What is happening in Poland is setting a dangerous precedent for the whole of Europe: Autocracy in the name of liberalism is coming to a parliament near you soon

A meeting of minds? European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk are in good spirits EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET


Poland has repeatedly been ahead of its time. Now, Donald Tusk is initiating a trend heralding a new era of liberal autocracy in Europe.

The 1848 Spring of Nations had erupted in Poland ten years before the rest of Europe. The Solidarity movement was the first to start a string of colour revolutions against Soviet totalitarianism. Poland made the first market reforms and showed post-communist Europe the way to capitalism. Jaroslaw Kaczynski formed the EU’s first nationalistic government. And now his sworn enemy, Donald Tusk, is showing liberal elites how to stifle anti-establishment movements in Europe.

In the hottest January days of the tumultuous power change in Poland, Left-liberal coalition leader Donald Tusk declared at the press conference that nothing would stop his march to reclaim democracy – “Our coalition is like a fist”, he proclaimed. And his fist is most symbolic of the nature of Poland’s new governments.

A month after taking over, the coalition has presented no original programme and no significant economic or tax reforms. But it has managed to imprison two opposition parliamentarians and revoke their mandates, ignoring their presidential pardon and the decision of the Constitutional Court.

Also, they have seized the offices of public radio and television against the verdict of the court, set up several investigative commissions with a plan to convict even more members of the former government, announced the cancellation of significant infrastructure investments, and declared one of the Constitutional Court chambers to be non-existent. And all this under the guise of “resuscitating” democracy.

Democracy also provides an excuse for circumventing selected laws and suspending inconvenient regulations. Prime Minister Tusk’s frothy statements and the words of the Minister of Justice – “We will secure democracy, but we still have to find the legal basis to do it” – have gone viral on the Polish internet and symbolise this government. Everything, and more, of what liberals have been accusing Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Right-wing government of for the past eight years, the new coalition has accomplished in just one month.  

Only the voice of the European Commission and international institutions is missing this time. Ursula von der Leyen, who had been criticising and threatening the Right-wing government with new sanctions almost every month, has not spoken about Tusk’s abuse of power.

But neither she, nor any of the EU institutions, are so diligently monitoring the rule of law in Poland now. This time, international organizations upholding press freedom and journalistic rights have found no reason to speak out. The Helsinki Committee spoke up once, but only to protest at the naming of the two jailed MPs as political prisoners. This strange indifference to abuses of power by the new government is explained by the need for robust action to restore democracy. It is rather reminiscent of Karl Marx, who ended his Communist Manifesto with the words, “[our] ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions”.

In contrast to the total Marxist revolution, Tusk offers something like a selective state of emergency. He declares select institutions to be incapable of making decisions; he proclaims rulings by elected judges to be null and void and suspends constitutional rights. he overrides special presidential privileges when, without presidential approval or a court order, police enter the presidential palace in search of convicted deputies.

Donald Tusk is opening a new and even more chaotic chapter in the history of Polish democracy.

Still, he is setting new precedents for liberal governments throughout Europe, increasingly uncertain of the outcome of the Euro parliamentary elections in June. If no European institution comes to the defence of constitutional rights in Poland, the same tools can be used in six months in other countries.