Poland | Freedom House

Nations in Transit



Nations in Transit 2006

2006 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Executive Summary: 

Among the post-Communist democracies, Poland has in 16 years moved decisively toward the West, though not without paying a high price, including record unemployment and internal political compromises. Poland joined NATO in March 1999 and in May 2004 became a member of the European Union (EU), the largest among the eight former Communist newcomers. Poland's economy has been open for EU goods and partial services since 1993, but Poles started to feel the benefit of EU structural funds and agriculture subsidies only in 2005; they are still waiting for the full opening of job and service markets already enjoyed by the original 15 EU member countries. The prolonged fight over the size and division of the EU 2007-2013 budget, finally decided in December 2005, was for Poland a bitter lesson that European solidarity still means less than the interests of individual nations, especially the richer ones. 

Nevertheless, 2005 may have been a breakthrough year for Poland. With a new right-wing government and a president from the same party, Law and Justice (PiS), Poland's political system has started to change. The system was created in 1989 with a peaceful, "Solidarity"-driven, negotiated break from Communism. According to PiS, the ills of the last 16 years-weak governance, political patronage in the non-nationalized part of the economy, widespread corruption in everyday life and at the highest levels of politics--have their origins in the compromises of that time. The opposition also talks about the legacy of Communism. During the elections, the new rulers pledged to radically eradicate these ills and won the support of voters. The year 2006 will show how much and by what means they will be able and willing to achieve these goals.

National Democratic Governance. Poland passed high standards of national democratic governance when it achieved EU membership in 2004, but certain holes remain in its democratic consolidation. The elections of 2005 confirmed the stability of the parliamentary democracy. The transfer of power, both in government and in the presidency, went smoothly and, especially in the latter, with a level of politeness not present before. The new prime minister was quickly established in the office, and the minority government began to create parliamentary coalitions. However, some old threats to democratic governance have not been eradicated, and a few new ones were visible. The privatization of industry, which provides thousands of politically hot positions in 1,600 treasury-owned enterprises, has been slowed by the influence of nationalist parties close to the ruling PiS. The new government tried to dismantle the civil service system, and some scandals involving the former ruling Democratic Left Alliance are still unfinished. New challenges to the rule of democracy are rising, including the illegal and traumatic hunt for Communist-era agents placed on a stolen list of 170,000 names of victims and agents; the politically biased work of parliamentary investigative commissions; and, last, the "upper hand" manner of the new government's political actions. Poland's national democratic governance rating worsens from 2.50 to 2.75 owing to the tendency to concentrate power in the executive branch, which is dominating the political process.

Electoral Process. The elections of 2005--based on a well-grounded system of proportional representation and party lists in the lower chamber of Parliament and majority vote in the Senate--were generally judged to be fair and democratic. This was confirmed by the Supreme Court's decision to repeat the poll in one district (Czestochowa) owing to the lack of party affiliations marked on ballots. However, the public's strong efforts to change the electoral system into one of majority (one-mandate districts) produced no results whatsoever. The big unfulfilled promise of 2005 was the two winning parties' coalition after the elections. Taking into account the parties' lack of attention to the proposed changes in electoral law but also recognizing the good administration of the electoral system, Poland's rating for electoral process remains at 1.75.

Civil Society. Civil society seems to be Poland's solid ground for defending democracy. It is active and widespread, with 45,000 associations and 7,000 foundations, and composed of two main traditions: the Solidarity-led fight for political independence and the Catholic Church's inspired care for the less fortunate. It is important to note, though, that Poland's civil society is in the first stage of a civil rights movement: organizing itself to protect particular interests. There are only a few watchdog organizations aimed at protecting general civil rights: press freedom, consumers' rights (including media consumers), and voters' rights. The weak position of trade unions and the new government's efforts to curtail civil society freedoms prevent Poland's civil society rating from improving; it therefore remains at 1.25.

Independent Media. Polish media have a strong tradition of independence going back much further than the Communist period. The print media are almost completely privatized; among electronic media, public radio and TV maintain the strongest positions. Investigative journalists have had success in uncovering corruption and political favoritism, usually in advance of the Parliament's investigative commissions. However, journalists are poorly organized and therefore more prone to political and business pressures. The new government proved to be quick and aggressive in taking over the public media, planning "repolonization" of private media (restoration of Polish rather than foreign capital) while giving preferential treatment to extreme Catholic media conglomerate from Torun. Owing to threats and intimidation from the government, the rating for independent media worsens from 1.50 to 1.75.

Local Democratic Governance. Local self-government, reinstalled quickly after the 1989 end of Communism, gave a chance to thousands of local enthusiasts to govern and improve their "local motherlands." Some of these, keen to receive funds from state--and EU-supported programs, achieved notable successes. Party politics plays a much smaller role at the lowest level of government, and independent candidates have a better chance to rally voters' support. For many young people, self-government is the school for participating in politics and governance. Owing to the lack of significant changes, the rating for local democratic governance remains at 2.00.

Judicial Framework and Independence. In 2005, the legal system remained the weakest area of the Polish government. The press uncovered new, startling cases of judges and prosecutors breaking the law. The court system is so lenient that most believe the judiciary is in power only to serve itself; delays in court proceedings are measured in years and negatively impact the lives of citizens. Poland is losing case after case in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Prosecutors remain under the control of politicians, with the minister of justice also serving as prosecutor general. Prisons are overcrowded: There are 85,000 convicts, and 30,000 people have not reported to serve their sentences. The new minister of justice advocates for longer prison terms, higher prison populations, more prisons converted from military barracks, and a severe policy against those who break the law. With general inefficiency, cases of corruption in the judiciary, and prosecutors lacking independence from politics, Poland's rating for judicial framework and independence worsens from 2.00 to 2.25.

