At the beginning of May, large demonstrations against the policy of the government have taken place in Warsaw, Poznan and Wroclaw. The initiator of these and other former demonstrations in the last months is the movement KOD (Komitet Obrony Demokracji), the Committee for the Defense of Democracy. Veronika Felder and Michael Álvarez Kalverkamp spoke with Aleksandra Śniegocka-Goździk und Jarosław Marciniak, two KOD members, about the movement and the current situation in Poland.
How can KOD be described, what are its central goals?
Aleksandra Śniegocka-Goździk: First of all KOD is a civic movement, which is not belonging to a political party nor does it have the goal or intention to become one. It is a peaceful movement, and not explicitly against the ruling party PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - right-wing, national-conservative political party in Poland). We don’t want to take the government down. We want it to act according to the constitutional law and some basic rules, which it is supposed to follow. The most important factors for us are: The constitution, civil rights, freedom, democracy and equality.
Jarosław Marciniak: People joining our movement are of every age, have experienced all kind of education. Everybody has a different reason why he or she is joining. The biggest part is probably formed by people over 40, because they know what they can lose, and how hard it is to fight for freedom and democracy. Unsatisfied PiS voters do join KOD as well, they make up about 12 percent. All of the people joining are volunteers.
How was the movement founded? Was it because of the election results in October 2015, when PiS won the majority of the seats in parliament?
JM: No, it was not because of the elections themselves. It was because of what happened afterwards. The new PiS government amnestied Mariusz Kamiński, who was adjudged years ago, and appointed him chief of secret service. There was also a second event which caused the formation of KOD. After being elected, PiS made some changes in the law for the constitutional court. Judges are now only able to take decisions with a two-thirds-majority. Such a big majority could be very hard to achieve, which is why we fear that the court would lose its power in front of the government. Another novelty is that at least 13 out of 15 judges have to be in the board to be able to take decisions. Further the nomination of five judges who were chosen by the former government was declared as incorrect and new judges where appointed by PiS.
Which other goals are followed by PiS?
AS: The government started to control Polish Media, increasing surveillance is a general goal, as well as a stricter abortion law and less rights for people with disabilities.
How was it possible that PiS was elected as the strongest party?
JM: If you read polish media you get the impression that there exist only two options in politics. First there is the leading party, which was incorporated by the Platforma Obywatelska, the civil platform, before the elections of 2015. The polish population was not satisfied with them, so there was only one possibility left, which is the second option: voting for the strongest opposition. During the election battle PiS said that they will repair the country, do many good things, good changes, so that life will be better and easier. But then they didn’t do what they promised. Further, in Poland there is a lack of political education and information in general. Actually only 18 percent of all eligible voters voted for PiS. Nevertheless they could gain majority in parliament, because only 51 percent of the people who are eligible to vote, went voting.
How is the situation within the polish population? Can there be spotted many differences between cities and countryside for example?
AS: No, not really. But we have a big diversion between democratic-liberal and national-Christian values in Poland. The big task is therefore to find common values, and build Poland around them. This is also very important for KOD. We want to promote the dialogue between the polish people. Maybe this way we can also force politicians to do the same, start talking to each other, and doing good things for Poland and not only for themselves.
Why is promoting dialogue so important for KOD?
JM: We want to show people that they can meet and discuss. That they can live together and talk to each other, and find a common solution.
AS: Polish people are often focused on themselves, on their own belongings, on their earnings. We want to show them that you need a common ground to achieve something bigger, and that it is very important that you stay in dialogue with people. If everybody goes to vote for the elections, politics can be influenced. That’s what we want to tell people when talking to them. In the end we hope that in the next elections more people will go to vote, and that they will vote more consciously.
So what’s the strategy of KOD?
JM: We are acting on different levels. We want to show the government what polish people really want but we also denunciate the government publicly when it is not acting in line with the constitution, or trying to make changes which are not in favor of the polish society. We implement these tasks by demonstrating, making illegal actions public, collecting signatures etc..
AS: We also need to educate, we need to talk, we need to react to every change the government makes which is not happening according to institutional law.
Are you in contact with the government?
JM: Right now PiS is trying to avoid us. They are saying that KOD is formed by people who were part of the previous government and try to get the power back. We have to show society that this is not true, and that the government is lying about what we are doing.
AS: We also invite the opposition in parliament to represent values like freedom, equality and democracy in a definitive way.
JM: We want to promote common values like the importance of the constitution and the constitutional court, the EU and the European values and we want them to stop with hate speech.
So you’re not seeking snap elections?
AS: No, we don’t want to question the government itself, because it was elected in a democratic way. We want to tell PiS that they are acting in a wrong way, and that they should turn around and do it the right way. We already achieved something. They are more careful in how they’re talking about abortion for example, because they saw all the people on the streets who where against the new law. They are starting to change their mind. Maybe not as fast as we want it, but they started.
JM: First of all we want people to participate in the elections. We want to reach 60 or 70 percent. The second point is that we want to educate people, so that they know that they have rights, and that they know how to use them in a proper way. We also want them to start discussing about politics, to give thought to this topic. We have to be very careful in criticizing the government though, because it will use everything we say against us. In the end they are the democratically elected government, and have the legitimacy.
How should the EU and other foreign states react?
AS: Foreign states, and Germany in special, should not criticize the polish government in a direct and harsh way. It would use this attack to strengthen its position. The PiS-politicians would say, that these states are trying to influence polish politics, which would frighten polish society. Nevertheless the international community can point at the mistakes the government is making, and request them to change, to stop breaking the laws and constitution. We see this more or less as a family matter. The international community should see Poland as a brotherhood-country and tell the government what it is doing wrong, and that it needs to turn around.
JM: There is only one country in the world who could patronize the government: the USA. PiS really appreciates it and its democratic system. Other states should try to be more careful. This mirrors also the position we are following since the beginning, because we think that this way we are achieving the most for polish society and development.