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Walesa raises fear of 'civil war' in Poland

December 18, 2015

Former Polish leader Lech Walesa has warned of "civil war" if Poland's new conservative government pushes through constitutional court changes. The opposition accuses the ruling PiS of undermining democracy.

Polen Deutschland Lech Walesa bekommt Point-Alpha-Preis 2013
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Lech Walesa said he was beginning to feel "ashamed" of Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party's election win and added to his previous call that the new government uphold democracy's division of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Since winning October's election, the PiS, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is neither president nor prime minister, has attempted to install five judges of its own choosing to Poland's 15-member constitutional court as it prepares to implement controversial societal reforms.

The court has the power to veto new legislation.

Will end badly, warns Walesa

Walesa, who in the 1980s headed the Solidarity movement against then-Soviet rule, told Polish public television late Thursday that while changes were needed in Poland, the way in which PiS was proceeding did not amount to an "open and democratic" reform process.

"If they don't do it like that, I am warning them, it's going to end in a civil war," he said.

On Wednesday, he had told private Radio Zet that the PiS's political course would "lead to a lot of misfortune. It will end badly."

Democracy's three-way division of power and system of checks and balances was "indispensible," Walesa said.

The Nobel Peace Prize recipient's words carry extra weight because Kaczynski was his advisor when Walesa became Poland's first democratically elected president since World War Two in 1990.

The two have, however, occasionally clashed over issues.

Another pro-democracy protest is planned for Saturday. A demonstration last Saturday, called by an opposition alliance, drew 50,000 people in Warsaw. The next day some 35,000 pro-government supporters rallied in the capital.

Polen Jaroslaw Kaczynski und Beata Szydlo
Kaczynski and Szydlo (R) want reforms to a "crony" systemImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Skarzynski

'Valid' appointees rejected by Duda

The new PiS-led government formally headed by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo refuses to recognize other judges previously appointed by parliament when the liberal Civic Platform (PO) was in power.

On Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda rejected three judges picked by the past parliament, despite the court's ruling that the appointments were valid.

The PiS national conservatives also want to change the court's underpinning legislation by removing a paragraph that guarantees the panel's independence.

Kaczynski had previously described the former centrist government as a "crony system." Critics have said he wants influence over the court because without its backing he will not be able to implement promised social and political reforms.

On Wednesday, Szydlo verbally attacked opponents, saying "for those who cry the loudest it's not about democracy, but about defending their influence and positions."

Support for PiS crumbling?

A survey by the TNS polling institute published in the newspaper "Gazeta Wyborcza" on Thursday showed support for the PiS slumping to 27 percent from 42 percent at the start of December.

It was elected with nearly 38 percent in October. It remained, however, at the top of the popularity rankings.

Polen Demonstration gegen Regierung
Demonstrators protested outside Kaczynski's homeImage: Reuters/K. Pempel

Opposition politician Grzegorz Schetyna told the channel TVP on Wednesday that Poland faced a lengthy constitutional crisis if President Duda did not change course on court appointees.

Human rights lawyer Krzysztof Izdebski, who co-founded a new democratic initiative, We Are Watching You, accused PiS of wanting "to control every aspect of life, every sphere of the public scene."

PiS irate over Schulz's remark

A comment by European Parliament President Martin Schulz that events in Poland had the "character of a coup d'état" drew angry reactions from the new Polish government.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski described Schulz's remark as "irresponsible," adding that Poland's election in October had been undisputed.

Kaczynski was himself prime minister from 2006 until 2007. His tenure was marked by domestic political turmoil and tensions with neighboring Germany and other European powers.

Szydlo has abandoned a press conference practice of displaying both Polish and EU flags. She said she preferred Poland's "most beautiful white and red flags."

ipj/sms (AP, AFP dpa, Reuters)