The Polish opposition marches against the ultra-conservative government a few months before the elections

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The political temperature in Poland festers in this election year. A controversial commission of inquiry into possible Russian influence on Polish rulers in the years leading up to the invasion of Ukraine, promoted by the ruling party, the ultra-conservative Law and Justice (PiS), has inflamed the atmosphere with a few months to go until the elections, scheduled for this fall.

The initiative, ratified last Monday by the country's president, Andrzej Duda, was received with indignation by the opposition, and has aroused immediate concern in Washington and Brussels, since it directly targets the main opposition leader, Donald Tusk, who was prime minister. between the years 2007 and 2014.

In response, the opposition parties gathered yesterday at the demonstration called by Tusk in Warsaw "against the high cost of living, deceit and lies, and in favor of democracy, free elections and the EU." The day chosen is the anniversary of the first partially free elections on June 4, 1989, which gave victory to Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement.

Tusk told protesters that the opposition's mission today is "of comparable importance" to that of the 1980s against communism. According to the City Council, whose mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, is a member of the Civic Platform, Tusk's party, there were half a million people, while the public television, TVP, controlled by the government, maintained that there were one hundred thousand. Analysis of aerial images carried out by the relevant Onet news portal indicated that there were at least 300,000 protesters.

Donald Tusk, leader of the Civic Platform (PO), at the opposition rally in Warsaw

Wojtek Radwanski / AFP

Walesa, 79, long absent from the political scene, was at the march. She assured that she had "patiently" waited for the day when the nationalist party and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, had to leave. “Mr. Kaczynski, we have come looking for you; that day he has arrived,” she said.

Donald Tusk, former president of the European Council, will be the candidate of the Civic Coalition (KO), which includes his centrist party, the Civic Platform (PO), and three small Europeanist formations.

The appointment with the polls does not yet have a date -it will be in October or perhaps November-, but the opinion of the investigative commission, whose nine members will be appointed by a Parliament with a majority of the ruling party, will be presented on September 17, that is, in the middle of the electoral campaign. The date is symbolic: that day in 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland within the pact with its then ally, Nazi Germany, to divide up the country.

In October or November

The government party Law and Justice (PiS) seeks revalidation in the general elections this fall, still without a date

Current polls give PiS victory, with 35%, and place KO in second place with 28%. They are followed by three coalitions: Third Way (13%), Confederation of Liberty and Independence, and the leftist Lewica, both with 10%. The government party is still preferred, but may not achieve a sufficient majority. In the 2019 elections, he garnered 43.6% of the votes, his second consecutive victory after the one that allowed him to return to power in October 2015.

The opposition maintains that the commission will be a battering ram for the government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – both he and Duda are from the government party – to harm their rivals. The non-affiliated press has already baptized it as Lex Tusk, to reflect who it would be directed against. The bill, approved by Parliament and rejected by the Senate – where PiS does not have a majority – depended on the presidential signature to go ahead.

The wake-up calls came soon. Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, said Tuesday that the United States shares concerns that this commission "could be used to block the candidacy of opposition politicians without due process." The European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, also spoke. “We are concerned about the situation in Poland with the creation by law of a commission that may deprive citizens of their right to be elected to public office; It will be possible without judicial review, ”he warned.

Disabling Risk

Faced with pressure from Washington, Duda has promised adjustments in the commission on Russian influence, but the opposition does not trust

Initially, the commission's powers included disqualification from public office involving access to state funds for ten years, with no possibility of appeal. Polish jurists warned of the unconstitutionality of a non-judicial entity with such a capacity for punishment. Pressure from Washington led President Duda to announce on Friday that he would propose amendments to Parliament. He had earlier promised to send it to the Constitutional Court for reading and evaluation.

But, despite Duda's partial rectification, the opposition does not trust: even if the risk of disqualification disappears, the mere pointing out by the investigators would be electorally damaging.

According to its promoters, the official objective of the commission is to clarify possible interference by the Kremlin in Polish politics between 2007 and 2022, and the energy sector is one of the areas to be scrutinized. Poland has been gradually reducing its dependence on Russian energy, even before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

In fact, the construction of the Świnoujście liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, which allows gas to be imported from other countries, began when Tusk was in power. But also during his tenure, Poland signed an agreement with the Russian gas company Gazprom in 2010, which is cited in the official justification for the commission.

WARSAW, POLAND – JUNE 04: Supporters of opposition parties hold European Union, Polish flags and banners during the Freedom march organized by the main opposition party, Civil Platform leader Donald Tusk on June 04, 2023 in Warsaw, Poland. June 04th is a symbolic date commemorating the first round of partially free parliamentary elections after the fall of communism in Poland. Polish Parliament (SEJM) recently voted on a controversial law to build a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland, empowering bans on individuals from public office for up to ten years. The US and EU have raised concerns with the new law and many experts and opposition figures point out that the law, nicknamed

Opposition supporters linking the Polish and European flags at the rally in Warsaw

Omar Marques/Getty Images

PiS has long branded Donald Tusk as pro-Russian. Its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, accused the Tusk government in April 2022 of “covering up” the 2010 Smolensk air disaster – in which his brother and then president, Lech Kaczynski and 95 political figures died – to facilitate a “macabre reconciliation with Russia."

The outrageous tone of the upcoming campaign has had a tough episode. On May 31, to discredit Tusk's call to the demonstration, PiS posted a video with images of Auschwitz linking them to the tweet of a journalist critical of the government, who had predicted that Duda and Kaczynski would soon have their komora . This Polish word means dark cell, but it is also associated with the gas chambers to murder Jews. The aforementioned assured that he never meant such a thing. In a statement, the Auschwitz memorial called the use of these images "a symptom of the oral and intellectual corruption of the political scene."

Former Polish President and Peace Nobel Prize laureate Lech Walesa takes part in the march on the 34th anniversary of the first democratic elections in postwar Poland, in Warsaw, Poland, June 4, 2023. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Lech Walesa, 79, took part in the opposition march in Warsaw

Kacper Pempel / REUTERS

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