Nations in Transit
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)
Corruption(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Population: 38.5 million
GNI/capita, PPP: US$20,260
Source: The data above are drawn from The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2013.
* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.
NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.
A series of political controversies and scandals contributed to growing dissatisfaction with Polish political leadership and institutions in 2012. In January, the right-wing Catholic television station TRWAM was denied a digital broadcasting license in what appeared to be a politically motivated decision by the National Council of Radio and Television (KRRiTV). Video footage released in July captured a conversation between a leading member of the ruling coalition’s Polish People’s Party (PSL) and the former head of the governmental Agriculture Market Agency (ARR), implicating the PSL-dominated ARR in offenses ranging from nepotism to mismanagement of the state-owned enterprises it oversees. The collapse of quasi-bank Amber Gold in August shook public confidence in the financial services industry and the institutions supposed to police it. In the fall, media revealed data on the surprising scale of surveillance activities by government agencies. Changes to the Law on Public Assembly in October and an aborted change to the Law on Access to Public Information were criticized for infringing upon civil liberties. In September, a website creator was sentenced under Article 135.2 of the criminal code, which penalizes defamation of the president.
National Democratic Governance. Changes to the Law on Access to Public Information—including a controversial provision granting state bodies the right to withhold information when protecting “important state interests”—were struck down by the Constitutional Tribunal in April, on procedural grounds. Data unveiled during the year showed that surveillance of citizens and collection of sensitive information has increased in recent years. In October, Prime Minister Donald Tusk won a parliamentary vote of confidence he himself had requested in order to slap down criticism of the way he has handled Poland’s slowing economy. Poland’s national democratic governance rating remains unchanged at 2.50.
Electoral Process. The next elections in Poland will be local elections and elections to the European Parliament in 2014. No changes to electoral legislation were made during the year. Poland’s electoral process rating remains unchanged at 1.25.
Civil Society. In the name of forestalling violent clashes between competing demonstrations, the government passed an amendment to the Law on Public Assembly in October. Some nongovernmental organizations criticized the law for potentially hampering spontaneous political demonstrations. Overall, Polish citizenry and the nongovernmental sector remained extremely active in 2012, pushing back against perceived threats to their civil liberties and influencing policy decisions at the local and national levels. Poland’s civil society rating remains unchanged at 1.50.
Independent Media. Polish news media are free and diverse, but operate under a legal framework that limits several forms of free expression. Political partisanship is a major feature of the media landscape, and was evident throughout 2012 in the actions of news outlets and media regulating bodies. In January, the right-wing Catholic television station TRWAM was denied a digital broadcasting license in what appeared to be a politically motivated decision by the National Council of Radio and Television (KRRiTV). In September, a website creator received a first-instance sentence under Article 135.2 penalizing the defamation of the president. In October, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that a person may be found guilty of offending religious sensibilities, even if the defendant did not “directly” intend to do so, potentially paving the way for broader use of Poland’s controversial blasphemy law. Poland’s independent media rating declines from to 2.25 to 2.50.
Local Democratic Governance. The year witnessed efforts by a number of city councils to get citizens involved in policy design and monitoring. Local councils also continued to be effective in acquiring European funds and spending them on local infrastructure and environmental protection projects. The level of financial irregularities encountered by auditing bodies declined slightly in comparison to 2011, but local authorities limited public access to information on public spending. Poland’s rating for local democratic governance remains unchanged at 1.75.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The Polish judicial system still suffers from deficiencies inherited from the communist era or produced by the irregularities of the transition period. Longstanding and recently adopted regulations limit freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, respectively. Poland’s judicial framework and independence rating remains unchanged at 2.50.
Corruption. Poland has a well-developed network of institutions dealing with the problem of corruption. Nevertheless, corruption scandals remain a common feature of political life. Tapes released in the media in July implicated the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in nepotism and mismanagement of European Union funds. Poland’s corruption rating remains unchanged at 3.25.
Outlook for 2013. The economic slowdown will emerge as a major issue in 2013, further undermining citizens’ confidence in government. Constitutional Tribunal rulings on surveillance laws, including the practice of so-called “billing” (accessing information on phone and internet use), are due in 2013. With European Parliament and local elections scheduled for 2014, the coming year is likely to be dominated by covert but aggressive campaigning. A number of unresolved issues—including the Amber Gold case and the details surrounding the 2010 Smoleńsk crash—are likely to resurface in 2013, with the public demanding answers. The manner in which Polish legislative, executive, and judicial bodies conduct themselves in response will be crucial for the levels of citizens’ confidence in the system and its political elites.
In 2011, Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform (PO) party became the first prime minister in independent Poland’s history to be reelected to a second consecutive term. Since then, however, the popularity of Tusk’s center-right coalition government has visibly declined. Though Poland was the only country in the European Union (EU) to avoid recession throughout the economic crisis, the country’s economy slowed in 2012. The government pushed an agenda of difficult, long-postponed reforms, accelerating privatization and cutting the privileges of protected workers such as journalists, professors, police, and firemen. In May, the parliament finally approved the government’s plan to raise the retirement age to 67 for both sexes, prompting protests from trade unions and the center-left. In October, Prime Minister Tusk won a parliamentary vote of confidence he himself had requested as an opportunity to reassert his legitimacy in face of so much criticism. Against this backdrop, the year 2012 produced a series of political controversies and scandals that fanned the flames of acute political polarization within the country and contributed to growing dissatisfaction with Polish political leadership and institutions.
