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Europe

Poland’s extra-parliamentary opposition stresses need for civil society

The Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) was set up in November 2015 to protest at what it sees as attacks on democracy in Poland. Its founder, Mateusz Kijowski, spoke with DW’s Jo Harper.

The Committee for the Defense of Democracy (KOD) was formed to oppose actions taken by the Law and Justice (PiS) government under Jaroslaw Kaczynski, which in October became the first party in post-communist Polish history to win a majority of seats in parliament.

The KOD attracted over 75,000 supporters on Facebook in its first month. Its supporters come from across the political spectrum, with the exception of the ruling PiS, Kukiz'15 and the extreme right.

The primary reason for the formation of the KOD was parliament's passing of a law in November that invalidated the previous government's appointment of five judges to the Constitutional Tribunal and nominated new PiS-affiliated judges in their place. In December, the court ruled the legislation invalid and the appointments unconstitutional.

The KOD has organized a number of recent demonstrations to protest against government policy.

The founder of the KOD, Andrzej Kijowski, spoke with DW's Jo Harper about the organization's aims and hopes.

Deutsche Welle: What do you think PiS ultimately wants to achieve and what do you expect the government will do next?

Andrzej Kijowski: I have no crystal ball, but the next thing they will do is likely to be to seek to merge the ministry of justice with the public prosecutor. Every day they say that the prosecutor should not be independent.

Isn't that most governments in democracies do – place their own people, tailor institutions to their own needs?

The government has the mandate to realize its mission, its promises, but not a mandate to break the law, or break good practice. We are not bad losers; we are not ministers who lost their jobs, but ordinary people. We are also not anti-PiS.

What do you want to achieve and how will you know when you've achieved it?

We have no specific conditions, but we have identified what the problems are in constitutional law and invigilation, in the civil service, in the media and elsewhere. If PiS started to talk with us, we could come to some understanding and find solutions.

The organization won't stop. We will continue to take care of democratic symbols and values, and support people on the margins. For the moment we want to establish a strong organization, to put pressure on the government, and to change their way of operating. We would stop if the government repealed what they have done, of course, but they won't.

Our aim is to create a civil society, and unless we connect with all the nation, that won't happen. Some people voted for PiS, but at the December 12 demonstration in Warsaw some of them congratulated me, saying PiS had gone too far. People who voted for PiS, I think, were looking for a community. But now they see they made mistakes.

What do you want and expect the EU to do?

The EU won't make restrictions for now; it won't punish Polish society. But for a start, we can promote the same message of European values. We want to put pressure on the government to respect Poland's agreements and obligations with the EU. We believe the EU can advise us on how to exit the situation. Some people ask me why we are so worried if we have freedom of expression, no political prisoners? I say that while democracy is not finally demolished, it is losing many security mechanisms, checks and balances.

Do you see PiS as anti-democratic?

I don't like to talk about PiS. The state is not PiS. It is proceeding in a way that weakens democracy, dismounting basic security systems. They proceed as if the winner took all. The majority party got only 18% of all votes, but is trying to dictate how people think and how things work. This could be a first step to a dictatorship.

Polen Andrzej Kijowski Komitee zum Schutz der Demokratie

Andrzej Kijowski says democracy is waning in Poland

And Jaroslaw Kaczynski himself? Have you talked with him?

We invited all politicians to talk, but he didn't want to. No-one from PiS wanted to, in fact. They see us as the enemy. But we will be asking continuously: Why are you breaking the law?

Do they take you seriously?

They are trying to discredit us, but this will change. They will listen.

Will the KOD run out of steam?

That's always possible, and all spontaneous movements lose some energy. We will see.

Where are KOD people from? What do you think of former PiS government members such as Roman Giertych (ex-minister from the 2005-2007 government headed by PiS) using the stage he created to protest against the government, for example?

For sure, there are some opportunists, but most are really engaged and honest. All have expectations and we come from all sides, from the left, from Civic Platform (PO), Nowoczesna.pl, and some who voted for PiS who say mea culpa.

How is the KOD financed?

We had no money at first. We collected at the first demonstrations to finance printing. Then there was some crowd funding, collecting to finance the next demos. At the start, we raised about 160,00 zloty (ca. 35,000 euros, $38,194) via Facebook to pay for travel and so on.

What is the future of the KOD?

We have created an association, not just a protest movement. We want to undertake some educational activities to strengthen civil society. We have no plans to run at elections. The next demo is on January 23 in Warsaw and other cities, and will be about all the areas of democracy that are under threat.

The interview was conducted by Jo Harper.

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