Poland gets a law against “Russian influence” that can curb dissent

Poland gets a law against “Russian influence” that can curb dissent

The leader of the opposition, a former prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, is set to see parliament in Warsaw on Friday pass a law that could put him in a bind.A.P.’s photo

Duda announced the signing on Monday morning after the law was passed in Poland’s lower house of parliament on Friday. The legislation created a commission with broad powers to investigate “Russian influence on the internal security of the Polish Republic between 2007 and 2022”.

Those found guilty may not hold any position related to public funds for ten years. In practice, this meant a ban on any position within the government. The committee’s decisions may not be appealed.

The commission is given major investigative powers, such as access to classified documents, and the search and seizure of evidence. The House of Representatives, where the current ruling coalition of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) is, selects the members of the committee. The Polish Prime Minister elects the chairman of the committee.

About the author
Arnout le Clercq is the Central and Eastern European correspondent for De Volkskrant. Lives in Warsaw.

The Polish government describes the law as an important tool for “the search for truth”, which should strengthen Polish sovereignty. According to the Polish opposition, the law clearly targets Donald Tusk, the leader of the largest opposition party, the Civic Platform. Tusk served as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2014.

Russian interests

The law is also known as “Lex Tusk” in Poland. The current government regularly accuses Tusk of promoting Russian interests while he was prime minister. A Law and Justice lawmaker said last November that the law should be used to “bring pro-Russian fangs to the court of the state and put them in jail.” Opposition leader Tusk, who moved to Brussels as EU president after his premiership, has denied the allegations for years.

Fear of Russia is deeply rooted in Poland. In the hands of the Law and Justice party, this fear threatens to become a political tool ahead of important parliamentary elections in October or November.

Prominent political analyst Piotr Boras wrote on Twitter that the law opens the door to a “McCarthy-style witch hunt,” referring to the American politician who hunted down alleged communists in the United States in the 1950s.

If the commission of inquiry targets anyone, it will lead to a wave of negative publicity in state media during the election campaign, the opposition warns. And if the current ruling party loses the elections, the committee may create obstacles for the formation of a new government.

Unconstitutional law, according to the opinion of experts

Legal experts describe the law as unconstitutional: the commission of inquiry is chosen by the established authority and performs the role of prosecutor and judge. Critics demanded that the Polish president veto the law, but Duda decided otherwise.

However, Duda sends the law to the Constitutional Court after signing it, which tests the legislation against the Polish constitution. This check won’t do much. After all, the court has acted as an extension of the Polish government in recent years. In addition, the court has not met for some time due to the raging conflict between its judges.

Meanwhile, the investigative commission can begin its work. She expects to complete the first investigation in September – a month or two before the election.

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