In 2011, the Polish parliament introduced changes to the Law on Access to Public Information intended to improve access to information and harmonize Polish legislation with that of the EU. The bill was rushed through in an effort to meet a European Commission (EC) deadline and avoid a fine, though ultimately the government neglected to send word that the law had been passed and was fined, anyway. One specific element of the bill met with extensive criticism from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and opposition members of parliament (MPs) for giving state bodies the right to limit or deny access information when protecting “important state interests.” The provision was removed from the original bill but resubmitted in the upper house of parliament (the Senate) by Senator Marek Rocki after the bill’s initial acceptance in the lower house (the Sejm). Additions by the Senate are not supposed to substantively expand regulations that have already been approved by the Sejm, but the revised bill passed its second review in the lower house and became law. Very shortly after signing the bill, President Bronisław Komorowski responded to public criticism of the so-called “Rocki amendment” by submitting it to the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) for review. The court ruled in April 2012 that the manner in which the Rocki amendment had been added was unconstitutional, though it did not offer an opinion on the actual content of the amendment. Following the announcement of the TK verdict, Paweł Olszewski, a prominent member of PO, declared that the party would not abandon the idea of restricting access to public information, and would work to reintroduce a similar amendment in the future.
The debate was significant in part because it touches upon a wider concern that public institutions conceal information that would enable effective monitoring of their activities. It took the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) three years to comply with a 2009 request from the Polish branch of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) for access to statistics on surveillance (mostly taping) activities, which are classified as public information. HFHR’s initial application was rejected, leading to a lengthy legal case that went (twice) through all levels of the administrative legal system before the Highest Administrative Court (NSA) finally agreed in September 2012 that the HFHR as well as the public should have access to these statistics.
The data themselves caused a stir in the media by revealing that the CBA makes between 300 and 450 surveillance applications a year, and that an eightfold increase in surveillance applications took place in the election year 2007. Data on subsequent years have not been revealed. In 2012 the Ombudsman for Civil Rights questioned the scale of surveillance of citizens by various public institutions in her application to the TK. HFHR prepared an opinion supporting the Ombudsman’s applications, showing that there are between 6,000 and 8,000 successful applications for surveillance made every year by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the army, and various police forces. Data from the Office for Electronic Communications show that in 2011 various public institutions accessed information about phone calls made and text messages sent by citizens and their access to the internet over 1.8 million times. This constitutes the highest rate (per 1,000 inhabitants) in the EU, and is significantly higher than in previous years.
A number of public institutions reacted to information on the scale of surveillance of Polish citizens and undertook actions to change to it. Like the ombudsman, the Attorney General applied to the TK for a ruling on the constitutionality of surveillance operations and of accessing information on phone and internet use. At year’s end, the court was considering 5 relevant applications. In September, the National Chamber of Audits (NIK) started a wide-ranging audit, covering the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Agency for Internal Security, and some courts, over the allegations of abuse of the law on access to information about phone connections.
The April 2010 plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other dignitaries remained a political lightning rod in 2012. The Law and Justice (PiS) party continued to accuse PO officials of deliberately obfuscating the true facts of the crash and even of complicity in the events. In the summer, a parliamentary group led by Antoni Maciarewicz from PiS produced a paper pointing to a number of flaws in official Polish and Russian reports on the crash and claiming that explosions aboard the plane had caused it. Public opinion data show that even Poles who do not necessarily share PiS’s view of the event are dissatisfied with the way the investigation and follow-up have been handled. In September, media revealed that the bodies of two Smolensk crash victims, legendary Solidarity activist Anna Walentynowicz and Teresa Walewska-Przyjałkowska, the deputy head of the Golgota Wschodu Foundation, had been mixed up and buried in the wrong graves, despite the fact that they had been correctly identified by their families in Moscow immediately following the crash. Ewa Kopacz, who replaced Bronisław Komorowski as speaker of the Sejm in 2011 and who had represented the Polish authorities in Moscow, claimed at the time that she had personally supervised the identification process; however, in 2012 she admitted publicly that neither she, nor Polish doctors, nor Polish prosecutors had been involved in the identification process. In October, it was confirmed that the corpse of the last Polish President in exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, had also been accidentally switched with that of another crash victim and placed in the wrong grave.
No elections were conducted in Poland in 2012. Local elections and elections to the European Parliament will take place in 2014, while the next presidential and national parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2015.
Elections to the Sejm are held under an open-list proportional representation system. Seats are allocated in 41 multimember districts. Gender quota regulations enacted in 2011 require every party’s district-level list to include at least 35 percent of candidates of each gender and the State Electoral Commission is legally obligated to refuse registration of any list that does not abide by this quota. Members of the Senate are elected in 100 single-member constituencies.
Legislative election results from 2011 confirmed the dominance of the rival PO and PiS parties, which together collected 70 percent of the popular vote, essentially the same as in 2007 (74 percent), and in the first rounds of the presidential elections in 2005 (69 percent) and 2010 (78 percent). The 2011 elections also illustrated the known demographic characteristics of PO and PiS: the latter has a devoted following in rural areas, particularly among people with elementary-level or vocational education, and among those over the retirement age. PO enjoys strong support among the urban middle class, especially voters with higher levels of education, and in the middle-aged and younger segments of the population. Postelection analyses published by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) indicate that the socially liberal Palikot’s Movement (RP) party, which emerged as the third-strongest party in the Sejm in 2011, did particularly well among the country’s young, non-religious voters.
In 2012, popular support for RP and the formerly communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) party seemed to stabilize below 10 percent but above the electoral threshold of 5 percent. Polls showed that the ultraconservative United Poland party, whose leadership defected from PiS in November 2011 and officially formed a new party in March 2012, had just 1–2 percent public support in December 2012. At year’s end, there was no political party on the scene with clear potential to challenge the dominance of PO and PiS or shift the balance of power between them.
Between December 2011 and April 2012, the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (NSZZ Solidarność) collected over 2 million signatures calling for a national referendum to keep the retirement age at 60 for women and 65 for men. Under Polish law, a proposal to hold a referendum must be considered by the Sejm if it is supported by more than 500,000 citizens. However, on 2 April 2012, members of parliament representing the PO and the PSL voted against the referendum and the proposal was turned down. When the government passed the legislation in May 2012, major trade unions organized demonstrations in front of the presidential palace, joined by representatives of PiS, SLD, and other opposition parties.
