attacked by the party and Kaczynski, he described it as a threat.
In 2016, PiS tried to pass a ban on abortion in case of fetal abnormality but had to drop the bill due to thousands of protests. However, PiS succeeded its long-lasting plan as of 2020 via the decision of Constitutional Tribunal whose member are picked by PiS and filled with PiS loyalists. Court President is known to be personal friend of Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Poland suffers from accountability mechanisms. The European Parliament accused Polish government of influencing the court’s near-total ban decision, saying this shows the rule of law in Poland had collapsed.
Poland’s abortion restrictions were already the toughest one in Europe. Government has not yet published the court ruling thus, it is not yet enforceable. It is delayed indefinitely for now (Pronczuk). This indicates that the protests might have an influence. However, the problem is unresolved. Crucial question is whether civil society be enough to stop the attempts of PiS for good.
What started as women’s marches for their rights turned into a demand for democracy. Protest are not one-issue related. Protests are representing a fight for everyone’s rights and country’s democratic intuitions integrity. The demands of the protestors do not only include freedom of reproductive rights, but it includes return of the rule of law in the country which has been seriously demolished by PiS regime. Protesters say that, they want resignation of the current government (Pronczuk). Detentions were made during the protests. Coronavirus pandemic did not stop people from marching against the ban that deprives women from their fundamental freedom. Due to ban on gatherings because of Covid-19 marches are organized as spontaneous walks. Nationwide protests are organized by a group called Women’s Strike. Other segments of the society also joined the protest movement. Current government is accused of acting more like an authoritarian regime because they continue to disregard civil liberties (Taub).
Opposition parties are vital to make sure that the fight for gender equality actually bring change in political structure of Poland. Civil society is considered as a critical condition for a functioning democracy. For democratization to occur people should demand it via strong civil society. On the other hand, historical precedents are important. Rise of Nazi’s in Germany during inter-war period happened when there was a strong civil society but a lack of strong political society. For this reason, political opposition in Poland must find ways to connect with the vocal civil society to bring a concrete change into Polish politics.
PiS has been pressuring the civil society organizations which viewed as politically or ideologically hostile. So called unfriendly organizations have been targeted by removing existing state supports. Women organizations have been cut off from ministerial sources of funding. Despite all of this obstacle, organizations manage to attract mass support. This shows a major civil society engagement. Latest marches signal that civil society can actually achieve something and have the ability to resist PiS in some extent .
halt of the proposal shows that marches helped. However, marches can only be
effective in terms of stopping the proposals as it happened before in 2016.
Government could still publish the decision as it has done before but according
to the legal experts doing it would violate the Constitution (Pronczuk). Woman
Strike set up a consultative council to bring demands to the government. It drafted
a postulate on different subjects varying from “ending women’s hell”, helping
LGBT people, returning of the rule of law, restoration of judicial independence.
In terms of definite policy changes
political parties should involve. Now with the council, things might change in
Poland. According to the recent polls, support for the President Duda and the
government faced with the largest drop since they come to power. Real change is
heavily depending on the electoral victory of the opposition. In this case,
opposition parties should find a way to connect with the voters who demand
change and attract more parts of the Polish society. Political opposition can
maximize their chance of victory by a strong collaboration with the civil
 Kendall-Taylor, Andrea and Erica Frantz. “How Democracies Fall Apart: Why Populism is a Pathway to Autocracy.” Foreign Affairs. December 5, 2016.
 “Polish Police Carry Away Abortion Rights Protesters.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 9 Nov. 2020, www.independent.co.uk/news/polish-police-carry-away-abortion-rights-protesters-street-police-police-capital-warsaw-b1719983.html.
 Pronczuk, Monika. “Why Are There Protests in Poland?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Oct. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/10/27/world/europe/poland-abortion-ruling-protests.html.
 Taub, Amanda. “In Poland, Protests Over Abortion Ban Could Revolutionize Politics.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Dec. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/12/07/world/europe/poland-abortion-protests.html.
 Sirotnikova, Miroslava German, et al. “Democracy Digest: Abortion Restriction Votes Succeed in Poland, Fail in Slovakia… Just.” Balkan Insight, 23 Oct. 2020, balkaninsight.com/2020/10/23/democracy-digest-abortion-restriction-votes-succeed-in poland-fail-in-slovakia-just/.
Beissinger, Mark R. “’Conventional’ and ‘Virtual’ Civil Societies in Autocratic Regimes.” Comparative Politics 49, no. 3 (2017), 351-71.
 Bill, Stanley. “Counter-Elite Populism and Civil Society in Poland: PiS’s Strategies of Elite Replacement.” East European Politics and Societies, Sept. 2020, doi:10.1177/0888325420950800.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.