Corruption. Corruption seems to have a permanent place in Poland's social landscape. For years, roughly 15 percent of Poles have confirmed that they have participated in corruption. The most corrupt sector is health care. In 2005, corruption scandals were unveiled in professional soccer and the military draft. Parliamentary investigative commissions unearthed traces of corruption at the highest levels of political life, but their work was not concluded. The new government pledged to fight corruption with a new creation, the Central Anticorruption Agency, devoted solely to eradicating corruption from the top down. Owing to the growing number of cases, new spheres affected, and lack of effective countermeasures, Poland's corruption rating worsens from 3.00 to 3.25.

Outlook for 2006. In 2006, the new right-wing government will try to fulfill its electoral promises: fighting corruption, helping poor families willing to bear a child, better use of EU funds, new press legislation, and public media order. However, the beginning of the year looks more like "rocking the boat" than sailing it. The National Broadcasting Council was quickly reduced from nine to five members, all politicians. A new, PiS-friendly director of the Institute for National Remembrance was elected. Ruling party politicians demanded restoration of Polish capital in the media, owned largely by foreign companies ("repolonization" of them). A PiS leader accused the Constitutional Tribunal of "aiming at state institutions"; 6 out of the Tribunal's 15 judges will be nominated by the president in 2006. The justice minister announced his disbelief in prison rehabilitation and called for harsh sentences only. Faster courts for smaller criminal offenses will start operating: Prosecutors must file charges within 48 hours, and sentencing must occur within the following 24 hours, with offenders receiving up to three years in jail. At the end of the year, the new head of the Polish National Bank will be nominated by the Parliament. 

The local elections in fall 2006 may be the first reaction of voters to these various government activities. The new president will probably be more active in internal politics than his predecessor. However, outside dangers, most of all from Russia, may also require much foreign policy activity. The political fate of the Left and of the center-right party Civic Platform (the big loser in the 2005 elections) will be the most intriguing part of the 2006 political scene.

National Democratic Governance: 

Poland is a parliamentary democracy. Its Constitution, adopted by national referendum in 1997, provides a balance among the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Broad changes to the national law were introduced before May 1, 2004, in order to meet the requirements for EU membership; however, Poland's Constitutional Tribunal signaled that adoption of the European warrant procedure would be in formal conflict with the country's Constitution.

The government is confirmed by a majority of the 460-member Sejm (lower house of Parliament). Both chambers of Parliament- the Sejm and the Senate- work on new legislation and must agree on it, then the president signs or vetoes it. The president may also send legislation to the Constitutional Tribunal (elected by the Sejm for nine-year terms), which can declare laws or parts of laws unconstitutional; its decisions are final and obligatory. The president's will may be overridden by a two-thirds majority of the Sejm. The Parliament can form investigative commissions and impeach the president.
In the latest parliamentary elections, which took place on September 25, 2005, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) won 27 percent of the popular vote, followed by Civic Platform (PO) with 24 percent. Despite long-term preelectoral promises, they could not form a coalition. PiS created a minority government with Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, whose cabinet was easily approved, but it had to shop for support among other parties: the populist Self-Defense League (Samoobrona) and the right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR). PiS finally signed a parliamentary coalition, securing its minority rule, but extraordinary elections prior to 2009 are still likely.

In Poland, the most powerful political office is the prime minister, who can be recalled only by a constructive no-confidence vote. The president plays a more ceremonial role. Such was the case for Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, elected in 1990, but not for his two-term successor, former Communist youth activist Aleksander Kwasniewski, who has been in office for a decade. Kwasniewski was active in gathering support for Poland's NATO membership in 1999 and joining the EU in 2004. In neighboring Ukraine, during the 2004 Orange Revolution, he brought two rival candidates and EU envoys to roundtable talks in order to solve the crisis over rigged presidential elections. The price for that move was a Russian "nyet" to Kwasniewski's quiet bid to succeed UN secretary general Kofi Annan. However, Russia in general seems not to have yet fully digested the independence of Poland, its nineteenth-century domain and Warsaw Pact country. 

On October 23, 2005, Lech Kaczynski from PiS became Kwasniewski's successor with 54 percent of the popular vote, thus beating out Donald Tusk from PO. The expected third vote to approve the European Constitution was not held owing to the negative result of the French referendum, much to the relief of pro-European politicians; the election results might have only confirmed that the Polish-EU honeymoon is perhaps already over. In 2005, Poland's political pendulum moved significantly to the right. With an unemployment rate of 18 percent and a tsunami of political corruption scandals, PiS's calls to replace the "rotten" Third Republic compelled enough voter support for PiS to rule.

All legislation is published in the Official Gazette and on the Sejm, Senate, and president's Web sites, which offer much more than the obligatory Bulletin of Public Information. The Sejm's legislative proceedings and those of parliamentary investigative commissions are broadcast live on public TV. There is access to a significant part of government, self-government, and other public documents thanks to the Law on Freedom of Information of 2001. However, the law did not replace other acts dealing with this topic; therefore, much data, including information on recipients of EU agricultural subsidies, are still not public information.  Government agencies are obliged to respond to citizens' inquiries in a month but are often late.

All members of Parliament (MPs) and high-ranking government officials must declare their property annually. The media analyze these reports (posted on the Internet) with painful scrutiny, but only in one case has a well-known politician had to explain the origins of his wealth. The winning PiS declared that all public officials must formally declare the source of such property as houses, apartments, cars, savings, and so forth, which declarations will be supervised by the new Central Anticorruption Agency (CAA).

Public representatives, high-ranking government officials, and attorneys must declare if they worked for Communist-era secret police or intelligence. Those who hide this information are punished with a 10-year ban on public service after trials in lustration court initiated by the public interest prosecutor. These procedures often take years and are criticized as too lenient. To speed up the disclosure of Communist-era secret police, a list of the names of 170,000 people whose files are in the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) was copied by journalist Bronislaw Wildstein of the leading daily newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, and published on the Internet in January 2005. (See more in Electoral Process.) The Constitutional Tribunal's verdict allowed all citizens, not only victims of the Communist state, to inspect IPN files concerning them. PiS has plans to amend the IPN bill in such a way that the institute will replace the lustration court, the public interest prosecutor will be eliminated, and IPN files of public officials and media heads will be opened.

The Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK) audits all government institutions. Its head is nominated by the Sejm and approved by the Senate for a six-year term, which helps to keep the office somewhat immune from political influence. Since 2001, the current head of the NIK, elected by the center-right Solidarity Election Action coalition, has been auditing the two left-wing governments. If he stays in office until summer 2007, the government will have a politically friendly auditor. The chamber audits legality, efficacy, economic sense, and diligence in all levels of the central administration, Polish National Bank, state and local administration.

The early 1990s goal of creating a depoliticized, high-quality corps of civil servants working for all government agencies has not been fulfilled. Although the National School of Public Administration has been educating professional civil servants for 15 years, every government has found ways to avoid organizing contests for the ministries' general director posts. Marcinkiewicz's government has followed its predecessors' practices of nominating "acting" directors and has plans to ease the legal conditions for "transferring" people from self-government into civil service.

After 16 years of privatization, the Polish economy is now generally run by private corporations. The state still has shares in about 1,600 companies and owns close to 40 percent of the country's territory (two-thirds of which are forests and the rest arable and industrial lands).  With every change of government, new individuals take over management of the biggest state companies, such as the national postal service, national airports, Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego (BGK) and Powszechna Kasa Oszczednosci (PKO) banks, national copper mines and mills, and the national oil company (Orlen).

The mysterious 2002 arrest of Orlen's CEO, Andrzej Modrzejewski, led to hearings two years later with the highest public officials in front of the parliamentary investigative commission. It was revealed that Modrzejewski's arrest in front of TV cameras was arranged by the prime minister and minister of justice and executed by the police special forces unit. Further investigations unearthed complicated connections between the J&S Company, which was an intermediary for Russian oil imports, and President Kwasniewski's circle of friends and supporters. These included industrial magnate Jan Kulczyk and a Russian spy, Vladimir Alganow, who was trying to secure Moscow's buyout of the only Polish oil port in Gdansk.

The unexpected but intended outcome of the commission's activity was a derailing of the political Left's potentially successful bid for the presidency. Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, candidate of Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) was called before Orlen's commission to testify about his property statement, which included owning Orlen shares. After a few weeks of bitterly fighting accusations about inaccuracies in his property statements, Cimoszewicz pulled out of the race. President Kwasniewski refused to testify in front of the commission, but his wife did. Live TV broadcasts of the proceedings helped PiS, as the most active interrogators were from this party. In this way, PiS repeated the 2004 Rywingate investigative commission success of Jan Rokita from PO.

Lew Rywin, the film producer behind the biggest bribery scandal in post-Communist Poland, was finally sentenced in the end of 2004 to two years in prison. In 2002, Rywin had approached Adam Michnik, editor of the leading Gazeta Wyborcza, to arrange a US$17 million bribe for changing the law in favor of the media holding company Agora. In the spring of 2005 Rywin served six weeks and was released owing to poor health, but in the autumn, after losing an extra appeal in the Supreme Court, he was back in prison as the only conviction in the affair, which devastated Poland's political landscape. The Warsaw prosecutor looking for "the power holding group" that supposedly sent Rywin to Michnik interrogated former prime minister Leszek Miller and his closest aides. The group may face trial in the future. Rywin was also put on the list of witnesses in this case and may be pardoned if he reveals who sent him to Michnik.

The fall 2005 change of government led to a reorganization of the military intelligence services (WSI), the only part of the intelligence services not professionally verified after 1989. The WSI were accused of concealing the identities of their pre-1989 agents and post-1989 activities far beyond their mandate. The WSI is slated to be divided into intelligence and counterintelligence services, and every officer has to testify about past activities. Accusations brought by Human Rights Watch and U.S. media about alleged secret CIA prisons for torturing suspected terrorists ignited political discussions in Poland about the lack of civil control over the country's military and civil intelligence operations.

Electoral Process: 

Poland has a multiparty parliamentary system with proportional representation introduced in 1993. The electoral thresholds are 5 percent for parties and 8 percent for coalitions. Before thresholds were introduced, there were over a dozen political parties in the Parliament and seven in the ruling coalition. Thresholds do not apply to national minorities. In practice, this means the German minority, which traditionally wins two seats in the Sejm; however, their voting power is less than .5 percent.  The Sejm has 460 members elected for four-year terms. The Senate has 100 members elected by majority vote on a provincial basis, also for four-year terms. The electoral system is considered free and fair; international observers have not been present even though there are no legal barriers to them. The Supreme Court electoral protest system works well. In 2005, the Court ordered the repeat of Senate elections in one district (Czestochowa), where voting cards were printed without the political affiliations of the candidates.

In fall 2005, Poland held elections for both the Parliament and the president. The third expected vote, over the European Constitution, was postponed indefinitely after the French referendum's negative result in May. The 2005 elections changed the ruling party, which has been a pattern since the first elections in 1989 ending Communist rule. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the party that won 41 percent in 2001, lost badly in 2005, gaining only 11 percent and 55 seats in the Sejm. In 2001, after four years in power, the Solidarity Election Action won no mandates; however, the new parties formed from it--PO, PiS, and the League of Polish Families (LPR)--were successful in electing candidates. Only Freedom Union--the party that created the first non-Communist government in 1989 and a political partner of the Solidarity Election Action--failed to gain Sejm seats in both the 2001 and 2005 elections, seemingly ending its prospects on the political scene.

A strong signal of voter dissatisfaction was already evident in 2002 when the SLD lost local elections, winning only 24 percent of the seats. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, with only a 21 percent turnout, the opposition parties won easily (in 2004, 59 percent had turned out for the two-day referendum on joining the EU). The winners were PO with 24 percent, followed by the LPR (16 percent), PiS (13 percent), and Selfdefense (Samoobrona) (11 percent). The pro-European, economically liberal, and socially conservative PO was sure to take power in 2005. To its major surprise, the big winner of the September 2005 elections was PiS, getting 27 percent of the popular vote, which gave it 155 seats in the Sejm. PO received 24 percent and 133 seats. After the success of PiS presidential candidate Lech Kaczynski over PO contender Donald Tusk, the choice for prime minister was PiS's Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz from Gorzow instead of the expected winner, PO's Jan Rokita from Krakow. Therefore, the 2005 elections produced much deeper political change than anticipated.

PO's loss might have been greater if the European Constitution referendum, planned to be held together with the presidential elections, had not been suspended. In 2005, already weak Polish support for the EU waned further, despite the flow of farmers' subsidies and growing exports to the West. Three other factors also contributed to the political changes of 2005: continuing scandals involving ruling SLD politicians; fear of another wave of liberal PO reforms by a society with the highest unemployment rate in Europe; and high religious and patriotic feelings caused by the illness and death of Polish pope John Paul II.

Marek Belka's minority left-wing government, installed in May 2004 instead of earlier as promised by President Kwasniewski after the first wave of SLD scandals in 2003, did not manage to stop the downward slide of the ruling party. Success of the first Sejm investigative commission over the Rywingate affair paved the way for two others: first in mid-2004 for the dubious arrest of Orlen's CEO; and second in the beginning of 2005 for the privatization of the national insurance company Powszechny Zaklad Ubezpieczen (PZU). Both investigations continued until September 2005, focusing on the SLD's misuse of secret police and abuse of ministerial powers (the Orlen case) and the inability of different governments to privatize the national insurer (the PZU case). Part of the Orlen commission wanted to put President Kwasniewski before the State Tribunal for dubious connections with the wealthiest of Polish businesspeople. 

Another compromising case for the government was known as the "Starachowice affair." In 2003, the deputy minister of the interior leaked to two MP colleagues information he got from the police chief indicating that in Starachowice in south Poland, local government officials involved in an insurance embezzlement scheme would soon be arrested. The national highest-ranking police chief had to resign and now faces trial, and three politicians were sentenced to up to 3.5 years in jail. They appealed to the president for clemency; Kwasniewski reduced and suspended the sentence for one of them, Zbigniew Sobotka, causing a public uproar and protests.

The January 2005 disclosure by Rzeczpospolita journalist Bronislaw Wildstein of a list containing some 170,000 names of Communist-era secret police agents set a harsh moral tone for the election campaign. Both PO and PiS, leading in the polls, wanted to disclose "skeletons in the closet" in order to stop "wild lustration" by Wildstein followers, who put the list online. Wildstein was fired for distributing the IPN list among fellow journalists without informing Rzeczpospolita about its existence (he was quickly given a job at the anti-SLD weekly WPROST). Several groups spoke out against the publication of the list, including left-wing parties, the influential daily Gazeta Wyborcza, human rights defenders, and a few bishops. These groups claimed that the list would cause suffering of innocent people, who were accused on the basis of incomplete and possibly mischievous police files and the popularity of their last names. Some of them sued Wildstein and IPN in civil cases. In this heavy atmosphere, Solidarity founder Lech Walesa was accused of being a Communist agent. Walesa was finally granted "victim" status by IPN, but only after Solidarity's 25th anniversary, which was clouded by these accusations. The death of John Paul II in April and the public mourning that followed solidified religious feelings and also helped to win positions for right-wing parties.

PO, the all-time leader in election polls, based its economic program on a promise of lowering income, value-added tax, and company taxes to 15 percent, but eliminating all tax exemptions. This would represent a slight loss for majority taxpayers, whose lowest tax break is set at 18 percent, but in reality they pay about 13 percent, due to exemptions. The socially oriented PiS bashed the "liberals" for playing to the rich and used TV commercials to threaten voters with an image of an empty refrigerator. This, plus disclosing that the grandfather of the PO presidential candidate had served shortly in the German army during the war, was enough for PiS to secure victories in both elections.

Civil Society: 

Freedom of association is secured in Article 58 of the Polish Constitution and the Law on Associations. The only prohibitions are on those groups promoting Nazism, Fascism, and Communist ideology, racial and national hatred, secret membership, or the use of power to overthrow authorities. Freedom of assembly and demonstration is assured by Article 57; it was the most abused right in 2005.

Poland's civil society is based on the traditions of the Solidarity trade union and other anti-Communist opposition movements of the 1970s and 1980s, as well as social activity by the religiously dominant Catholic Church. Frequent changes of government in the 1990s helped to establish civil society structures: foundations, think tanks, and analytical centers in which the current opposition is maintained until the political pendulum brings its members back to the mainstream of official life. Since 2004, the Law on Public Benefit Activities and Volunteering has given nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the option to register as "public benefit organizations," allowing tax breaks and 1 percent personal income tax donations but also stricter rules on salaries and an obligatory annual audit.

According to a 2004 survey, there are over 45,000 associations and 7,000 foundations registered as active in sports, recreation, tourism, hobbies, culture and art, education, social help, and health protection. More than 60,000 people work in the sector, which also includes 1 million volunteers. The main sources of financing are member dues, self-government donations, donations from private persons, and institutions.  Major donors are the Polish American Freedom Foundation and the Batory Foundation. 

The most well-known charity action is the annual New Year's telethon of the Great Holiday Help Orchestra. In 2005, thousands of young volunteers made over 29 million zlotys (US$9 million) from street collections and auctions, and the proceeds went to purchase medical equipment for handicapped children and the sick. Also, summer rock concerts were organized for the 14th year by TVP journalist Jerzy Owsiak.

Polish Humanitarian Action, which collects money for natural disaster victims abroad, was established in the early 1990s by another charity activist, Janina Ochojska, as repayment for help that Poland received from the West during the martial law period a decade earlier.  The biggest charity organization in Poland is Caritas, which feeds the poor and shelters the homeless on behalf of the Catholic Church.