Polish citizens participated in grassroots campaigns and demonstrations throughout 2012. The year opened with mass protests against Poland’s participation in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which ultimately caused the government to suspend the process of ACTA ratification. In May and June, Poles campaigned for civil partnerships. Protesters, including union activists, also rallied against the new, long-anticipated retirement law that will gradually raise the retirement age to 67. Meanwhile, NGOs continued the campaign “Strike out 212 KK,” whose aim is to remove an article of the penal code that criminalizes defamation and prescribes fines or even jail time for defamatory statements disseminated via mass media, including the internet. The organizers of the campaign say Article 212 is used to curb criticism of authorities, especially at the local level, rather than to defend personal dignity.
A 2012 report by the Warsaw-based Klon/Jawor research association estimates that there are around 4,200 active NGOs (foundations and associations) in Poland. According to this report, 22 percent of NGOs operate on a full-time basis, 5 days a week, and another 29 percent work “a lot and regularly, but not full time.” The most popular field of NGO activities is sports and hobbies (38 percent), followed by art and culture (17 percent). Only 12 percent of NGOs declare that all of their members are active, and as many as 63 percent declare that fewer than 50 percent of their members are active. The report also notes that the average Polish NGO has very little funding—as many as 48 percent do not own any property. In a January 2012 study by CBOS, 32 percent of respondents claimed to actively support at least one nongovernmental organization. In the same study, civic activism appeared to coincide with higher levels of education, professional achievements, and/or religiosity.
Public funds collection, including crowd-sourced fundraising (“crowdfunding”), has until now been regulated by legislation that dates back to the 1930s. In 2012, the Polish government initiated amendments to the old laws in order to bring them up to date. At the last minute, the Ministry of Administration and Digitization (MAC) proposed an allegedly “cosmetic” change to the amendments that effectively extended their reach to include online fundraising. NGOs criticized these changes for imposing a high level of institutional control and bureaucratic red tape on activities that can be successful only when they are grassroots-based and spontaneous. MAC Minister Michał Boni supported their position before the parliament and invited NGOs to cooperate on a new draft amendment. In July, the NGO sector and the ministry reached an agreement on ten new basic principles for the regulation of funds collections; drafting of a new amendment was ongoing at year’s end.
Despite criticism from the nongovernmental sector, changes to the Law on Public Assembly were signed into law in October, making it almost impossible to organize two demonstrations in the same place at the same time. The changes also extend the minimum time that must lapse between registration of a demonstration and the event itself—radically reducing, if not eliminating, opportunities for spontaneous gatherings of more than 15 people. The official reason for the legislation was to preempt violent clashes between rival groups of protesters such as erupted on Polish Independence Day in November 2011. The original draft amendment was reviewed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which made a number of recommendations. In July, 167 organizations also wrote a letter to the speaker of the Sejm, criticizing the draft. The combined input of domestic and international critics resulted in minor modifications, but did not change the substance of the amendment.
Even before the new regulations went into effect, there were quite frequent reports of local authorities’ denying legitimate registration applications from would-be demonstrators. The most often cited reason for banning a public gathering has been that it may “endanger life or health by blocking traffic.” Among other cases, this reason was used in May 2011 by the mayor of Szerzyny to prevent a freedom-of-speech demonstration directed against local officials; by authorities in Skawina who banned a demonstration against plans to build a crematorium in September 2011; and by officials in Kraków who barred demonstrators from gathering in protest of local urban planning policy a number of times in 2011 and 2012. The new regulations introduced in 2012 may make such refusals easier to justify and therefore more frequent.
Although the Polish constitution guarantees every citizen the right to petition the government directly, Polish law does not define what a petition is. The nongovernmental sector believes that a law on petitioning would prompt a reengagement of citizenry into political decision-making, noting that 72 percent of Poles feel they cannot influence public institutions and public life.
A number of racist and anti-Semitic incidents were noted throughout 2012. Some attacks were random acts committed by thugs, while others actions were pre-planned and organized by racist and nationalist organizations. In August, the radical nationalist organization National Revival of Poland (NOP) rented a tram from the Municipal Transport Enterprise in Wrocław, Poland’s fourth-largest city, covered it with fascist symbols, and drove it through the streets of the city center for several hours while NOP activists on board called out for a “nationalist revolution.” Nongovernmental organizations have accused the police and courts of lightly dismissing such incidents. In June 2012, the HFHR applied to the Agency for Internal Security (ABW) to intervene in Lublin District, where repeated anti-Semitic attacks (some of them violent) had been taking place since 2010. As a result of HFHR’s application, state authorities organized a series of special training sessions in the Lublin area geared at teaching police, prosecutors, and judges how to recognize and deal with hate crimes.
Educational materials in Polish schools are perceived as reinforcing gender stereotypes. Media reports in October 2012 highlighted sexist content—usually portraying boys as knowledge-hungry and girls as stupid—in a number of textbooks that had been approved by the Ministry of Education. The ministry responded with a promise to introduce changes in a new edition of the textbooks. It has also been noted by a number of prominent human rights organizations, such as the HFHR, Amnesty International, and Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), that children of foreigners (including refugees) in Poland live in conditions that prevent them from being integrated into society.
Polish print, broadcast, and electronic media are diverse, but strongly partisan. Collectively, they serve the public interest well by playing a watchdog role with respect to government policies and the actions of all political factions. They typically act as agents of civil society, and in return receive support of NGOs and the public when threats to press freedom arise. The public response to ACTA—which included protests and marches in nearly all major Polish cities—illustrates both Polish society’s respect for media freedom and its awareness that that freedom is increasingly vulnerable to political and economic pressures.
Polish media operate under a legal framework that penalizes some forms of free speech. In 2011, Article 135.2 of the penal code, which forbids defamation of the president, was applied for the first time to a website creator and blogger—Robert Frycz, whose website Antykomor.pl is dedicated to mocking and insulting President Komorowski. In September 2012, Frycz was sentenced to 15 months of restricted freedom and 600 hours of compulsory community service. This first-instance sentence is open to appeal, but has already been criticized by a number of relevant organizations, including the OSCE, the HFHR, and the Polish Association of Free Speech (SWS). Over the years, a number of politicians, including Prime Minister Tusk, have declared that Article 135.2 should be removed from the penal code, though no actual steps have been taken in that direction.
