Freedom in the World

Poland

Poland

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1
Overview: 


Although President Bronisław Komorowski remained Poland’s most trusted politician in 2013, support for the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party, with which the president is affiliated, dwindled throughout the year, as did support for the government of second-term prime minister Donald Tusk. Supporters of Poland’s two largest political parties—Tusk’s center-right PO and former prime minister Jarosław Kaczyński’s conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party—remained extremely polarized. In August, a conservative faction within the PO made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Tusk from his position as party leader. Amid growing public dissatisfaction with the ruling PO as well as the turmoil within it, PiS distanced itself somewhat from conspiracy theories associated with the death of President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other passengers in a 2010 plane crash. Instead, the opposition focused on PO’s alleged mismanagement of the country’s economy, which grew 1.6 percent in 2013 (compared with 1.9 percent in 2012).

Following public backlash against last year’s pension reforms, which raised the minimum retirement age, the Tusk government appeared reluctant to initiate other long-awaited changes for most of 2013.

In September, the government announced plans to transfer a portion of private pension funds to the state, allowing the government to offset public debt. Critics of the resulting draft law equated it with the outright nationalization of private assets, a view backed in a legal opinion issued in late October by the State Treasury Solicitor’s Office. The Polish central bank raised concern about the reforms’ “legal risk” in remarks issued around the same time, but added that an overhaul of the pension system was needed. President Komorowski signed the new system into law on December 27 but announced simultaneously that he would refer the legality of the changes to the Constitutional Tribunal for review.

Poland continues to display the highest level of enthusiasm for European Union (EU) membership of all the Visegrad Group countries. (The Visegrad Group is comprised of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, all of which have agreed to cooperate on various EU-backed reforms.) A 2013 poll showed that 78 percent of Polish respondents believe their country has benefited from EU accession, compared to 60 percent of Slovaks, 44 percent of Hungarians, and 43 percent of Czechs.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

 

Political Rights: 38 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

Voters elect the president for up to two five-year terms and members of the bicameral National Assembly for four-year terms. The president’s appointment of the prime minister must be confirmed by the 460-seat Sejm, the National Assembly’s lower house, which is elected by proportional representation. While the prime minister is responsible for most government policy, Poland’s president also has influence, particularly over defense and foreign policy matters. The 100 Senate (upper house) members can delay and amend legislation but have few other powers.

Sejm speaker Bronisław Komorowski of PO became interim president following the deaths of President Lech Kaczyński of PiS and 95 other passengers in an April 2010 plane crash in Smolensk, Russia. Komorowski was then elected president in a poll held that June and July, winning 53 percent of the vote in the second round. Komorowski’s presidency has seen increasing polarization between supporters of Jarosław Kaczyński’s conservative PiS and Tusk’s center-right PO.

In October 2011 elections to the lower house of parliament, the PO won 207 seats, followed by the PiS with 157. The liberal Palikot Movement captured 40 seats, the Polish People’s Party (PSL) took 28, and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) won 27. A representative of the ethnic German minority held the remaining seat. In the Senate, the PO took 63 seats, the PiS won 31, the PSL received 2 seats, and the remainder went to independents. Prime Minister Tusk was reelected in October 2011, becoming the first head of government in postcommunist Poland to win a second consecutive term.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 16 / 16

Poland’s political parties organize and operate freely. Following the collapse of Soviet hegemony in 1989, political power in Poland shifted in the 1990s between political parties rooted in the Solidarity movement and those with communist origins. The center-right PO party suffered several defections during 2013, including that of Jarosław Gowin, who had made an unsuccessful bid to replace Tusk as PO party leader in August. Gowin left PO altogether in September, after the government announced its controversial plan to offset public debt by transferring a portion of private pension funds to the state. Prime Minister Tusk had already removed Gowin from his position as minister of justice in April, apparently in response to Gowin’s outspoken criticism of the party leadership’s liberal stance on civil partnerships and in-vitro fertilization (IVF). In October, a referendum to remove Prime Minister Tusk’s close ally, Warsaw mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, failed due to low voter turnout, but was nevertheless interpreted as an expression of growing dissatisfaction with the Tusk government.

Ethnic, religious, and other minority groups enjoy full political rights and electoral opportunities.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12

Anticorruption laws are not always effectively implemented, and corruption within the government remains a notable problem, particularly in public procurement. In August, Polish prosecutors levied criminal charges against seven people, including three government officials, for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for licenses for shale gas exploitation and exploration. Later in the year, a vote-buying scandal erupted when the Polish edition of Newsweek released recordings of two PO lawmakers apparently offering party officials employment at state-owned enterprises in return for supporting candidate Jacek Protasiewicz in a close, October 26 contest for the regional party leadership of Lower Silesia. The MPs allegedly involved have had their party membership rights suspended for three months while the matter is investigated. Poland was ranked 38 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

 

Civil Liberties: 55 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and forbids censorship. Libel remains a criminal offense, though a 2009 amendment to the criminal code eased possible penalties. In January 2013, an appeals court reduced the 2012 community service sentence and reversed the defamation charges levied against website creator Robert Frycz for satirizing President Komorowski online.