In the last months of 2004 and beginning of 2005, the Ukrainian Orange Revolution gave a boost to  civil society activism in Poland. More than 3,000 observers of the presidential elections (out of a total 13,000) came to Ukraine from Poland thanks to the spontaneous efforts of students, political parties, and established civic organizations.   A symbolic tent was placed in front of Warsaw's Ukrainian embassy. For many young people, it was a repetition of their parents' participation in the Solidarity movement. By the end of 2005, similar actions were being organized, including demonstrations on the 16th of each month to support the "jeans opposition" in Belarus, where in March 2006 Aleksander Lukashenka was reelected president for a third term.

Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski's ban on the Equality March called by gay and lesbian rights organizations in June 2005 was a pivotal moment for the Polish civil rights movement, signaling restrictions on free expression based on the concept of "public morality." Despite the ban, a demonstration of several thousand, including left-wing politicians and foreign guests, took place on the streets of the capital; police, under the command of the left-wing government, protected the march from gay-bashing counterdemonstrators, moving them away by force. With help from the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, a complaint against the ban was filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. Meanwhile, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that organizers of gatherings need only notify local authorities about them instead of asking for a permit.

In November, after the elections, another Equality March in Poznan, also banned by local authorities and therefore reduced to a few hundred people, gathered peacefully on a popular pedestrian-only street, and its participants were brutally attacked by riot police. Seventy demonstrators and some counterdemonstrators, shouting, "Gas the gays!" were detained briefly. After two months, the local court decided not to punish the demonstrators. Three counterdemonstrators were reprimanded, and other cases are pending. Other effective support has been shown by court motions from the Polish ombudsman, letters from intellectuals and the head of the Constitutional Tribunal, and demonstrations by civil rights groups in Paris, Berlin, and New York. Subsequent Democracy Revival rallies, organized in nine Polish cities, were not banned and were protected by the police.

The next group to test the freedom to demonstrate may be miners, who secured early retirement guarantees for themselves by using buttons and explosives in front of the Parliament in the summer before the elections. An organization of industry heads questioned the constitutionality of the workers' rights, and the bill may be revoked. The trade union movement has good standing in Poland, thanks to the strength of Solidarity in the 1980s (10 million people), but only a few trades are able to protect their rights as effectively as Polish miners.

The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions has about 1.5 million members; Solidarity has less than 1 million. The majority of these are from state-owned factories, steel mills, mines, railways, and budget-funded health care and education facilities. Private owners are trying to keep trade unions away, and supermarkets were the most effective in union bashing. However, one of them, Biedronka, acquired such a bad reputation for repressing union organizers and the permanent use of nonpaid overtime that its former employee, Bozena Lopacka, gained the nickname "another Walesa" for her fight against the company's slavish working conditions.

Independent Media: 

In Poland, the importance of free media is well understood by those whose great-grandfathers' writings were censored by czarists before 1918; whose grandfathers were publishing illegal papers under Nazi occupation; and whose fathers printed and distributed uncensored books and newspapers in the People's Poland of the 1970s and 1980s. It is no surprise, then, that according to the Polish Constitution, the state "shall ensure freedom of the press and other means of social communication."  However, other legal acts still contain traces of authoritarian rule, which endangers this basic freedom.

Article 133 of the Polish penal code provides up to three years' imprisonment for persons who "publicly insult the Polish nation or the state" though the statute has not been used recently. Libeling the president can carry three years in jail (Article 135.2); libeling MPs or government ministers, two years (Article 226.3); and libeling other public officials, one year (Article 226.1). The popularity of jokes about twin brothers/politicians makes the statutes on libel, particularly regarding the president, challenging for prosecutors to use. Libel suits against media professionals are common, but those found guilty are usually only fined. Over the past year, one journalist was close to serving three months in jail for libeling a local official but left prison after two days released by order of Constitutional Tribunal, which accepted the motion based on his case.  Other legal dangers to press freedom include court gag orders based on the "securing the motion" article in the civic procedures code, prosecutors' enforced publishing of corrections, and the authorization of interviews (the last two stipulated in the 20-year-old Law on the Press).

Despite these dangers, the Polish media landscape looks strong. Two newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza (circulation 436,000 copies; owner, Polish Agora) and Rzeczpospolita (183,000 copies; owner, Orkla Media), are the main opinion makers. Outlets with the largest circulations are the tabloids Fakt (535,000 copies; owner, Axel Springer) and Super Express (232,000 copies; owner, Bonnier with Polish capital).

There are three major opinion weeklies: the left-wing Polityka (190,000 copies; owned by a journalist co-op), the center Newsweek Polish edition (185,000 copies; owner, Axel Springer), and the right-wing Wprost (168,000 copies; owner, Wprost). The 2005 newcomer Ozon (about 40,000 copies) is a conservative Catholic publication that has had a difficult start. In 2005, the growing influence of Nasz Dziennik-a conservative nationalist daily tied to Radio Maryja and Trwam TV, founded by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a nationalist, right-wing media evangelist with great political ambitions-led to reprimands by both the bishops of local Catholic church and the Vatican. The Catholic liberal Tygodnik Powszech (21,000 copies) has a strong reputation as the only independent (though censored) paper of Communist Poland. Przekr?j, published by Edipresse (103,000 copies) enjoys a reputation as the authority in cultural matters. The private Polish weekly Nie (128,000 copies), run by Jerzy Urban, former spokesman for President Wojciech Jaruzelski, is anticlerical, left-wing, and often provocative.  Two English weeklies (Warsaw Voice and Warsaw Business Journal) and a Russian one are published in the capital. 

Besides these leading titles, there are hundreds of other dailies, weeklies, and monthlies on all topics published countrywide. The local press is vibrant and produces more than 3,000 titles, but media concentration is a threat. The major media companies already dominating Warsaw-based and regional press include Axel Springer, Agora, Orkla Media, and Polskapresse (German). Poland is one of the few countries in Europe where media cross-ownership has not been regulated. Press distribution is provided evenly by the state-owned Ruch and private Kolporter companies. The Press Publishers Chamber is organizing a consortium of major publishers willing to buy Ruch when its long-awaited privatization takes place.  