Another regulation constraining the freedom of speech in Poland, Article 212 of the penal code, penalizes defamation of any person in the mass media. Campaigns advocating removal of this article have also appeared from time to time, but have yet to succeed. However, according to recent reports, penalties for defamation (currently up to 1 year in prison) will shortly be lowered. In October 2012, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Polish authorities had twice infringed upon the right to free speech by imposing monetary fines on journalists for alleged defamation of local officials under Article 212; the journalists’ sentences were revoked and the state compensated them financially.
Article 196 of the Polish penal code makes “offending religious feelings” through public speech or actions a crime punishable by up to two years in prison. In October, Poland’s Constitutional Court ruled that a person may be found guilty of offending religious sensibilities, even if the defendant did not “directly” intend to do so, potentially paving the way for broader use of the so-called blasphemy law.
Poland’s main regulatory body for broadcast media, the National Council of Radio and Television (KRRiTV), was created in 1992 to provide unbiased control of both public and private media. Since its inception, however, the KRRiTV has been a highly politicized body. It is currently dominated by the ruling PO party and as such is highly vulnerable to political influences. An example of this vulnerability is the refusal to grant a concession to TV Trwam, an ultraconservative TV station linked to PiS, PO’s primary political opponent. The decision was made on 17 January 2012. In July, Ombudsman Teresa Lipowicz, declared that the decision had been arbitrary and made on the basis of unconstitutional regulations. She subsequently asked the Constitutional Tribunal (TK) to assess that case. The court had not ruled on the case at year’s end.
The Association of Polish Journalists (SDP), another body whose role is to protect journalistic standards, also faced accusations during the year of having an inappropriately close relationship with leading opposition party PiS. In October 2012, SDP chairman Krzysztof Skowroński hosted a press conference for PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński, and only a couple of days earlier he hosted a meeting for PiS leaders with a group of economists. Many observers found this inappropriate, and some members of the SDP protested Skowroński’s activities as conflicting with the journalists’ ethical code.
On 30 October, the well-known conservative daily Rzeczpospolita published a frontpage article on the 2010 Smolensk plane crash titled “TNT in the wreckage of the Tupolev.” Though the state attorney’s office immediately denied that TNT had been discovered at the scene of the crash, the story provoked a widespread reaction, with Kaczyński calling for an immediate resignation of the government. In the days that followed, Rzeczpospolita’s owner, Grzegorz Hajdarowicz, sacked the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, the author of the article, and a few other journalists who had not been directly involved in writing the piece. This move was criticized by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) as a violation of the rights of media. Later on, military chief prosecutor Jerzy Artymiak testified before the Sejm that instrumentation used at the site of the wreck had indicated elements of TNT; he noted, however, that the instruments react the same way to shoe polish. Some media subsequently reported that on the night before the article’s publication Hajdarowicz had met with Paweł Gras—a government spokesman and his longtime friend—to inform the latter in advance about the content of the publication.
Hajdarowicz is also an owner of Uważam Rze, a popular right-wing weekly. After firing the author of the Rzeczpospolita article, Cezary Gmyz, he also fired Uważam Rze’s editor-in-chief, who had criticized Hajdarowicz for politicizing Rzeczpospolita and who had refused to ban Gmyz from contributing to his weekly. As a result, a number of journalists left both Uważam Rze and Rzeczpospolita to form a new weekly, called W sieci.
Local governments, next to private companies, have been the main consumers of EU funds, receiving over 30 percent of all EU money made available to Poland since 2007. According to the Ministry of Regional Development, local authorities have made over 51,000 successful applications for funding in this period and 28 percent of these projects have already been completed. Their main spending goals are infrastructure and environment, which directly improves living conditions of citizens. Recent data show that the lowest (gmina) and middle (powiat) levels of local government have been more successful in obtaining and spending European funds than central state institutions.
Public spending at the local level is not fully transparent. Inspections carried out in gminy in 2011 revealed a relatively high number (15,800) of legal and administrative transgressions, though the number declined significantly from the previous year’s figure (16,480). Such transgressions cost taxpayers an estimated 4.9 million Polish złoty in 2011 (approximately $1.46 million), down from 6.9 million złoty (about $2 million) in 2010. Certain spending decisions reported in 2012 were difficult to explain: in Warsaw, large sums of money were paid for outsourced legal opinions despite the fact that local government employs almost 200 lawyers. Most local governments carry significant debt—an average of approximately 2,000 złoty ($600) per capita.
In 2012, several larger cities in Poland experimented with participatory budgeting (so-called “citizens’ budgets”), allowing local inhabitants to decide how a certain portion of their total city budget should be spent. Members of the public can submit investment projects, and later vote to select the ones to be implemented. The goal of this practice is to increase citizens’ participation in governance, their sense of civic efficacy, and the legitimacy of local authorities’ spending decisions. The first Polish city to introduce the idea of participatory budgets was Sopot, where in 2011 local inhabitants voted on the allocation of 1 percent of the Sopot city budget. In most cities, this new approach is still applied only to small and narrowly defined policy objectives—in Warsaw, for example, citizens are designing the budget for the central Cultural Center. Citizens’ interest in these projects is moderate, and a turnout of 10 percent is considered acceptable, but it is hoped that with time the idea will become more popular.  The idea of participatory budgets is also supported and promoted by the Ministry of Administration and Digitization.
In 2012 the Parliament began work on changes to the Law on Local Government. New amendments are intended to strengthen lower-level administrative bodies. These include a projected increase in local government’s share of state income from personal income tax. Another significant event affecting local governance in 2012 was a ruling by an administrative court at the province (województwo) level that clarified previously confusing rules for holding local referenda.