Article 18, section 1 of the Broadcasting Act prohibits programs or broadcasts that promote “actions contrary to law and Poland’s raison d’Etat or propagate attitudes and beliefs contrary to the moral values and social interest.” In July 2013, Poland’s Supreme Court upheld a fine of 471,000 zloty (€108,500) against the television station TVN, which in 2008 broadcast guests on Kuba Wojewódzki’s talk show placing miniature Polish flags in dog excrement—a reference to a controversial joke one of the guests, a well-known satirical cartoonist, had made two years earlier about street pollution. Supreme Court Judge Maciej Pacuda noted that freedom of expression is subject to limitations, pointing to laws that protect Poland’s flag and national anthem.

Poland’s print media are diverse and mostly privately owned. The dominant state-owned Polish Television and Polish Radio face growing competition from private domestic and foreign outlets. When the PO-controlled National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) in 2012 refused a digital broadcasting license to TV Trwam, an ultraconservative TV station linked to PO’s major political rival, PiS, PiS supporters protested, and the Constitutional Court later that year ruled to license TV Trwam through 2022. There are four spots available on the digital “multiplex” MUX-1, one of which is to go to Trwam when it is released by TVP before late April 2014.

A May 2012 court ruling found that the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) had violated journalist Bogdan Wróblewski’s privacy rights by monitoring his phone records between 2005 and 2007. Wróblewski was one of ten journalists considered critical of a previous, PiS-led coalition government whose phone records were monitored during that time. The CBA appealed the first-instance judgment in 2012, but the appeal was rejected in April 2013 and the agency was compelled to publish a formal apology to Wróblewski on the second page of three national newspapers.

The government does not restrict internet access.

The state respects freedom of religion. Religious groups are not required to register with the authorities but receive tax benefits if they do. In 2012, the 2011 acquittal of death-metal singer Adam Darski on charges of “offending religious feelings” was brought before the Supreme Court, which ruled that October that a person may be found guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison, even if it was unintentional. In 2013, Darski’s case was re-examined by a district court, and he was acquitted in June. Academic freedom in Poland is generally respected.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

Freedom of association is generally respected in law and in practice. Residents of Poland hold public demonstrations with some regularity. September 2013 saw some of the largest rallies in recent years as trade unions organized several days of marches against the government’s recent changes in labor policy. The protesters also rejected the government’s plan to offset public debt by transferring a portion of private pension funds to the state. Demonstrators additionally demanded higher wages, greater job security, health-care guarantees and retirement benefits, and a reversal of the 2012 decision to raise the retirement age to 67 for both men and women. A controversial amendment passed in October 2012 grants local authorities increased discretion to limit demonstrations in their districts, allegedly to maintain public order.

Nongovernmental organizations operate without government interference. Poland has a robust labor movement, though certain groups—including the self-employed and private contractors—may not join unions. Complicated legal procedures hinder workers’ ability to strike, and labor leaders have complained of harassment by employers.

 

F. Rule of Law: 13 / 16

The judiciary is independent, but the courts are notorious for delays in adjudicating cases. Prosecutors’ slow action on corruption investigations have prompted concerns that they are subject to political pressure. Pretrial detention periods can be lengthy, and prison conditions are poor by European standards.

Marcin Plichta, the founder of Amber Gold, an unregulated Polish lender and investment company that collapsed in August 2012, taking with it the holdings of nearly 11,000 investors, faces a sentence of up to 15 years if convicted of running a pyramid scheme. Plichta’s wife, Katarzyna Plichta, is accused of being a co-conspirator and faces a possible 12-year sentence. An early 2013 investigative report by the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) accused public institutions—including regional prosecutors in Gdańsk, where Amber Gold was based, the CBA, and the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection—of contributing to the Amber Gold debacle by ignoring KNF warnings over the course of several years. In June, Witold Niesiołowski was acquitted of disciplinary charges for alleged mishandling of Amber Gold when he was the regional prosecutor general for Gdańsk–Wrzeszcz.

Ethnic minorities generally enjoy generous legal rights and protections, including funding for bilingual education and publications. They also receive privileged representation in the parliament, as their political parties are not subject to the minimum vote threshold of 5 percent to achieve representation. Some groups, particularly the Roma, experience employment and housing discrimination, racially motivated insults, and, sometimes, physical attacks. Members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community continue to face discrimination, though the first openly gay and transgender lawmakers entered the Sejm in November 2011.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 14 / 16

Citizens enjoy freedom of travel and choice of residence, employment, and institution of higher education. In global test score rankings of 15-year-olds published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in December 2013, Poland earned spots in the top 10 in reading (10) and science (9), and ranked highly in math (14).

Citizens have the right to own property and establish private businesses. Approximately two-thirds of GDP comes from the private sector.

Women hold senior positions in government and the private sector, including 24 percent of the seats in the Sejm. Poland’s abortion laws are among the strictest in Europe. Women who undergo illegal abortions do not face criminal charges, but those who assist in the procedures—including medical staff—can face up to three years in prison. Domestic violence against women remains a serious concern, as does trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of prostitution.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology