Location: Warsaw, Poland
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his government
Polish President Andrzej Duda
National Law and Justice Party (PiS)
TVP public television, Polish Radio, Polish Press Agency (PAP)
Former Polish ministers Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik
On 13/12/2023 Polish President Andzej Duda sworn in the Tusk led coalition government, marking the end of the right-wing populist National Law and Justice Party (PiS) administration. The government changes within Poland were well received by most EU countries, as Tusk’s government is pursuing a pro-European course. However, decisions made by Tusk’s government in December 2023 and January 2024 have led to an increase of tensions within Polish society.
On 11/01/2024 thousands of opposition supporters gathered outside Poland’s parliament in Warsaw to protest against recent changes implemented by Tusk’s government. The protests took place in the aftermath of government changes to state media and the arrest of two former ministers convicted of abuse of power, after which the PiS party on 09/01/2024 called for huge anti-government protests.
On 19/12/2023 the Parliament of Poland passed a resolution calling on the Ministry of Culture to restore “citizens’ access to reliable information, the functioning of public media, as well as ensuring [their] independence, objectivity, and pluralism.”
On 20/12/2023 Culture Minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz fired the heads of TVP public television, Polish Radio, and Polish Press Agency (PAP). Besides, Sienkiewicz appointed new supervisory boards which will appoint new management boards for the companies. Since PiS took power in 2015, TVP, Polish Radio, and PAP became subject to tight PiS control that swiftly ousted management and reporters seen as unfavorable for the PiS government. The power of PiS over these news outlets led to international worries over Polish freedom of press and likely favored the PiS party during Polish Parliamentary elections in October 2023.
The recent government changes to the news outlets led to fury by PiS members and supporters, who took residence in the TVP headquarters in Warsaw on 20/12/2023 in an attempt to prevent the government changes. The TVP headquarters in Warsaw are currently surrounded by metal barriers and police officers for protection.
On 09/01/2024 the police arrested former ministers Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik, who both have been lawmakers for PiS. They were convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to three years in prison in 2015, as they allowed agents to use entrapment in an investigation. However, when PiS came to power that same year, Polish President Andrzej Duda pardoned both ministers.
Polish Lawyers questioned in 2023 whether Duda was entitled to pardon Kamiński and Wąsik back in 2015, after which the Supreme Court decided to reopen the case. In December 2023 Kamiński and Wąsik were sentenced once again, this time to two years in prison. In January 2024, the Court issued the arrest of both men.
On 09/01/2024 both former ministers took refuge at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw on invitation by President Duda, where they were eventually arrested. According to Prime Minister Tusk, Duda hindered the arrest and obstructed justice by giving Kamiński and Wąsik refuge.
PiS immediately condemned the arrest of Kamiński and Wąsik as “an illegal kidnapping and violation of all democratic rules”. In addition, the PiS party called for the huge anti-government protest in Warsaw, leading to thousands of opposition supporters on the streets on 11/01/2024. Duda also announced that he will pardon both ministers once again.
Whereas the former PiS-led government took an anti-European approach, the installation of the pro-European Tusk government is perceived as positive development by most EU countries. Tusk promised his voters to prioritize Poland’s security while restoring the rule of law, addressing the climate crisis, and improving women’s rights. Tusk stated that this focus could secure billions of euros for Poland that were frozen by the EU over concerns on the rule of law.
However, Tusk’s government has had a difficult start so far, as most of its first attempts to work on the election promises mentioned above have been faced with strong resistance from the PiS opposition and its supporters. PiS still has a strong supporter base and received over 35% of the votes during the 2023 parliamentary elections in Poland, making it the party with the most votes in total. Besides, PiS politicians have used hostile rhetoric towards Tusk and his government. Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of PiS, even described Tusk in the run-up to the 2023 elections as “the personification of evil in Poland, pure evil”. During the anti-government protests on 11/01/2024, Kaczyński portrayed the recent disagreements between the Tusk government and the PiS opposition as “a great battle for a sovereign, independent Poland” that should be won by PiS.
The anti-government protest of 11/01/2024 might just be the start of a series of protests that could happen in the future. The strong support for PiS among Polish citizens as well as its use of anti-Tusk rhetoric will likely fuel resistance against future policy changes by Tusk’s government. Whereas EU countries heaved a sigh of relief after Tusk and his government were sworn in, Poland’s road fully acting in line with EU principles will not be an easy one. In an already highly polarized Polish society, more unrest in the form of protests against government reforms should be expected.
It is likely that the protest in Warsaw on 11/01/2024 won’t be the last protest against the actions of the Tusk pro-European government. Tusk’s coalition and the PiS opposition are diametrically opposed to each other and it seems that PiS will do anything to stop Tusk’s government from reverting their legacy. Especially with Polish President Anrzej Duda being a PiS ally, it is likely that unrest in Poland will increase and that the country’s way to becoming a pro-EU state will be a long one.