With respect to both its institutional framework and day-to-day practice, the Polish judicial system still suffers from a number of weaknesses inherited from the communist era or produced by the irregularities of the transition period. Polish judges and prosecutors are overworked, which leads to delays and hasty decision-making at all stages of the judicial process. They are also underpaid, which exposes them to the temptations of bribery and to undue pressure from elected and appointed state officials. New legislative proposals that seek to narrow the scope of civil liberties frequently emerge and are sometimes enacted successfully. Attempts to reduce or prevent the expansion of existing freedoms are sometimes made in the name of the dominant Catholic orthodoxy.
Article 212 of the penal code is an example of an infringement of the freedom of press (see Independent media), but also a more general violation of the freedom of speech and expression. In 2012, Izabela Lewandowska-Malec, a local councilor from a small town in the south of Poland, wrote a letter to the media where she criticized the mayor of her town. On the basis of the Article 212, she was brought before a criminal court and fined heavily. On 18 September 2012 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Lewandowska-Malec’s letter belonged to the domain of public debate and as such should not have been of interest to a criminal court. This case shows that not only does the Article 212 limit the freedom of press but also the freedom of speech and expression in general. The same is true of the so-called blasphemy law (Article 196) under which popstar Dorota Rabczewska was fined in January 2012.
Flaws in Polish law enforcement expose the government not only to the criticism of the public, but also to scrutiny by international institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Polish citizens brought a number of cases against their state at the ECHR in 2012, usually related to violations of Articles 3, 5, and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Cases under Article 3, which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, have often pertained to inhumane conditions in Polish prisons. Article 5 guarantees the right to liberty and security, and forbids unlawful arrest or detention, while Article 6 guarantees the right to a fair and speedy trial. In the case of Wenerski vs. Poland, the ECHR condemned inhumane living conditions (overpopulation) and inadequate medical care in Polish prisons.
The costly collapse of a fraudulent financial services company in summer 2012 highlighted a lack of follow-through on the part of the judicial system. Amber Gold, a provider of quasi-banking services, was founded in the city of Gdańsk in 2009 by a young entrepreneur with several past convictions for fraud. The company promised its customers unusually high interest rates from investments in gold and platinum. The National Financial Audit Committee sent multiple alerts to the relevant authorities, including the State Attorney’s Office and the Anti-Monopoly and Consumer Protection Office, stating that the company had acted according to the logic of a financial pyramid, a type of financial services effectively illegal in Poland. These messages elicited no reaction. Meanwhile, the company extended its activities by establishing an unusually cheap airline, OLT Express, that declared bankruptcy in July 2012, just 3 months after its first flight. Amber Gold itself declared bankruptcy in the summer of 2012, costing their customers approximately 290 million złoty (almost $90 million) in savings. After the collapse, the judicial system was heavily criticized, especially the State Attorney’s Office and the Consumer Protection Office. Amber Gold had not even been penalized for failing to file annual reports required by the Tax Office.
Media used the Amber Gold affair as an opportunity to highlight the extent to which courts are influenced by political and business pressures. One journalist phoned the chairman of the Gdańsk court dealing with the Amber Gold case, introducing himself as an employee at the Prime Minister’s Office. According to the published recordings of the conversation, the judge openly asked the journalist for instructions of how to deal with the Amber Gold case and was ready to make an appointment with the prime minister to discuss the case in person.
Most reports indicate that Polish courts have lost control over their respective domain of interest less because of political pressures (and their apparent willingness to submit to them), but due to understaffing. In June 2012, the National Audit Chamber’s reports revealed that many courts had to hire private law firms to draft rulings.
Poland has a well-developed network of institutions that deal with the problem of corruption. The Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA), established in 2006, has been charged with both coordinative and investigative tasks. The Internal Security Agency (ABW), the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBŚ), and other police units and state prosecutors’ offices also participate in combating corruption. Nevertheless, the level of political corruption in the country is significant and has seen no notable improvement in recent years. Polish politicians continue to treat their positions as an opportunity to enrich themselves and advance private interests making politics a competition for finite resources, rather than a means of public service. This damages the functioning of public institutions and undermines citizens’ confidence in them.
Political corruption scandals emerge quite frequently, usually resulting in dismissals and resignations. Video footage released in July 2012 captured a conversation between a leading member of PO’s junior coalition partner, PSL, and the former head of the governmental Agriculture Market Agency (ARR), a state institution controlled by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The conversation implicated the PSL-dominated ARR in offenses ranging from nepotism to fraudulent use of public funds and mismanagement of the state-owned enterprises it oversees. The revelations led to the almost immediate resignation of the minister of agriculture and rural development, Marek Sawicki, a prominent PSL politician.
When allegations emerged that members of the government had been somehow complicit in the Amber Gold affair, the ruling coalition fueled conspiracy theories by voting against the establishment of a parliamentary investigatory committee to explore the extent of purported relationships between prominent PO politicians and the owner of Amber Gold. Though the allegations of the political opposition were unaccompanied by hard evidence, the PO’s refusal to establish an investigative committee to dispel the rumors was interpreted by government critics as a sign of willful nontransparency. The same critics noted that PO had been consistently willing to support internal investigations when members of PiS had been implicated in previous years.
A few key corruption cases made progress or reached their conclusion in 2012. In April, Tomasz Lipiec was fined and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for accepting bribes when he was minister of sports in 2007. In May, former PO parliamentary deputy Beata Sawicka was sentenced to 3 years in prison for taking a bribe to rig a tender for the purchase of commercially desirable land on the Hel peninsula in 2007. Mariusz Kamiński, the former head of the CBA, and his onetime deputy Maciej Wąsik, were awaiting trial at year’s end for allegedly entrapping politicians from the populist Self-Defense party in a famous 2007 bribery investigation known as the “land affair” (afera gruntowa). The case led indirectly to the collapse of the ruling coalition between PiS, Self-Defense, and the nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR) later that year.
