Posts Tagged ‘Warsaw’

Media Ownership, Education on Agenda for Poland’s Lawmakers

September 12, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s parliament gets back to work on Tuesday following its summer break, launching what is widely expected to be a raucous autumn of political change under the ruling nationalist-conservative Law and Justice party. These are some of the main issues the party has promised to tackle:



After communism collapsed in 1989, publishers and broadcasters from Germany and other Western countries established a dominant role in Poland and media markets elsewhere in Central Europe.

Law and Justice says the number of foreign-owned media constitute a dangerous monopoly that Western European nations would never allow. The party is working on a law that would drastically limit foreign ownership of newspapers, magazines and other news outlets. A “de-concentration” is needed “for the good of Poland and the good of citizens,” party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said.

Among the companies at risk are Swiss-German venture Ringier Axel Springer Media, which owns the widely read tabloid Fakt and the Polish versions of Newsweek and Forbes; German media houses Bauer Media Group, Burda and Verlagsgruppe Passau; and the American company Scripps Networks Interactive, owner of TVN, which produces independent and popular news programming. Scripps itself was recently bought by another U.S. company, Discovery.

Critics fear that Law and Justice — after turning public media into a party propaganda organ — is trying to seize control of private media to silence critical voices.



Law and Justice already achieved a partial overhaul of Poland’s court system, an effort it said was needed to make the courts more efficient and remove “many pathologies” left over from communism. Opponents see a power grab as the changes give the party greater control over the courts.

So far, the party has packed the Constitutional Tribunal with its loyalists in a legally dubious way. It has also given the Justice Minister, who is also the Prosecutor General, the power to name the heads of all the ordinary courts in the country.

Further changes, however, were blocked in July by President Andrzej Duda, who was elected on the Law and Justice ticket in 2015 but has since been at odds with party leaders.

This fall both the parliament and the president are expected to present new versions of the two vetoed bills. One of the key issues at stake is whether the party will also be able to assert its control over the Supreme Court, whose responsibilities involve confirming election results.



Law and Justice is promoting a reorganization of the educational system to instill greater patriotism in young Poles. The Education Ministry says it wants to encourage the values of “fatherland, nation, state,” among others. One proposed change would remove ancient Greek and Roman history from the 4th grade curriculum to focus exclusively on Polish history at that stage.

The multi-year transition also would phase out middle schools and return to a system of eight years of primary school followed by high school. Some teachers and principals fear they will lose their jobs, while critics worry the patriotic curriculum will create a more inward-looking and less tolerant mindset among Polish youth.

The party is still hammering out changes to the high-school curriculum. Many are expected to be contested.



As the party pushes its domestic legislative agenda, it also must manage relationships with other European powers that have become strained in recent months.

The main standoff pits Poland against the European Union. Key areas of dispute are Law and Justice’s judicial changes and approval of large-scale logging in an ancient forest. Poland’s refusal to accept any refugees under an EU-wide resettlement plan also has further inflamed the tension.

Polish leaders also have bickered with French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants to stem the flow of lower-paid workers from other EU countries to France. And the government in Warsaw has threatened to bill Germany in coming months for Nazi’s destruction of Poland during World War II.


Protests in Poland Condemn Controversial Judicial Reforms

July 16, 2017

WARSAW — Thousands rallied in Poland’s largest cities on Sunday against the ruling party’s judicial reforms, which the opposition says would kill the judges’ independence and undermine democracy.

Late on Friday the country’s parliament, where the Law and Justice (PiS) party has a majority, passed a bill giving parliament a greater say in appointing judges, which critics say violates the constitutional separation of powers.

The conservative, eurosceptic PiS has also introduced draft legislation in the past week that would replace all Supreme Court judges except those chosen by the justice minister.

“Shame, shame” chanted protesters gathered in Warsaw under Polish and European Union flags, and calling Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of PiS and the country’s de-factor leader, a “dictator”.

PiS says the party has a democratic mandate to make the judiciary more efficient and accountable to the public. Since winning the 2015 election the party has overhauled the constitutional court and given the Justice Ministry control over the prosecutor general’s office.

Threatening to take Poland to court, the European Union executive has said these measures undermine democratic checks and balances, a charge PiS denies.

