The Putins of the EU

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Af­ter the fall of com­mu­nism, Poland and Hun­gary de­clared that they were East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries no more. In­stead, they were part of Cen­tral Europe – Europa Srod­kowa, the Poles called it – or even of west­ern Europe, on par with Aus­tria. Today, how­ever, they are em­brac­ing Putin-style au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, to the point that the Euro­pean Union may im­pose sanc­tions against them. Such rep­ri­mands are fully de­served.

Poland, now os­ten­si­bly led by Pres­i­dent An­drzej Duda, is re­ally con­trolled by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter JarosΠaw Kaczyn­ski, Chair­man of the right-wing Law and Jus­tice (PiS) party. Kaczyn­ski is the twin brother of the late Pres­i­dent Lech Kaczyn­ski, who died in a plane crash near Smolensk, Rus­sia, in 2010, on his way to com­mem­o­rate the vic­tims of the Katyn mas­sacre by the Sovi­ets in 1940. Though the crash was deemed ac­ci­den­tal, PiS calls it the re­sult of a Krem­lin con­spir­acy – a para­noid charge that is all the more bizarre given Kaczyn­ski’s ap­par­ent de­ter­mi­na­tion to em­u­late Putin’s be­hav­iour.

Both Kaczyn­ski and Putin are cer­tainly con­temp­tu­ous of the rule of law. In Rus­sia, the ma­nip­u­la­tion of tri­als of the regime’s per­ceived enemies is among the Krem­lin’s favourite tac­tics. These sup­posed enemies have in­cluded for­mer Yukos Oil Com­pany Chair­man Mikhail Khodor­kovsky, who doubted Putin’s fit­ness to be pres­i­dent; the anti-cor­rup­tion lawyer Alexei Navalny, who was in­ves­ti­gat­ing Putin’s wealth; and the punk rock group Pussy Riot, who mocked the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church, a core con­stituency for Putin. Just last week, in a no­to­ri­ous show trial, the Ukrainian he­li­copter pi­lot Nadiya Savchenko was handed a 22-year prison sen­tence on fal­si­fied ev­i­dence that she was in­volved in the killing of two Rus­sian jour­nal­ists dur­ing the sep­a­ratist con­flict in east­ern Ukraine.

Poland’s gov­ern­ment, for its part, has can­celled the ap­point­ment of three new Con­sti­tu­tional Court jus­tices in­stalled by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, led by the Civic Plat­form. More­over, it has neutered the Court by bar­ring the jus­tices from ques­tion­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of leg­is­la­tion or prob­ing ex­ec­u­tive de­ci­sions with­out par­lia­men­tary ap­proval. And ex­ploit­ing a quirk of Poland’s le­gal sys­tem, the au­thor­i­ties are re­fus­ing to pub­lish some Con­sti­tu­tional Court de­ci­sions, a move that es­sen­tially nul­li­fies the Court’s pow­ers, be­cause un­pub­lished de­ci­sions do not of­fi­cially have the sta­tus of law.

The Pol­ish gov­ern­ment is also tak­ing cues from the Krem­lin in its re­sponse to the civic protest move­ment that has emerged in re­sponse to such ac­tions. Not only has Poland’s gov­ern­ment de­nounced the move­ment as anti-pa­tri­otic and guided by for­eign in­ter­ests; a leader of that move­ment, the com­puter spe­cial­ist Ma­teusz Ki­jowski, has come un­der per­sonal fire from Kaczyn­ski.

The me­dia is an­other area where Kaczyn­ski is build­ing a Krem­lin on the Vis­tula. In Rus­sia in the 2000s, Putin’s gov­ern­ment stripped in­de­pen­dent net­works such as NTV and ORT (later Chan­nel One) from their me­dia-mogul own­ers Vladimir Gusin­sky and the late Boris Bere­zovsky, both of whom Putin viewed as enemies. Poland’s

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