 “PO o wyroku Trybunału Konstytucyjnego: poprawka potrzebna, wrócimy do niej w sejmi” [PO on the Constitutional Tribunal rulin: the amendment is needed, we will go back to it in parlament], WP.pl News, 18 April 2012, http://wiadomosci.wp.pl/kat,1342,title,PO-o-wyroku-Trybunalu-Konstytucyjnego-poprawka-potrzebna-wrocimy-do-niej-w-sejmie,wid,14420773,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=1fe4f&_ticrsn=5.
 Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR), “ABW ma udostępnić dane statystyczne dotyczące kontroli operacyjnej” [Internal Security Agency has to release data concerning operational control], news release, 21 September 2012, http://www.hfhr.pl/abw-ma-udostepnic-dane-statystyczne-dotyczace-kontroli-operacyjnej/.
 Rzecznik Praw Obywatelskich [Ombudsman for Civil Rights], “Wniosek do Trybunału Konstytucyjnego w sprawie Krajowego Systemu Informacji Policji” [Application to the Constitutional Tribunal in the Matter of the National Police Information System], 27 April 2012, http://www.sprawy-generalne.brpo.gov.pl/szczegoly.php?pismo=1641487.
 HFHR, Opinia przyjaciela sądu opracowana przez Helsińską Fundację Praw Człowieka dla Trybunału Konstytucyjnego sygn. K 23/11 [Opinion of a court’s friend prepared by Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights for the Constitutional Tribunal K 23/11], 13 June 2012, http://www.hfhrpol.waw.pl/precedens/images/stories/opinia_srodki_techn_13_06_12.pdf.
 Ewa Siedlecka, “W śledzeniu obywateli Polska jest mistrzem Europy” [In citizens’ surveillance, Poland is the master of Europe], Wyborcza.pl, 2 April 2012, http://wyborcza.pl/1,75478,11463553,W_sledzeniu_obywateli_Polska_jest_mistrzem_Europy.html; Panoptykon Foundation, “Ile razy państwo sięgało po nasze dane telekomunikacyjne w 2011 roku? Publikujemy najnowsze dane” [How many times did the state used the our telecommunication data in 2011? We publish the most recent data], news release, 1 April 2012, http://panoptykon.org/wiadomosc/ile-razy-panstwo-siegalo-po-nasze-dane-telekomunikacyjne-w-2011-roku-publikujemy-najnowsze.
 A delegation of Poland’s political, academic, and military elite had been en route to attend a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in Katyn Forest near Smolensk, Russia.
 In May 2012, only 16 percent of respondents polled expressed a belief that their government had done everything possible to explain the circumstances of the crash. See Center for Public Opinion Research (CBOS), Katastrofa pod Smoleńskiem: kto wierzy w teorię zamachu [The catastrophe at Smolensk: who believes in the assassination theory] (Warsaw: CBOS, 2012), http://cbos.pl/SPISKOM.POL/2012/K_085_12.PDF.
 Golgota Wschodu is an organization whose official mission is the memorialization of victims of the Katyń massacre.
 “Sondaże TNS Polska i CBOS: Platforma spada, PiS odrabia straty” [Polls of TNS Poland and CBOS: PO loses, PiS gains], 8 December 2012, http://opcja.wordpress.com/2012/12/08/sondaze-tns-polska-i-cbos-platforma-spada-pis-odrabia-straty/.
 Adam Mrozowicki, “Retirement age raised despite trade union opposition,” EIROnline, 30 July 2012,http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2012/06/articles/pl1206019i.htm.
 “‘Internauci mają rację’—Tusk zawiesza ratyfikację ACTA” [“Internauts are right”—Tusk suspends ACTA ratification], WP.pl News, 3 February 2012, http://wiadomosci.wp.pl/kat,1342,title,Internauci-maja-racje-Tusk-zawiesza-ratyfikacje-ACTA,wid,14224470,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=1fe09.
 “Kampania na rzecz związków parterskich” [Campaigning for civil partnerships], Onet.pl, 1 June 2012, http://wiadomosci.onet.pl/kraj/kampania-na-rzecz-zwiazkow-partnerskich,1,5149235,wiadomosc.html.
 Jaga Przewłocka, Piotr Adamiak i Aleksandra Zając, Życie codzienne organizacji pozarządowych w Polsce [Everyday life of NGOs in Poland] (Warsaw: Stowarzyszenie Klon/Jawor, 2012), http://civicpedia.ngo.pl/files/civicpedia.pl/public/2012_Klon_ZycieCodzienneNGO.pdf.
 “MAiC pracuje z organizacjami nad przepisami o zbiórkach publicznych” [The Ministry of Administration and Digitization collaborates with associations on the regulations regarding public fundraising], NGO.pl, 5 July 2012, http://wiadomosci.ngo.pl/wiadomosci/785090.html.
 “List otwarty do Pani Ewy Kopacz, Marszałek Sejmu” [An open letter to Miss Ewa Kopacz, the Speaker of the Sejm], Watchdog.org.pl, 12 June 2012, http://watchdog.org.pl/wwwdane/files/list_otwarty___ust_t5zi._o_zgromadzeniach_12.06.pdf; and HFHR, “Kolejny apel w sprawie nowelizacji prawa o zgromadzeniach” [Another plea concerning the changes to the law on public gatherings], news release, 18 July 2012, http://www.hfhr.pl/kolejn-apel-w-sprawie-nowelizacji-prawa-o-zgromadzeniach/.
 Ewa Siedlecka “Jak zakazują nam zgromadzeń” [How they ban us from gathering], Gazeta Wyborcza, 25 July 2012, http://wyborcza.pl/1,75478,12185342,Jak_zakazuja_nam_zgromadzen.html.
 “‘Otwarta Rzeczpospolita’: Chcemy potępienia nienawiści” [“Open Republic”: We want hatred condemned], TVN 24, 13 August 2012, http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-wroclaw,44/otwarta-rzeczpospolita-chcemy-potepienia-nienawisci,270830.html.
