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With democracy under fire, Poles take to the streets

July 21, 2017 aurorax 0

Tens of thousands protested the country’s increasingly authoritarian government, two weeks after Trump’s visit.

Opposition supporters protest in front of the presidential palace, urging President Andrzej Duda to reject a bill voted by lawmakers on court control, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, July 20, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Just two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump visited Poland and praised the nation as a beacon of freedom, mass protests are sweeping the country. Around 50,000 people took to the streets of Warsaw alone as demonstrators across Poland marched on Thursday to protest harsh crackdowns by the country’s increasingly authoritarian government.

In an increasingly bold show of power, the reigning Law and Justice party (PiS) has moved to impose tight restrictions on Poland’s judiciary, limiting the power of the Supreme Court. Legislation adopted by the PiS-controlled Sejm — Poland’s lower house of parliament — would force justices into retirement, exempting those chosen by the justice minister. The PiS-controlled Senate and President Andrzej Duda are both likely to approve the proposal, which is only the latest in an almost two-year long battle targeting the judiciary.

Left with few options, protesters have swarmed the streets of cities across the country. Waving flags and holding candles, Poles called for “Free courts!” while thousands begged the PiS-aligned Duda to reject the overstep. Many told reporters they were there to defend democracy, and that recent moves by PiS brought back harrowing memories of Poland’s time under communist rule.

“In the 1980s I fought for a democratic country, and that’s why I’m here again,” Maria Wojnicka, a 57-year-old teacher, told Politico EU. “This is like a horror movie. Even six months ago I didn’t think anything like this was possible. Now I’m afraid that Poland will again be a totalitarian country.”

Huge crowds demonstrating across Poland last night against the government’s attacks on the independence of the Supreme Court.

 — @ronanburtenshaw

🔴 SENSITIVE | Hundreds of thousands of people marching now in #Warsaw #Poland to defend the rule of law. https://t.co/ShEGwricF0

 — @thevocaleurope

The protests came shortly after harsh threats from the European Union. Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European Commission, warned Warsaw on Wednesday that the European Union was growing “very close” to invoking Article 7, an unprecedented move that would strip the country of voting rights in the council of ministers. European Council President Donald Tusk, who previously served as prime minister of Poland, also issued a stern warning to the country.

“It has been a long time since Poland was in the centre of attention so much, and even longer since this attention was so negative,” Tusk said in a statement. “We can stop this dangerous tendency, but it will require dialogue, a readiness to engage in talks and swift decisions that are positive for the people of Poland.” He went on to add that “there is very little time left” to save Poland’s democracy.

Since PiS took power in 2015, the European Union has become increasingly critical of Poland. At the time, the party’s election was viewed as a referendum on the policies of the outgoing centrist Civic Platform party, whose numerous scandals and undelivered economic promises were exacerbated by the region’s refugee crisis. A government agreement to take in 7,000 people fleeing crises in the Middle East and elsewhere was deeply unpopular with Poles — helping to usher in PiS, which has refused to take in a single refugee over “security” concerns.

That hardline mentality has driven general government policy since PiS came to power. Under the direction of far-right party head Jarosław Kaczyński, who arguably wields more power than Prime Minister Beata Szydło, Poland has cracked down not only on the judiciary but on the media, public assembly, and a range of other freedoms. Among those are reproductive rights, something the government has found surprisingly challenging to curtail even in devoutly Catholic Poland. Efforts to introduce a near total ban on abortion last fall failed after thousands of protesters, most of them women, marched in opposition to the crackdown. (PiS has still successfully curtailed access to emergency contraception.)

Poland’s increasing creep to the right is in step with several other Eastern European countries, most notably Hungary, which has also seen a wave of anti-refugee sentiment, in addition to crackdowns on both universities and non-governmental organizations with foreign funding. Like Poland, Hungary has also been threatened by the European Union with legal action — making the two nations natural allies against the bulk of the bloc’s members, something Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto made clear on Thursday.

“We stand by Poland, and we call on the European Commission not to overstep its authority,” Szijjarto said in a statement, warning the Commission to avoid behaving “like a political body.”

But Hungary isn’t the only country maintaining warm ties with the Polish government. Thursday’s protests came shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Poland, where he was warmly greeted by the government. At the time, Kaczyński argued that other countries had “envy” for Poland over the visit, which he labeled a “new success” for the nation.

The feeling seemed to be mutual. “We’ve come to your nation to deliver a very important message: America loves Poland and America loves the Polish people,” Trump told a large crowd, many of whom had been bussed in by PiS parliament members.

Still, support from other right-wing leaders has done little to endear PiS policies to many Poles. Polish activist Marta Lempart expressed pride in the protesters marching against the government’s legislative efforts, but said she was pessimistic about the country’s future.

“We lost. We don’t have a Western judicial system, a European judicial system anymore,” Lempart said. “We have an Eastern, back-to-the-communist-times judicial system now.”

