Democratic and Market Values Face Obstacles in Poland

The Committee on Defense of Democracy stages a protest in Warsaw on December 19, 2015.

After the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, Poland became a poster child for democratic and market-oriented transition. While the necessary reforms were difficult and often painful to the average citizen, they did deliver political freedoms and rapid economic growth, reversing decades of totalitarian oppression and decline. Poland became a respected member of the European Union (EU) and a model for other countries in the region. Despite persisting challenges typical for transition countries, such as youth unemployment, the overall institutions of democracy and a market economy appeared solidly in place.

This began to change rapidly after the 2015 elections when the Law and Justice Party (PiS) candidate won the presidency and the party gained a majority of seats in the parliament. Inspired by the policies of Victor Orban and his party in Hungary, PiS began a rapid push to challenge Poland’s democratic institutions—from the Constitutional Tribunal to public media. However, unlike the Hungarian Civic Alliance (Fidesz), PiS does not possess the constitutional majority necessary to pursue such systemic changes, which put it on a collision course with Poland’s judiciary and civil society, as well as EU institutions.

How have the new government’s policies impacted support for democratic and market values in Poland? The Institute for Private Enterprise and Democracy (IPED), a leading Polish think tank, sought to answer this question. IPED conducted research on the current perception of democracy in Poland, challenges facing the development of democracy, and steps to improve the rule of law. IPED is a public policy organization based in Warsaw whose mission is to support market-oriented reforms and create favorable conditions for business development through independent research, policy analysis, education, and advocacy.

This article summarizes IPED’s findings and presents recommendations for action by various stakeholders. The top recommendations are improving the quality of law, strengthening economic education, and increasing work with youth to build an understanding of democratic institutions and counter xenophobia.

Article at a Glance:

  • When the socially conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to majority power in Poland in 2015, it was the country’s first single-party or non-coalition government since the fall of Communism.
  • The biggest threat to democracy is the ongoing Constitutional Court crisis, which challenges the independence of the judiciary.
  • Democratic backsliding has manifested itself in waning confidence in the judiciary, state capture of public media, xenophobia and economic opportunism, and a crackdown on civil society and non-governmental organizations.

The full article is available here.

Anna Kompanek is the Director for Multiregional Programs at CIPE.

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