 HFHR, “HFPC wystąpiła do ABW w sprawie antysemickich ataków w regionie lubelskim” [HFHR appealed to the ABW regarding anti-Semitic incidents in the Lublin region], news release, 18 June 2012, http://www.hfhr.pl/hfpc-wystapila-d-abw-w-sprawie-antysemickich-atakow-w-regionie-lubelskim/.
 Anna Gmiterek-Zabłocka, “‘Stałem się ofiarą nienawiści, byłem w szoku. A prokuratorzy i policjanci byli kompletnie nieprzygotowani.’ Będą szkolenia” [“I was a victim of hatred, I was in shock. And the prosecutors and police were completely unprepared.” There will be training.], Gazeta.pl (Lublin edition), 5 September 2012, http://lublin.gazeta.pl/lublin/1,48724,12429607,_Stalem_sie_ofiara_nienawisci__bylem_w_szoku__A_prokuratorzy.html.
 “O głupich dziewczynkach i głodnych wiedzy chłopcach – stereotypy w szkolnych podręcznikach” [On stupid girls and knowledge hungry boys—stereotypes in school textbooks], Grupa Ponton, October 2012, http://ponton.natemat.pl/37293,o-glupich-dziewczynkach-i-glodnych-wiedzy-chlopcach-stereotypy-w-szkolnych-podrecznikach.
 HFHR, “Światowy Dzień Uchodźcy—organizacje alarmują o trudnej sytuacji dzieci cudzoziemców w Polsce” [World Refugee Day—associations sound the alarm on the difficult situation of foreigners’ children in Poland], news release, 20 June 2012, http://www.hfhr.pl/swiatowy-dzien-uchodzcy-organizacje-alarmuja-o-trudnej-sytuacji-dzieci-cudzoziemcow-w-polsce.
 “Protesty przeciw ACTA w polskich miastach” [Protests against the ACTA in Polish cities], Interia.pl, 25 January 2012, http://fakty.interia.pl/raport/internauci-przeciwko-acta/news/protesty-przeciw-acta-w-polskich-miastach,1751282,7906.
 “Robert Frycz, twórca strony antykomo.pl skazany ‘Najpewniej odwołamy się’” [Robert Frycz, the author of the antykomor.pl website sentenced: “We will certainly appeal”], Gazeta.pl, 14 September 2012, http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/1,114883,12485832,Robert_Frycz__tworca_strony_Antykomor_pl_skazany_.html.
 “OBWE krytykuje polski wyrok za “Antykomora” [OSCE criticizing the Polish sentence for “Antykomor”], TVN 24, 18 September 2012, http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/obwe-krytykuje-polski-wyrok-za-antykomora,277515.html.
 “Twórca blogu antykomor.pl: Nie chcę łaski prezydenta, przenoszę serwis do USA” [The author of the antykomor.pl blog: I don’t want the president’s mercy, I’m moving my website to the United States], Gazeta Wyborcza, 15 September 2012, http://m.wyborcza.pl/wyborcza/1,105226,12492081,Tworca_blogu_Antykomor_pl__Nie_chce_laski_prezydenta_.html.
 “Stowarzyszenie Wolnego Słowa o skazaniu Roberta Frycza za Antykomora: wyrok oddala nas od standardów zachodniej cywilizaji” [The Association of Free Speech on the sentence on Robert Frycz for Antykomor: the sentence takes us away from the standards of the western civilization], Wpolityce.pl, 18 September 2012, http://wpolityce.pl/wydarzenia/36494-stowarzyszenie-wolnego-slowa-o-skazaniu-roberta-frycza-za-antykomora-wyrok-oddala-nas-od-standardow-zachodniej-cywilizacji.
 “Kolejna wygrana polskich dziennikarzy w Strasburgu” [The next victory of Polish journalists in Strasbourg], Onet.pl, 23 October 2012, http://wiadomosci.onet.pl/swiat/kolejna-wygrana-polskich-dziennikarzy-w-strasburgu,1,5285016,wiadomosc.html.
 “Ojciec Rydzyk nie nada: TV Trwam bez koncesji” [Father Rydzyk will not broadcast: TV Trwam without a licence], Polskie Radio, 5 January 2012, http://www.polskieradio.pl/5/3/Artykul/511874,Ojciec-Rydzyk-nie-nada-TV-Trwam-bez-koncesji.
 “RPO: Odmowa koncesji dla TV Trwam niezgodna z konstytucją” [Ombudsman: Refusal of license for TV Trwam unconstitutional], Polskie Radio, 5 July 2012, http://www.polskieradio.pl/5/3/Artykul/640034,RPO-Odmowa-koncesji-dla-TV-Trwam-niezgodna-z-konstytucja.
 “Odlot Skowrona” [Skowron’s departure], Polityka, 9 October 2012, http://www.polityka.pl/kraj/ludzie/1531151,1,sylwetka-krzysztof-skowronski.read?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rss.
 “List EFJ do Grzegorza Hajdarowicza” [EFJ’s letter to Grzegorz Hajdarowicz], Interia.pl, 13 November 2012, http://img.interia.pl/wiadomosci/nimg/u/c/List_Europejskiej_List_5968316.pdf.
 “Prokurator: urządzenia wykazały trotyl” [Attorney: devices indicated the presence of trotyl], Niezalezna.pl, 5 December 2012, http://niezalezna.pl/35547-prokurator-urzadzenia-wykazaly-trotyl.
 “Wróblewski: Hajdarowicz rozmawiał z Grasiem. Mnie tam nie było” [Wroblewski: Hajdarowicz talked to Gras. I was not there], Dziennik.pl, 8 November 2012, http://wiadomosci.dziennik.pl/media/artykuly/409979,tomasz-wroblewski-byly-redaktor-naczelny-o-spotkaniu-pawla-grasia-z-grzegorzem-hajdarowiczem.html.
 “Lisicki zwolniony z funkcji szefa ‘Uważam Rze.’ Kolejni dziennikarze odchodzą” [Lisicki fired from his post as a ‘Uważam Rze’ Chief Editor. More journalists leave], TokFM.pl, 28 November 2012, http://www.tokfm.pl/Tokfm/1,103085,12941853,Hajdarowicz_zwolnil_Lisickiego_z_funkcji_szefa__Uwazam.html.
