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Poland is divided

Dudek Bartosz Kommentarbild App
Bartosz Dudek
April 9, 2016

Large anti-government protests are taking place week after week in Poland. Yet Law and Justice remains the strongest political party in the country. Poland has left the European mainstream, DW's Bartosz Dudek writes.

Polen Demonstration gegen Abtreibungsverbot in Warschau
Image: picture alliance/dpa/J. Kmaniski

Poland's national-conservative government is making headlines throughout the European Union - and across the Atlantic Ocean. After paralyzing the Constitutional Tribunal and transforming public media into state-run media, Law and Justice (PiS) has now made the possibility of an absolute ban on abortion the dominant political theme in the country.

Top-level delegations from the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the US Congress have tugged at Warsaw's ear, insisting that the government publish - and respect - the decisions of the Constitutional Tribunal. The answer from those in charge in Warsaw was polite but resolute: We will not let others tell us what to do. But we will seek a political compromise with members of the opposition.

The country's real leader, PiS chair Jaroslaw Kaczynski, met with opposition parties for discussions ahead of his trips abroad. Afterward, he mentioned possible future changes to laws regarding the Constitutional Tribunal. Such an ambiguous statement makes it impossible to decipher any true political will.

DW's Bartosz Dudek

Gender lines

Kaczynski has appealed for all parties to refrain from taking up any new fights before Pope Francis visits Poland in July. At the same time he made his appeal, a PiS-led legislative committee was formed to collect 100,000 signatures in support of pushing a new anti-abortion law through parliament. And of course both PiS boss Kaczynski and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo favor stricter abortion laws.

The Catholic Church itself has played an active role in the debate: The Polish Episcopal Conference dictated that a pastoral letter calling for a total ban on abortion be read aloud at Mass across the country last Sunday. That was nothing less than a demand that all Catholics sign the legislative committee's petition.

Kaczynski knows that no issue divides so many societies the way that abortion - an issue that primarily affects women - does. And the reaction was prompt in Poland: A well-planned and -executed protest took place in front of live TV cameras when women in Warsaw and Gdansk stood up and walked out of Mass at exactly the moment that priests began reciting the pastoral letter. For some it was a media scandal; for others it was an unforgivable disruption of the Holy Mass. Either way, renewed discussion of abortion will only deepen Poland's current political predicament.

Annoying the neighbors

The political tensions in Warsaw are also having effects in Berlin. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski recently claimed that Germany had no interest in cooperating with Poland and France within the framework of the Weimar Triangle. A recent bit on Prime Minister Szydlo by the satirist Jan Böhmermann that aired on the German public broadcaster ZDF provoked a harsh retort from Polish state television. And right-wing online portals have been spreading rumors that the German government has been "instructing" journalists on how to produce negative reports on Poland. Mistrust is growing on both sides.

Poland's government has apparently decided to leave the European mainstream. Whether one likes it or not, it must also be acknowledged that Kaczynski's PiS was democratically elected. Moreover, six months after taking power, the PiS is unquestionably the strongest political force in the country.

That doesn't mean that all Poles are enthusiastically following the PiS's political course. The opposition has called for further demonstrations on Sunday. Poland is an extremely divided country at the moment. And it will remain so into the foreseeable future.

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