On Sunday opposition leaders urged the protesters to remain in front of the parliament until Tuesday when lawmakers are to debate the Supreme Court bill. Parliamentary opposition leaders vowed they would not allow for the debate to take place.

Government opponents protest in front of the parliament building in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, July 16, 2017, to protest the latest changes in legislation that reorganized the judiciary.  Photo: Czarek Sokolowski, AP

The country’s fragmented opposition also promised to be more united against PiS.

“Today we know that a great fight has begun and we know we must be together, we know we must fight against them together,” Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the largest political grouping, the Civic Platform, told the crowd.

Poland’s TVP television, controlled by the state, said the protests and calls to block Tuesday’s debate were “an attempt to organize a coup against a democratically elected power.”

In December Poland saw its biggest political stand-off in years when opposition leaders blocked the parliament’s plenary hall podium ahead of a budget vote, after objecting to plans by PiS to curb media access to parliament.

Protesters on Sunday were cordoned off from the main entrance to the parliament by barricades erected ahead of the demonstrations.

The police estimated that some 4.5 thousand people protested in Warsaw, but the Warsaw city hall said the number was above 10,000. Smaller protests took place in Krakow, Katowice and other Polish cities.

(Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

‘We must protect common values’ says Trump in Warsaw

July 6, 2017

France 24 and Reuters

© Saul Loeb, AFP | US President Donald Trump in front of the Warsaw Uprising Monument on Krasinski Square in Poland on July 6, 2017


Latest update : 2017-07-06

U.S. President Donald Trump described Poland as an exemplary ally in building defences to counter Russian “destabilising behaviour”, while appearing to encourage Polish defiance towards the European Union.

Trump, en route to a potentially fractious G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, urged western NATO allies in Europe to spend more on defence, drawing a comparison with Poland which meets the agreed target of two percent of annual economic output.

The brief visit to Warsaw was billed as an opportunity for him to patch up relations with European allies after a tense alliance summit in May.

Trump said the United States and Poland shared similar values.

“We’ve discussed our mutual commitment to safeguarding the values at the heart of our alliance: freedom, sovereignty and the rule of law,” he said in a joint press conference after meeting Polish President Andrzej Duda.

“We are working with Poland in response to Russia’s actions and destabilizing behaviour. And we are grateful for the example Poland has set … by being one of the few nations that actually meets its (NATO’s) financial obligations.”

The Kremlin said it disagreed with U.S. President Donald Trump’s assessment of Russia’s behaviour as destabilising. Trump is due to meet President Vladimir Putin for the first time on the sidelines of the Hamburg meeting.

Poland and east European allies have expressed deep concern at Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, as well as Russian military activity around its borders. Russia argues that this is a response to Western buildup.

Since winning an election in 2015, Poland’s eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has faced criticism from its western European peers over what some call an authoritarian tilt and its opposition to accepting Muslim migrants.

It shares views with Trump on issues such as migration, climate change and coal mining, and has long said Brussels institutions should give back some power to national governments.

European Union

Later on Thursday, Trump was slated to condemn “the steady creep of government bureaucracy” and praise the sovereignty of nations in a speech at a Warsaw square, according to excerpts released by the White House.

“The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies,” he will say, according to the White House.

Trump did not mention the EU by name in this context but he has been critical of the EU in the past.

“We must work together to counter forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”

The White House had said Trump would use the stopover in Warsaw to showcase his commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which he once called “obsolete”, bemoaning allies’ repeated failure to meet the two percent target.

He had unnerved allies in May, not least those in the east concerned about Russia’s more assertive military posture, by failing to explicitly endorse the principle of collective defence enshrined in the NATO treaty. He made no explicit reference to that article in his comments.

Duda for his part said he believed Trump took Poland’s security seriously.

In Warsaw, Trump was also meeting other central European leaders as well as heads of state from the Balkans and Baltic states, gathered for a so-called Three Seas summit of countries on the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas.

President Trump Poland Speech in Warsaw at Krasinski Square – July 6th, 2017 (Video) — “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.”

July 6, 2017

Available at

Donald Trump says West must show ‘the will to survive’ in face of threats from Russia and North Korea 

President Donald Trump gives speech in Poland
By  James Rothwell and 

Donald Trump has warned that the West must decide if it has the “will to survive” in the face of threats from North Korea and Russia at a speech in Warsaw on Thursday.

“We have to remember that our defence is not just a community of money, it is a community of will,” Mr Trump said.