 “Uchybienia w gminach na 4,9 mld złotych” [Infringements in local communities amount to 4.9 billion złoty], Ekonomia24.pl, 15 August 2012, http://www.ekonomia24.pl/artykul/706229,924922-Uchybienia-w-gminach-na--4-9-mld-zl.html.
 Izabela Kraj, “Tajne informacje o umowach z prawnikami” [Secret information on contracts with lawyers], Rzeczpospolita, 6 August 2012, http://www.rp.pl/artykul/10,922524-Tajne-informacje-o-umowach-z-prawnikami.html.
 Piotr Aleksandrowicz, “Participatory budgeting or pocket money for voters,” Obserwatorfinansowy.pl, 11 June 2013, http://www.obserwatorfinansowy.pl/tematyka/in-english/participatory-budgeting-or-pocket-money-for-voters/.
 “Budżet partycypacyjny w Sopocie” [Participatory budget in Sopot], 29 December 2012, http://edemokracja-polska.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14:budzet-partycypacyjny-w-sopocie&catid=40&Itemid=128.
 “Współdecydowanie wszystkim się opłaca” [Co-deciding pays for all], Maszglos.pl, 15 October 2012, http://www.maszglos.pl/2012/10/wspoldecydowanie-wszystkim-sie-oplaca/.
 “Sejm za pracami nad projektem zwiększającym udział samorządów w dochodach PIT” [The Sejm to proceed working on the amendment increasing local government’s share of income from PIT], WP.pl, 6 December 2012, http://podatki.wp.pl/kat,1342,title,Sejm-za-pracami-nad-projektem-zwiekszajacym-udzial-samorzadow-w-dochodach-PIT,wid,15158455,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=110f8b&_ticrsn=5.
 HFHR, “Izabela Lewandowska-Malec przeciwko Polsce. ETPCz stwierdza naruszenie prawa do wolności słowa” [Izabela Lewandowska-Malec v. Poland: ECtHR confirms an infringment on free speech], news release, 18 September 2012, http://www.hfhrpol.waw.pl/obserwatorium/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4315:izabela-lewandowska-malec-przeciwko-polsce-etpcz-stwierdza-naruszenie-prawa-do-wolnoci-sowa&catid=41:etpcz&Itemid=53.
 “Mytkowska: Przepis o obrazie uczuć religijnych jest nadużywany” [The law on the defamation of religious beliefs is abused], Gazeta.pl, 29 October 2012, http://wiadomosci.gazeta.pl/wiadomosci/1,114883,12760266,Mytkowska__Przepis_o_obrazie_uczuc_religijnych_jest.html.
 “Wyroki Europejskiego Trybunału Praw Człowieka w sprawach wydanych przeciwko Polsce w dniu 24 lipca 2012 roku” [ECtHR verdicts in cases against Poland ruled on 24 July 2012], Public Information Bulletin, 6 August 2012, http://bip.ms.gov.pl/pl/prawa-czlowieka/europejski-trybunal-praw-czlowieka/aktualnosci/news,4184,wyroki-europejskiego-trybunalu-praw-czlowieka-w.html.
 “Raport specjalny: Afera Amber Gold” [Special report: Amber Gold affair], Wiadomosci.wp.pl, story installments span 2012–2013, http://wiadomosci.wp.pl/kat,133954,title,Afera-ws-Amber-Gold,raport.html?ticaid=1f702.
 “Klienci Amber Gold stracili 290 milionów złotych” [Amber Gold customers lost 290 million złoty], Wprost, 7 September 2012, http://www.wprost.pl/ar/346607/Klienci-Amber-Gold-stracili-290-milionow-zlotych/.
 “Autor prowokacji opisanej w GPC ujawnił się we Wprost” [The author of the entrapment described in GPC revealed himself in Wprost], Rzeczpospolita, 15 September 2012, http://www.rp.pl/artykul/933726.html.
 “Sławomir Jastrzębowski: Polska 2012. Umowy o dzieło na wyroki!” [Slawomir Jastrzebowski: Poland 2012. Contracts on sentences!], Se.pl, 28 June 2012, http://www.se.pl/wydarzenia/opinie/sawomir-jastrzebowski-polska-2012-umowy-o-dzieo-na-wyroki_265778.html.
 “Nagrania z ukrytej kamery pogrążą PSL?” [Will recordings from a hidden camera destroy the PSL?], Fakt.pl, 16 July 2012, http://www.fakt.pl/Kompromitujace-tasmy-PSL,artykuly,169025,1.html.
 “Afera taśmowa pogrążyła ministra. Dymisja Sawickiego” [The tape scandal destroyed the minister. Sawicki’s resignation], Dziennik.pl, 17 July 2012, http://wiadomosci.dziennik.pl/polityka/artykuly/398188,afera-tasmowa-pograzyla-ministra-dymisja-sawickiego.html.
 Among other connections, much was made of the fact that Prime Minister Tusk’s son was an employee of the airline established by the owner of Amber Gold, Marcin Plichta.
 “Nie będzie komisji śledczej. Sejm zdecydował” [There will be no investigatory committee. The Sejm decided], Gazeta Wyborcza, 31 August 2012, http://wyborcza.pl/1,75478,12395871,Nie_bedzie_komisji_sledczej__Sejm_zdecydowal.html.
 Bogdan Wróblewski, “Wyrok w najgłośniejszej aferze polityczno-korupcyjnej IV RP – Sawicka winna,” GazetaWyborcza, 17 May 2012, http://wyborcza.pl/1,75478,11738595,Wyrok_w_najglosniejszej_aferze_polityczno_korupcyjnej.html.
 Andrzej Walaszczyk, “Ruszy proces Kamińskiego,” Nasz Dziennik, 7 December 2012, http://www.naszdziennik.pl/wp/17310,ruszy-proces-kaminskiego.html.