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Poland passes contentious bill to examine Russian influence

May 26, 2023

The law, backed by the ruling Law and Justice party, is seen as targeting former Prime Minister Donald Tusk ahead of key elections next year. Critics say the measure is unconstitutional.

Polish lawmakers passing the new law to investigate Russian influence
Critics of the new law say it violates Poland's constitutionImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP/picture alliance

Polish lawmakers passed a bill on Friday to investigate Russian influence in the country, which the opposition says is a targeted attempt to influence elections next year.

The law will establish a commission to investigate alleged Russian influence during the period from 2007 to 2022.

Those found to have acted under Russian influence would be banned from working in roles where they are responsible for public funds for 10 years — effectively barring them from public office — as well as from positions that require security clearance.

The new law was pushed by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which claims that the opposition party Civic Platform (PO) allowed Poland to become dangerously dependent on Russian fossil fuels when its former leader Donald Tusk was prime minister from 2007 to 2014.

"We want the law on the commission for examining Russian influences to come into force and for the commission to be able to work," PiS spokesperson Rafal Bochenek said ahead of the vote.

"If Mr. Donald Tusk has something on his conscience ... he should be afraid."

Opposition slams political 'witch hunt'

The investigations would be led by a committee selected by the parliament, where the PiS party commands a slim majority.

PO leader Krzysztof Brejza said the new law is a "Soviet-style idea stemming from the mentality of (Law and Justice leader) Jaroslaw Kaczynski and an attempt at organizing a witch hunt against Donald Tusk and eliminating him" from Poland's politics.

Tusk, who is no longer a member of parliament but is chair of the PO party, was present in the chamber during the vote.

He called those who voted for the law "cowards" who had "broken good parliamentary manners and the fundamental principles of democracy, out of fear of losing their power, out of fear of the people, out of fear of responsibility (they should face) after they lose the elections."

Donald Tusk waving from the gallery of Poland's parliament
Former Prime Minister Donald Tusk was present in the chamber during the vote on FridayImage: Czarek Sokolowski/AP/picture alliance

Tusk said the opposition has a strategy to deal with the commission and called on Poles to join him in pro-democracy marches on June 4, the anniversary of partly free elections in 1989 that led to the ouster of communists from power in Poland.

Slawomir Patyra, a constitution expert at Marie Sklodowska-Curie University in Lublin, told the AFP news agency that the legislation has a vague definition of Russian influence that is open to abuse.

"This regulation violates all the constitutional foundations," he said.

zc/wd (AFP, Reuters)