Seemingly in an effort to calm unrest, Duda acknowledged the demonstrations. “The judiciary is a very serious issue,” the president said. “It needs to be reformed — but wisely.”

Duda pledged not to sign the legislation in its present form, but he indicated he would sign if minor amendments were made. For many protesters, that’s far from enough, but without outside help, some said it’s unclear what can be done.

“I don’t agree with what’s happening,” 27-year-old Marta Magot told Politico. “We’ll try on our own, but we need help from the European Union.”


With democracy under fire, Poles take to the streets was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Polish President Wrecks ‘Fake News’ CNN with a Single Tweet

July 7, 2017 aurorax 0

I know a post with the Polish President in the headline line sound like the start of a joke, but Andrzej Duda is actually the one laughing. But first, a tale of two tweets. Here’s the shot: Say it with me: Fake news isn’t news you don’t like — Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) July 5, 2017 […]

The Trump Doctrine: The West is Best

July 7, 2017 aurorax 0

“We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers. We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honor God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.”

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Trump attacks media abroad, could inspire international crackdown on free press

July 6, 2017 aurorax 0

The comments are a “spiritual alignment” with autocrats around the world.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Krasinski Square, back dropped by the monument commemorating the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, July 6, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

President Donald Trump attacked the the American media Thursday morning at joint press conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda, a move that some press freedom experts say could empower autocrats abroad to take anti-press steps against journalists in their own countries.

Trump singled out CNN during his remarks Thursday. The network has been a frequent target of the president’s “fake news” attacks after they retracted a story that tied a member of the Trump transition team to an investigation related to Russia. The three journalists who worked on the story resigned.

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted a video of himself attacking someone in a wrestling ring whose head was replaced with a CNN logo. On Wednesday, CNN’s K-File, led by reporter Andrew Kaczynski, published a story about the identity of the user who originally created the video, who goes by the screenname “HansAssholeSolo,” but withheld the user’s real name because he is a private citizen who issued an extensive apology.

But in the article, CNN reserved “the right to publish his identity should any of that change.” The warning attracted a firestorm of controversy, and Kaczynski is facing an onslaught of harassment.

David Martosko, The Daily Mail’s US political editor who was once dubbed Trump’s “de facto comms director” by The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson, asked Trump about the ongoing controversy Thursday morning.

“I think what CNN did was unfortunate for them. As you know now, they have some pretty serious problems. They have been fake news for a long time. They’ve been covering me in a very dishonest way,” Trump said. “NBC is equally as bad, despite the fact that I made them a fortune with ‘The Apprentice,’ but they forgot that.”

“[W]hat we want to see in the United States is honest, beautiful, free, but honest press. We want to see fair press, I think it’s a very important thing,” Trump said. “We don’t want fake news. And by the way, not everybody is fake news, but we don’t want fake news. Bad thing. Very bad for our country.”

But Trump’s definition of “fair” seems to simply mean “fawning,” while “fake news” has come to mean any outlet that covers Trump skeptically.

In his pursuit of “fair” coverage, Trump has often manipulated the media, taking questions from friendly reporters like Martosko, who was allowed three questions at Wednesday’s press conference, while NBC’s Hallie Jackson was cut off after two.

The White House has also introduced Skype questions during the White House press briefings, saying reporters from outside the beltway should have a chance to ask questions, but as of Wednesday, 72 percent of the Skype questions taken have been from states that voted for Trump in 2016.

Trump’s attacks on the “fake news media” Thursday were not unusual (he has called the mainstream media the “enemy of the American people”), but bashing the American media during a press conference in Poland has incited fears that Trump might inspire autocrats and dictators around the world.

“A trashing of the American press corps and Intel community in Eastern Europe of all places. Could Putin have asked for anything more?” NBC’s Chuck Todd tweeted. (Asked if Todd wanted to expand on his thoughts, an NBC spokesperson said, “Chuck’s tweet speaks for itself.”)

A trashing of the American press corps and Intel community in Eastern Europe of all places. Could Putin have asked for anything more?

 — @chucktodd

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, echoed those comments in another tweet Thursday morning, writing, “Potus disparaging abroad of US media dilutes respect for American democracy & gives license to autocrats to crack down on their own media.”

Potus disparaging abroad of US media dilutes respect for American democracy & gives license to autocrats to crack down on their own media

 — @RichardHaass

By bashing the American media on an international trip to Eastern Europe, Trump was making a “declaration of spiritual alignment, a kind of welcome to an inner circle,” Todd Gitlin, chair of the Ph.D. program at the Columbia University School of Journalism, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

“He’s either joining or aspiring to preside over a sort of [band of] international of illiberals,” Gitlin said.

Some of those illiberals, Gitlin said, are purportedly democratic, like Polish President Andrzej Duda, who Trump joined Thursday morning, and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, while others, like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, don’t even bother with meaningful elections.

