Dhe days around Christmas are the time when warnings have been sounding in Poland for years: Political topics should be avoided in conversations – for the sake of peace – especially in family circles. This time, however, the country is looking forward to the parliamentary elections in the fall. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki surprised on Monday with a commitment to the death penalty.
He could be seen on his Facebook page between the Christmas tree and the national flag in a video chat, reading and answering questions that had been sent in. Question: Would the introduction of the death penalty curb “the efforts of you and your colleagues to destroy and rob Polish property”? “A very sharp question,” Morawiecki initially commented.
Then he answered. He referred the term robbery to the privatization of Polish companies, many of which passed into foreign ownership after the end of the communist state economy. Morawiecki criticized his main opponent, the liberal Civic Platform (PO). By 2015, she had “sold out” companies for the equivalent of almost 13 billion euros, which his government had reversed in some cases. He also wanted to take this opportunity to address the death penalty. “It should be permissible for the most serious crimes,” says Morawiecki.
accusation of populism
As a “supporter of the death penalty”, the Catholic has a different opinion than his church. The last death sentence in Poland was carried out during the 1988 dictatorship. The penalty was formally abolished in 1997. It was not until the fall that Jarosław Kaczyński, head of the now ruling national-conservative PiS party, called for its reintroduction “for particularly gruesome murders” and announced a draft law. “There is no EU rule prohibiting the use of the death penalty,” he said. “And if the elites there are against it, why should we act on it?”
Opposition politicians criticized Prime Minister Morawiecki on Tuesday for “populism”. A right-wing extremist accused him of just catching votes, “and that’s how it goes until the election”. In fact, government spokesman Piotr Müller could only say on Tuesday that the death penalty “is not currently on the political agenda.” The prime minister only expressed “his personal opinion”. Poland has signed the European Charter of Human Rights, which bans the death penalty in peacetime, “and that will not change”.
Poland’s ruling politicians, who have serious concerns about a possible loss of power, are likely to throw many more crackers into the electoral arena in the future. Kaczyński, who kept a low profile in public after the change of power in 2015, has been traveling through the country for months with provocative statements and warns of German supremacy in the EU and the opposition leader and former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who is said to be “subject to Berlin”. Kaczyński’s party friends warn against reducing the new social benefits in the event of a change of government.
Imminent loss of EU funds
The opposition, which consists of three smaller parties alongside the PO, has still not agreed on whether to enter the race with one, two or even four electoral lists. Decisions are expected in the first quarter. After all, the atmosphere between the parties is said to have improved. The PO is in the dilemma of having to warn and polarize about dangers to democracy on the part of the PiS – but risk that the potential partners as “moderates” will distance themselves from it. Such a development is “very risky”, wrote the liberal magazine “Polityka” this week. She called for an “optimal model of cooperation and understanding”.
Poland risks losing billions of euros in EU funds with the dispute over the rule of law with Brussels. In his New Year’s speech, PiS-affiliated President Andrzej Duda called for a “clever and honest compromise” with the EU Commission, which presumably also includes Warsaw concessions. Because Poland’s EU membership means “economic security and the opportunity to develop”. Should this compromise come about, Poland’s government could also go into the election campaign more relaxed.