Polish electronic media have less freedom than their print counterparts and are controlled by the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT), a body (formerly of nine members) elected by the Parliament and the president. In 2005, the KRRiT was composed almost completely of left-wing nominees, which caused the new government to curtail the KRRiT's membership and prerogatives before it had a chance to choose new supervising bodies of the public TVP and radio stations in 2006. The amendment to the Law on Radio and TV, reducing the KRRiT to five members (two nominated by the Sejm, one by the Senate, and two by the president, who also picks the chairperson), was shuffled through the Sejm and the Senate in the two weeks before Christmas. President Lech Kaczynski signed the amendment immediately, and five new KRRiT members were elected in the old style, all with political ties, this time to the Right. Three months later Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the president could not nominate the head of KRRiT.

TVP, the public station, has a dominant position with viewers and advertising markets with its three ground channels (TVP1, TVP2 and TVP3 together with 16 local branches), two satellite channels (TVP Polonia and TVP Kultura), and potentially more with digital webcasting. This strong position comes at the price of high commercialization and political influence on programming, formerly from the Left. Since the 2004 change of TVP leadership, programming has been more balanced but is affected by every change in the political wind. Two-thirds of TVP's income comes from advertising, the rest from broadcasting fees paid by about 50 percent of Polish households and about 5 percent of businesses. More and more commercialized, TVP looks in prime time exactly like its private competitors: movies, soap operas, and talk shows. Public service programs and award-winning documentaries are shown late at night. The privatization of public media is a political taboo. TVP's main private competitors include Polsat and TVN, the Canal+ cable channel owned by UPC, and Father Rydzyk's Trwam TV, a religious satellite channel broadcasting from Torun. 

Among radio stations, the public Polskie Radio--with 6 Warsaw-based channels and 17 local radio stations--has a strong position, but private competitors Radio ZET and Radio RMF FM are the leaders in audience and advertising revenues. Radio Maryja, broadcasting since 1991 and founded by Father Rydzyk, has played an important role in gathering support for right-wing political interests. During the 2005 election campaign, Rydzyk's "Sink the Platform!" rallying cry helped PiS defeat the PO.

Fifty percent of Polish households have a computer and use the Internet with its full diversity of opinions. Offensive remarks are rarely blocked, and operators claim not to be responsible for them. Child pornography is the only prosecuted Web offense. Naukowa Akademicka Siec Komputerowa (NASK), an academic institution, keeps a registry of sites, but there are no address restrictions. Almost all printing media have their own Web sites, and the number of personal Web sites and blogs has been growing rapidly.  

With the strong presence of print and electronic media and the advance of online publications, there is no clear estimate of how many journalists are working in the media sector, but the minimum count would be about 20,000. There are no doubts, though, that only a few hundred of these are members of trade unions (Journalists' Syndicate and a branch of Solidarity), and only a couple of thousand journalists, mostly older professionals, are members of Polish Journalists' Association and Republic of Poland Journalists' Association. They maintain ethical codes and lobby for new press legislation and changes in the penal code, but their voice is weak and authority low. In general, journalists have no collective agreement and no wage bargaining, and publishers keep salaries secret. Strikes and other union actions-such as those enjoyed by colleagues working for the same media companies in France, Germany, or Norway-are unheard of in Poland.

Local Democratic Governance: 

Self-government traditions are strong in Poland. This is especially true in the west and south, where more than a hundred years ago, in the absence of a Polish state, the local authorities worked with Catholic and in some cases Protestant clergy to maintain Polish schools and nurture Polish customs in choirs, folk dance, gymnastics groups, fire brigades, and credit unions. One of the first acts of the Solidarity governments after 1989 was the restoration of local self-governance by re-creating the approximately 2,500 gminas (Poland's basic territorial division) that had been canceled in the mid-1970s. Ninety thousand local officials were transferred from the state administration to local governments. In 1998, the number of regions (voivods) was reduced from 49 to 16, and 314 counties (powiats) and 65 cities with equal status were added.

According to the Constitution, local government is a permanent feature of the state based on the principles of subsidiarity. The powers and independence of local authorities are protected by the courts, and there is a presumption that gmina competences extend to all matters not reserved for other institutions of central administration. Local authorities are responsible for education, social welfare, local roads, health care, public transport, water and sewage systems, local culture, public order, and security. Municipalities are responsible for a majority of these tasks. Regional accounting chambers are responsible for auditing local authorities.

Local representatives are elected every four years. The last local elections were held in 2002, and the next are due in fall 2006. As a result of Poland's joining the EU in 2004, citizens of other EU states will be eligible to participate in the elections. Mayors of cities and towns are elected directly, as are members of local, county, and regional councils. County members elect the heads of powiats, and members of regional assemblies elect the heads of the voivods. In the 16 voivods, elected heads (marshals) must cooperate with government-nominated voievodas, the national authority representatives outside Warsaw. They have the legal power to control gimna resolutions by suspending them within 30 days if they contradict the law. Appeals to voivod decisions are filed with the regional administrative courts.

The Law on Local Government of 1990 introduced referendums as a tool of direct democracy. They are used to decide such issues as voluntary taxation for public purposes and the dismissal of the council before its term. The motion to conduct a referendum must be supported by at least 10 percent of the voters, and a referendum is valid only with a minimum of 30 percent of the voters participating. This has proved to be an empty option: In the majority of referendums, usually organized to recall local elected officials, the turnout has been too low to make them valid. In 2005, the referendum to recall the wojt (head) of gmina Konopnica in Lublin region drew only 12 percent; in four other referendums in 2004, including the recall of the mayor of Szczecin, the highest turnout was only 21 percent of voters.

