Saturday, January 02, 2016

Danger for democracy in Poland

Alexander Mühlauer writes about concerns over authoritarian developments in Poland under the newly-elected government there in Die EU muss Warschau in die Schranken weisen Süddeutsche Zeitung 01.01.2016.

The current President is President Andrzej Duda, but the real power is assumed to be in the hands of party boss Jarosław Kaczyński of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. (Florian Hassel, Jarosław Kaczyński - der Alleinherrscher Süddeutsche Zeitung 25.11.2015) Since October 25's election, Kaczyński and the PiS have reduced the power of the Constitutional Court to review laws by passing a bill that increases "the number of judges needed to pass judgments and change the order in which cases are heard. The opposition has said it could paralyse the court's work and make it difficult for its politicians to challenge the new ruling party's legislation." (Poland's president signs constitutional court bill amendment Reuters 12/28/2015)

Mühlauer describes the moves the PiS is taking to reduce press criticism and intimidate the press:

Die Warschauer Regierung versucht, die öffentlich-rechtlichen Medien unter staatliche Kontrolle zu bringen. Die Rundfunksender werden in "nationale Kulturinstitute" umgewandelt, die amtierenden Intendanten mit sofortiger Wirkung entlassen. Über die künftige Besetzung der Vorstands- und Aufsichtsgremien entscheidet nicht mehr ein unabhängiger Rundfunkrat, sondern der Minister für Staatsvermögen. Mit einem freiheitlich-demokratischen System hat das nichts mehr zu tun. Polen ist auf dem Weg zu einem autoritären Staat.

[The regime in Warsaw is attempting to bring the {independent} public media under state control. The radio station is being converted to a "national cultural institute", the current managers dismissed immediately. An independent radio council will no long decide on the future composition of the executive and oversight bodies, but instead the Minister of State Property. This no longer has anything to do with a liberal-democratic system. Poland if on the way to an authoritarian state.]
This may not be immediately obvious to Americans, where even our "public" TV and radio stations like PBS and NPR are private nonprofit organizations, not state institutions. The comparison would be more to the BBC, which is a state institution with more-or-less editorial independence from the government of the moment. An independent, professional news organization in the British context is considered an important public good in itself.

But international politics and economics are complicated. And I have some reservations about criticisms like Mühlauer's coming from Germany. Germany and Poland have history, as they say. The government has justified its media measures in part by arguing that it's necessary to re-Poland-icize media from the influence of foreign capital. And particularly from the "dominance of German capital in the media," as government spokesperson Elżbieta Kruk put it. (Wie Polens Regierung die Medien nach ihren Vorstellungen formen will Süddeutsche Zeitung 25.11.2016)

I'm fully on board with describing what's happening in Poland as an authoritarian turn. But Angela Merkel's coalition government with the SPD hasn't shown a great deal of concern about democratic processes in Greece, Italy and Portugal within the eurozone. In non-euro EU Hungary, the government has been on an authoritarian track for years without ruffling a lot of feathers in Berlin.

One red flag in Mühlauer's article is that he holds out as an example of effective action in such a situation the "sanctions" (he puts the word in quotes) that the EU put on Austria after the 1999 election when the rightwing Freedom Party (FPÖ) was forming a government with the conservative Christian Democratic People's Party (ÖVP). The "sanctions" amounted to Austrian diplomats not being invited to the usual round of diplomatic parties and meals for a brief period of time.

It's only in the final paragraph that Mühlauer gets around to mentioning Hungary. And what he say about Turkey is also correct:
... die EU mit ihrem Verhalten gegenüber der Türkei an Glaubwürdigkeit eingebüßt hat. Der Flüchtlingsdeal mit Ankara ist den Europäern wichtiger als die Frage, wie es um die Rechtsstaatlichkeit und die Meinungsfreiheit in der Türkei bestellt ist.

[... the EU has forfeited credibility with its position with Turkey. The refugee deal with Ankara is more important to the Europeans than the question of how well it is with the rule of law and freedom of opinion in Turkey.]
Part of the concern in Germany over Poland may have to do with doubts about how closely Poland will adhere to the neoliberal economic policies on which Merkel insists. This Reuters article describes the current Polish ruling party as "economically left-leaning but nationalist-minded." (Poland's conservatives to put stamp on monetary policy, token rate cut possible 12/17/2015)

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