“Poland is a chilling case, because the regime came to power by dominating the airwaves,” Gitlin said. “[Trump] opens up the can of worms and declares in no uncertain terms that what he admires about Poland is … ruling through propaganda.”

“It’s definitely sinister,” Gitlin said.

Trump’s arguments about the news media Thursday were similar to many made by Erdoğan in an interview with German outlet ZEIT released Wednesday.

“The German media is pursuing a campaign of denigration against us,” Erdoğan said in the interview. “I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘independent media’ anywhere in the world. At some level, they are all — whether print or broadcast media — dependent, either ideologically, or they are pursuing their own interests.”

Erdoğan has jailed more journalists than any other world leader.

While Trump’s comments about the media on the international stage may empower autocrats around the world to crack down on the free press, Bill Reader, an associate professor of journalism at Ohio University said there may be a positive reaction at the other end of the political spectrum.

“When you say are Trump’s anti-press statements going to embolden despots and autocrats, the answer is yes, of course, because that’s what they like,” Reader said. “But I think it’s also going to create a lot of opposition.”

That is perhaps the silver lining, as far as Trump’s anti-press rhetoric goes.

“It might make his opponents even more in favor of a free press,” Reader said, pointing to European leaders in particular who he said might want to roll back laws restricting free speech and free press in their countries. “The more he attacks the freedom of press, the freedom of expression… it’s going to embolden those people [who support a free press] much more.”


Trump attacks media abroad, could inspire international crackdown on free press was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

No Picture

Jewish leaders are calling Trump out for skipping a Warsaw Ghetto memorial

July 6, 2017 aurorax 0

“We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.”

A man stands at the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes memorial. CREDIT: AP/Alik Keplicz

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump was criticized for spending only fifteen minutes in Israel’s Holocaust memorial. But that’s far more time than he gave to another memorial for the Third Reich’s Jewish victims this week.

On Thursday, a breaking news report from Haaretz revealed that Trump would not be stopping at the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes memorial during his two-day trip to Poland. The memorial commemorates the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, the 750 Jewish residents of the Warsaw ghetto who took up arms to resist Nazi troops that had arrived to deport the entire population of the ghetto to concentration camps.

Jewish community leaders in Poland have criticized Trump’s decision not to visit the monument. A statement cosigned by the President of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, the President of the Union of the Jewish Communities in Poland, and Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, released on Thursday, condemning the snub.

“We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the Monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition. We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people,” said the statement. It also notes that every U.S. president since 1989 has made a point of visiting the memorial.

Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, did visit the monument and laid a wreath at its base with Schudrich. She called the experience “deeply moving” in an Instagram post, and failed to mention her father’s slight. Schudrich said that her visit was “very, very important,” but reiterated that her father’s snub was “sad.”

https://medium.com/media/66e42015663c81858b104ba3a33bde5d/href

Meanwhile, instead of visiting the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument, Trump gave a speech at the nearby Warsaw Uprising Monument, which commemorates Polish resistance fighters who rebelled against the Nazis in 1944, rather than the Jewish resistance fighters of the ghetto.

Trump’s decision to skip the Ghetto Uprising monument reflects ongoing problems with anti-Semitism in his administration. The Trump administration has refused to condemn anti-Semitic hate crimes, engaged in Holocaust denial, and let a State Department office to monitor anti-Semitism around the world go unstaffed.

Haaretz also noted in its report that Trump’s speech “seemed to embrace the Polish right wing narrative according to which the Poles were merely victims of the Nazis and did not play a proactive role in the slaughter of Jews.”

To make matters worse, he also mentioned the ghetto uprising alongside the ghetto itself in a list of “evils beyond description” endured by “the Polish people.”

Trump on Hitler and Stalin invading Poland: “That’s trouble. That’s tough.” https://t.co/prE4uOhVnV

 — @BraddJaffy

Annabel Thompson is an intern with ThinkProgress.


Jewish leaders are calling Trump out for skipping a Warsaw Ghetto memorial was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

YES! Donald Trump Blasts CNN, Praises Western Values

July 6, 2017 aurorax 0

Donald Trump was surprisingly quiet yesterday about #CNNBlackmail (see CNN Threatens to “Dox” Anonymous Trump/WWE GIF Creator and Ted Cruz Says CNN’s Threats Against Gif-Maker Maybe Illegal). Maybe he had wifi troubles as he traveled to the G20. But when your enemy is in the midst of hanging themselves, it’s always better to leave them to it. Grab popcorn […]

YES! Donald Trump Blasts CNN, Praises Western Values

July 6, 2017 aurorax 0

Donald Trump was surprisingly quiet yesterday about #CNNBlackmail (see CNN Threatens to “Dox” Anonymous Trump/WWE GIF Creator and Ted Cruz Says CNN’s Threats Against Gif-Maker Maybe Illegal). Maybe he had wifi troubles as he traveled to the G20. But when your enemy is in the midst of hanging themselves, it’s always better to leave them to it. Grab popcorn […]