Polish law limits the power of local government to levy taxes. Municipalities are allowed to collect taxes on farms, properties, forests, pet registrations, and transportation. New taxes can be organized only via a referendum, such as the 2003 referendum in gmina Mosina near Poznan to add a garbage collection tax. The turnout was high enough at 32 percent, but 76 percent of voters were against the new tax. Personal and corporate income taxes account for 75 percent of local government income. There is also a mechanism to redistribute taxes from richer to poorer local governments.

The central government is supposed to consult local governments on every bill that may add costs to their budgets. The Common Commission of the Government and the Territorial Self-Government is currently reviewing draft legislation on this matter; however; the time given for consultation is often extremely short, and estimations of the costs are vague. Local self-governments must consult citizens on certain decisions, such as seeking opinions from environmental organizations when granting building licenses. In Warsaw, this measure allowed environmental groups to block any serious development plans. When the environmental organization Przyjazne Miasto (Friendly Town) protested the construction of a new mall, the French investor paid it a US$700,000 "silence fee."  In 2004, the same group blocked another development project in Warsaw, but legal changes have made these kinds of protests less effective.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights proved that the Warsaw local authorities blocked the creation of 32 associations in the last five years by demanding changes in their internal statutes. This practice was found illegal by the Warsaw court in the case of Chomiczowka Association v. Degradation.

In 2002, the opposition parties PiS, PO, Samoobrona, and LPR gained substantial power and were able to rule in many cities, such as Warsaw, Lodz, Bydgoszcz, Poznan, Gdansk, and Wroclaw. It is too early to say whether a similar process will happen in the 2006 local elections because left-wing parties may not have enough time to recover. In Warsaw, however, which was ruled from 2002 until end of 2005 by Lech Kaczynski, now president of Poland, it is likely that the PO, currently in opposition, will take power.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

As stated in the Constitution, the judiciary has full independence from the executive and legislative branches of government. The court system consists of the Supreme Court, 310 district courts, 43 regional courts, 11 appeals courts (total for the country), garrison and provincial military courts, 14 regional administrative courts, and the Main Administrative Court. The Tribunal of State is elected by the lower chamber of Parliament to determine constitutional violations by the highest officials. The Constitutional Tribunal analyzes the conformity of Polish and international laws to the Polish Constitution, adjudicates disputes of authority between central State bodies, and recognizes any temporary incapacity of the president to perform his/her office. Decisions of the Tribunal are applied directly.

Judges are appointed by the president after being nominated by the National Judicial Council, elected in majority by them. They are independent, cannot be members of political parties or trade unions, and cannot perform any public functions that might jeopardize their independence. They must be at least 29 years of age (27 for junior judges), and there is no prerequisite of performing earlier work as prosecutors or lawyers. Judges cannot be arbitrarily dismissed or removed.

The courts are considered the worst area of the Polish government, an opinion confirmed by several cases lost in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg as well as the length of court proceedings, usually measured in years. Poland's legal system is one of the greatest deterrents to foreign investors. For Polish citizens, the system can impose years of arrest despite a "not guilty" verdict. In 2005, a Polish citizen finally received compensation in the ECHR after nine years in court with his employer. A Warsaw resident ultimately received a judgment in an eight-year property rights deliberation. Another man from Warsaw was under arrest for nine years before the court found him not guilty in 2005. Poles frequently appeal to the ECHR; in 2005, there were 6,466 Polish "inadmissible" cases, 4,571 cases "allocated to a decision body," and 4,744 "lodged" cases. In 44 verdicts, ECHR judges found Poland to be in violation of at least one count, and in only 4 cases were no violations found. It is no surprise that just 21 percent of Poles declare trust in the judicial system.

One of the worst shortcomings of Polish courts is the lack of reporting protocols. Proceedings are not recorded on tape. The court clerk rarely has a computer but, rather, generally uses pen and paper, writing down only what the judge dictates and summarizing the testimony just of witnesses, experts, or defendants. Attorneys' final speeches are not recorded at all. Extra appeals based on protocol inconsistencies are common in the Supreme Court, which is slated to be modernized with the help of EU money.

Another reason for low trust in the judicial system is the manner in which judges treat one another when breaking the law. The case of Marek Sadowski, who for 10 years escaped justice for causing an injury in a car accident, illustrates this best. When the accident occurred in 1995, Sadowski was a judge in Krakow, where he maintained immunity from the judges' disciplinary court. The case came back to light after nine years, when Sadowski became minister of justice and prosecutor general, this time protected by prosecutors' immunity. He resigned under public pressure, but his successor immediately nominated him as country prosecutor, again with immunity. The disciplinary court finally stripped him of immunity, and at the end of 2005 he was sentenced to 1.5 years' imprisonment suspended for 3 years, which means if in three years he does not commit another crime he will not serve the sentence in prison.

Sadowski's case was not the most serious. The deputy head in Suwalki district court is suspected of selling verdicts in about 100 cases with help from a local attorney. Another judge from Torun, who had been suspended with full salary from 2000 onward, in November 2005 was finally fined for false accusations he brought against his former secretary. The reason for the suspension was his friendship with a local gangster and favoritism in local court verdicts related to shootings. From 2001 to 2005, there were 58 motions in disciplinary court to release judges from immunity; all but 8 cases were denied. Judges are convinced that there have been improvements-the number of cases of judges who broke the law or code of ethics was 166 in 2002 but only 82 in 2004. 

Prosecutors are also held in low esteem since they are (quite rightly) considered to be part of the judiciary; in fact, however, they are under the control of the executive. According to experts, as long as the minister of justice becomes automatically appointed prosecutor general, there is no chance for autonomous, nonpolitically motivated work by prosecutors, who are under the almost military command of their superiors. Orlen's investigative commission documented how Prime Minister Leszek Miller extended pressure through the prosecutor general to the local prosecutor to arrest the head of the national petroleum company. Prosecutors themselves express different opinions: Only 12 percent say that their superiors put pressure on them.

