Philippine Daily Inquirer
Poland’s Lech Walesa joins protests again
Nobel laureate fears civil war over Warsaw’s ‘undemocratic reforms’
WARSAW— Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish president Lech Walesa on Wednesday joined thousands of protesters opposing judicial changes that the European Union has criticized as undemocratic.
The 74-year-old Walesa, who negotiated a peaceful end to communism in Poland in 1989, told protesters that the government was “violating the constitution.”
“It is getting serious when they ruin our courts,” Walesa told thousands protesting a measure which places judges under the control of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS).
“Really, sooner or later this may lead to a civil war,” said Walesa who, as leader of the Solidarity labor union, led protests in the 1980s that forced the communist government to agree to free elections.
Solidarity’s electoral victory in 1989 eventually led to the collapse of other communist regimes in Europe.
“[But] I come peacefully, I don’t want to use arms,” Walesa joked with cheering protesters. “If these protests will continue, I will come to join you now and then.”
Method of control
The disputed new law lowers the retirement age from 70 to 65, affecting 27 of the court’s 73 judges, and allows the president to extend their terms without reason.
But the president of the Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, defied the new law by going to her office on Wednesday with hundreds of supporters applauding her.
“My presence here is not about politics, I am here to protect the rule of law,” said 65-yearold Gersdorf, who is now required to retire.
Rule of law
But Polish lawyers said the law cannot work retroactively, a common tenet under civil law jurisdictions.
“This legislation... is clearly unconstitutional,” said Polish constitutional expert Marek Chmaj. “[This] could lead to paralysis at the Supreme Court.”
The PiS party has taken control of the judiciary, including the constitutional court and prosecutors, who now report to the justice minister.
The European Union accused the PiS of trying to control the judiciary and subvert democratic standards.
But Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the changes were needed to free the judiciary of communist-era thinking and practices.
“Each EU state has the right to shape their legal system according to their own traditions,” Morawiecki told the European Parliament on Wednesday in Strasbourg.
But EU lawmakers, like Maltese lawmaker Roberta Metsola, told Morawiecki the “reform” was about “consolidating (government) control by weakening the institutions designed to keep you in check.”