Hostile takeover of civil society pays dividends for new Polish government

Ewa Kulik-Bielinska

The victory of the right-wing Law and Justice Party in the Polish elections of September last year has been followed by legislative changes which are little short of a dismantling of liberal democracy and the rule of law. In these circumstances, you would also expect moves to suppress civil society – but you would be only partly right to do so. The new government seems to have discovered that the best way to achieve its ends is not to suppress civil society but to manipulate it, so those CSOs that are pursuing aims in accord with the party line have received approval and even support from the new regime. By contrast, those whose aims are deemed to be hostile to the ‘new Poland’ face an uncertain future.

Increased powers for the Ministry of Justice and the police, purges of the administration and public services, curtailment of media independence, measures to paralyse the Constitutional Tribunal and the reversal of reforms that had put Poland on the path to development and modernization have all followed the election of the Law and Justice party. But it has also used more subtle means to control public debate, such as buying up shares in private media; withdrawing paid announcements and advertising, and channelling them to media that support the party; and exerting pressure on private companies dependent on state contracts to do the same.

'The official narrative is that of regaining sovereignty and independence from ‘foreign powers’ (the EU and Germany); preserving Poland’s ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity; and eradicating ideas – such as gender equality, multiculturalism and ‘political correctness’ – deemed dangerous to traditional Polish values, which are presented as linked to the Catholic Church.'

The official narrative is that of regaining sovereignty and independence from ‘foreign powers’ (the EU and Germany); preserving Poland’s ethnic, cultural and religious homogeneity; and eradicating ideas – such as gender equality, multiculturalism and ‘political correctness’ – deemed dangerous to traditional Polish values, which are presented as linked to the Catholic Church. Hate speech is tolerated towards aliens: refugees and migrants, Ukrainians, people of colour, gays and lesbians, and those on the left. Radical youth groups organizing rallies against aliens under the symbols of pre-war fascist youth movements are treated as patriots.

 
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