According to the penal procedures code, prosecutors have three months to present an indictment to the court. In practice, that period is three to four times longer. Jacek Turczynski, former head of the national postal service, has been under investigation for almost three years for supposedly taking a bribe, but he was interrogated only twice, at the beginning and end of a six-month jail term. One of the wealthiest businessmen in Poland, Roman Kluska, was under investigation for 18 months, then released and refused compensation for his spectacular made-for-media arrest. Taxpayers are paying more and more for such prosecutorial mistakes: In 2000, the courts' compensations for unjust arrests for 63 people cost the treasury 700,000 zlotys (US$220,000), while in 2004 the system awarded 3.8 million zlotys (US$1.2 million) to 231 persons.   

Prosecutors do not have terms of office but rather may be advanced or removed at any time, which happens on a wide scale every four years. The majority have origins in Communist Poland. The left-wing government of Leszek Miller proposed a bill that would have authorized the prime minister to nominate the prosecutor general and instituted four-to-six-year terms for regional and district prosecutors, but the bill was lost in the Parliament. The current right-wing cabinet of Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz wants to keep prosecutors firmly in its hands. The result is that prosecutors are easily swayed by political winds, slowing down or accelerating work on individual cases according to their superiors' expectations.


The Corruption Barometer, an annual public opinion poll run by the Batory Foundation, shows the consistent status quo of corruption in Poland. In 2005, 15 percent of Poles confessed they have given a bribe, and the figure has hovered between 14 and 17 percent since 2000, when the poll first posed the question. Most bribes are given and taken in the health care system, and the chief bribe givers are private businesspeople.

Doctors distinguish between flowers or a bottle of good alcohol handed them by a happy patient and cash given before or after treatment. The first is a "farewell gift," which doctors have  accepted for decades; the second is a bribe. Very low wages in the public health care sector not only require workers to take multiple jobs, but compel them to demand money from patients for hospitalizations and surgeries.

The case of Stanislaw Ratuszny, a Szczecin shipyard worker, illustrates this point well. In 1982, Ratuszny sustained a spinal injury and was unable to work. For the next 20 years, he went through several surgeries in public hospitals, paying his doctors not only with money, but with meat products, a rarity in the 1980s, and throwing birthday parties for his doctors in the 1990s. In 2005, Ratuszny had finally had enough and went to the prosecutor. His case was supported by 18 other patients who also admitted to giving bribes to "Professor K," a well-known neurosurgeon, author of 300 scientific papers, and owner of a villa in the center of Bydgoszcz.  Ratuszny's case is pending. In general, there is no other solution to health care corruption than better salaries for medical personnel, but the budgetary burden is too heavy, and the introduction of at least partial payments for health care by the patient is a public opinion bombshell no politician is brave enough to play with. Private businesspeople paid for a "push" in getting EU funds: The Ministry of Culture secretary received bribes of up to 100,000 zlotys (US$31,000) from about 100 small- and medium-size business owners.

Other areas filled with corruption are the annual army draft, where getting an "unfit" health grade requires a bribe of between 2,000 and 4,000 zlotys (US$600-$1,200), and traffic offenses, where drunk driving and smaller violations may be fixed with bribes from 100 to a few thousand zlotys, paid to traffic police. In 2005, there was a bribery scheme involving Polish soccer tournaments. Longtime rumors were confirmed by Piotr Dziurowicz, head of the once strong GKS Katowice team, that multiple cases of selling matches had occurred, which included bribing soccer match referees and players. One bribe giver was caught red-handed with money in the trunk of his car. Anticorruption measures were heralded by the soccer union, but a few months later it appeared that professionals were not really interested in cleaning up the sports business.

A dense atmosphere of corruption charges also clouded the outgoing left-wing government and the president. The series of corruption affairs started in 2003, with Rywingate far from over. Lew Rywin, back in jail, received an offer of clemency for disclosing details about a "power holding group." According to the investigative commission report, written by the new minister of justice, Zbigniew Ziobro, the group included former prime minister Leszek Miller. Warsaw's prosecutor started an investigation of presidential clemency for Piotr Filipczynski, aka Peter Vogel, who escaped from Poland in 1983 during a break in his sentence for murder. Vogel was caught in 1998 and pardoned a year later by President Kwasniewski on the request of the prosecutor general.  The frequency of such presidential pardons has led to allegations of corruption in the process. The list of over 8,000 individuals who have been pardoned is secret on the grounds of protecting privacy. President Kaczynski said he plans to change it.
According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, Poland is the most corrupt country in the EU and the only one among newcomers where the situation appears to be worsening. In Transparency International's yearly index, Poland was ranked 70th, and among EU newcomers it is the only country where the perception of corruption has increased in the last four years. "The reasons for corruption in Poland are well-known," concludes the Transparency International report. "They include: vagueness and instability of the law, lack of transparency in government and self-government actions, volunteerism in the decision-making process, lenient attitude toward documentation and reporting, lack of personal responsibility for administrative decisions, weak system of internal control, tolerance for conflicts of interest, and lack of workable anticorruption law." 

Thanks to investigative reporting and NGO activity, there were some brighter spots in the anticorruption picture. For example, e-auction in public procurement, introduced in 2004, helped in 2005 to curtail corruption in this important sphere; and in 2005, the contest procedures in self-government administration became mandatory for all professional positions. Also, in all regional police headquarters, anticorruption units were formed; their officers have a right to give "controlled bribes" as a means of provoking those who are suspected of taking bribes.

The fight against corruption was one of PiS's focus points in the elections and is on the short list of Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz's government priorities. An elite group of 500 well-paid officers will make up the CAA, led by PiS politician Mariusz Kaminski. First, the CAA will address corruption among public officials; their income and property reports will be verified professionally. The CAA will also fight corruption in public procurement, estimated at 5 to 20 percent of contracts.  Critics of the CAA point out that its dependence on the government and ability to authorize and conduct secret operations--such as searches, audio- and videotaping, accumulation of sensitive personal data (on religious beliefs and sexual life)--may lead to its use as a political weapon. Additionally, it has no preventive tasks, which limits its influence on a broader scale.