′Somebody has stolen Poland and its values′ | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 21.07.2017
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'Somebody has stolen Poland and its values'

As Poland's government moves to increase its control over the country's courts, artists have protested in an open letter to President Duda. Signatory and journalist Katarzyna Janowska told DW what they fear most.

Proposed by Poland's ruling right wing Law and Justice party (PiS) and party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, reforms to the country's Supreme Court system could mean the end of independence for the judiciary and is the latest in a string of moves meant to consolidate the government's power.

The reforms were passed Thursday by the lower house and by the Senate early Saturday where the vote was was 55-23 with two abstentions.

The bill proposed by the populist ruling party only needs the signature of President Andrzej Duda to become binding. Duda has 21 days to sign it but is not expected to do it before his meeting Monday with the head of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf.

The reforms could give the PiS considerable influence over the court systems and their makeup.

The move could see the dismissal of all 83 Supreme Court judges, and would require future judges - to be nominated by the parliament - to adhere to "Christian values," among other changes.

Nearly 300 artists, filmmakers, journalists, theater makers and educators on Wednesday signed an open letter to Polish President Andrzej Duda criticizing the proposed reforms.

DW spoke with one of them, Katarzyna Janowska, who is an experienced culture and lifestyle journalist with the news organization onet.pl.

Read: Thousands protest in Poland after controversial Supreme Court bill passed

DW: What concerns you most about the reforms to the judicial system?

Katarzyna Janowska: It's obvious for everybody that the ruling party wants to change our democratic system. They can't do it by voting because they don't have the majority needed to change the constitution, so they are doing it by changing the three pillars of government that are essential to a democracy.

You as a journalist, along with artists, filmmakers, people in theater and educators, have written an open letter to President Duda. What do you expect from him?

Truly speaking, we don't expect him to stop the changes. But it was important for us as the people who are devoted to culture, who are the artists and intellectuals, to say collectively that we are against it.

For us, it is a kind of symbol. We meet nearly every evening in the streets around the Sejm and the presidential palace, and we know that we are there. But if we sign a letter, then other people get to know our opinion - not only in Poland, but also abroad.

We don't expect President Duda to go against his government, but the future is unpredictable. So maybe he will want to change something about his attitude and his connection to the governing party - maybe.

"The strength of the weak is the only hope in the current situation!" tweeted Katarzyna Janowska.

How much support are you receiving from the general population?

It's hard to say because there are many people who've taken to the streets. The counts have varied: The police say there were, for example, 2,000 or 4,000 at the demonstration, but we know there have been 10,000.

Watch video 00:21

Protests in Poland over contentious judicial reform

This is not the first move of the PiS government to consolidate its power - the ruling party already restricted the constitutional court's power two years ago. How have you personally experienced the development toward a more authoritarian government in recent months?

The changes are happening very quickly. I didn't believe that the governing party would want to change the democratic system. But it turned out very quickly that it was happening. They started by controlling public media organizations. For them, that was a good move because influencing the opinion of the media is very important for their voters. A lot of people only watch public television or listen to public radio. They can tell them anything and the people will believe it.

Then they started to change the system by taking over the court. Today, I spoke with my journalist friends who cover politics and we were thinking about what Jaroslaw Kaczynski's purpose could be. What does he want to gain? Does he want total power? He already has total power. He has the majority in parliament. He's the leader of the party and, in fact of the government, because everybody knows that he is the most important person.

Read: Polish court reforms: What Jaroslaw Kaczynski actually proposes

Read: Opinion: A catastrophe for Poland's democracy

Watch video 01:04

Poland: Fear for democracy rises

For me, the most terrifying thing is that the changes are happening so quickly and people feel that somebody has stolen our country and our values. A friend just told me it's a farewell to Europe. We are quickly losing all the things that are important to us.

What's next? Mr. Putin is waiting for us with open arms. We have a very difficult geographical position and don't have many choices. We can either be involved in Europe, or we can return to the Russian sphere of influence.

Journalist Katarzyna Janowska (picture-alliance/dpa/G. Jakubowski)

Katarzyna Janowska is an experienced culture journalist who has worked in TV, radio and print

The return to conservative "Christian values" has been a key issue in the government's rise to and consolidation of power. How does this emphasis impact your work as artists?

For me, the most important value for artists is freedom. We now have problems with that.

There was a problem with the Malta Festival in Poland. The minister of culture didn't want to give money to the festival because the curator, Oliver Frljić, was the author of a controversial play that was staged in Warsaw, in which the actress simulates oral sex on a plastic statue of the Pope John Paul II.

Freedom is the most important value and without freedom, there is no art. 

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