“As the Polish experience reminds us, defence of the west rests not only on means but the will of people to prevail.

“The fundamental question is whether the West has the will to survive,” he added.

“Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?” If we do not have strong values we will be weak and we will not survive.”

The US and Polish presidents give a joint press conference
The US and Polish presidents give a joint press conference

Europe-US bond is stronger than ever

“The transatlantic bond between the United States and Europe is as strong as ever, and maybe in many ways, even stronger,” said Mr Trump as he extolled the virtues of the Polish people.

In a lengthy speech which recounted Poland’s struggles under Nazi occupation and Communism, Mr Trump said the European country was a powerful “symbol of freedom.”

His remarks came despite a string of spats with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, over her refugee policy and the trade deficit with Germany.

Donald Trump meets Polish President

‘Our enemies are doomed’

“If left unchecked these forces will weaken our will to defend ourselves,” Mr Trump said in reference to threats from Russia and North Korea, which earlier this week test launched an intercontinental-ballistic missile.

“We know these forces are doomed to fail if we want them to fail and we do indeed want them to fail. They are doomed because our alliance is strong and our power is unmatched,” he said.

“Our adversaries are doomed because we will never forget who we are,” added Mr Trump, alluding to the US and the European allies’ joint efforts against Nazism and  later Soviet rule.

US President Donald Trump holds a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart at the Royal Castle in Warsaw
US President Donald Trump holds a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart at the Royal Castle in Warsaw

Get going on spending obligations, Nato allies told

It comes after Mr Trump gave a joint press conference on Thursday morning in which he said it was time for all Nato countries to “get going” on their financial obligations during a speech in Warsaw.

In the same speech he sought to reassure eastern European nations such as Poland by vowing to tackle Russia’s “destabilising” behaviour.

He also said he would confront the threat of North Korea, which test launched an inter-continental ballistic missile as part of its nuclear weapons programme early this week, “very strongly.”

Other countries must also make a stand to North Korea to show there are consequences for “bad behaviour,” he added.

Excerpts of the speech showed Mr Trump also planned to say that “the Polish experience reminds us – the defence of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail,” Trump will say, according to excerpts.

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by Polish President Andrzej Duda
U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by Polish President Andrzej Duda

Russia ‘could have’ interfered with election

Mr Trump admitted that Russia may have interfered in the US election while taking questions from the media.

“I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people in other countries,” he said.

US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Moscow tried to tilt the November presidential election to Mr Trump’s favour, including by hacking into and leaking the emails of senior Democrats.

Moscow has always denied the allegation.

In this June 30, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington
In this June 30, 2017, photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington

Poland: This trip shows our country matters

Donald Trump’s high-stakes trip to Europe, where he faces a prickly G20 meeting and animosity from traditional US allies, kicked off on a comforting note Thursday – in front of a friendly crowd bussed in by his sympathetic Polish hosts.

Air Force One touched down in Warsaw late Wednesday, for what is the US president’s second foreign outing after a European tour in May that exposed fierce mistrust.

“This is the second foreign visit by president Trump and it starts in Poland. This shows we are a country that matters and it strengthens our position in the European Union,” said Polish President Andrzej Duda, who will meet the US leader today.

The US president’s four-day swing starts in Warsaw, where he will deliver a major speech, before moving on to the northern German city of Hamburg for his first G20 summit, where tricky geopolitical currents – from rumbling transatlantic discord to increasingly difficult ties with China – will converge.

Looming large over the entire visit is Pyongyang’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear payload to Alaska.

President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump

Tough-talking Trump had previously vowed North Korea would not be allowed to possess an ICBM, and leaders from rival and allied powers alike will be watching closely to see whether his threats were bluster or will crystallise into action.

After repeatedly urging Beijing to ratchet up the pressure on North Korea, Trump will hold what promises to be a testy meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg to trace the next steps.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” Trump tweeted indignantly on Wednesday.

Air Force One touched down in Warsaw late on Wednesday
Air Force One touched down in Warsaw late on Wednesday

US will sell Patriot missiles to Poland

It came as the US agreed to sell Patriot missile defence systems to Poland in a memorandum signed on Wednesday night, Poland’s Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz said.

“A memorandum was signed tonight that the U.S. government has agreed to sell Poland Patriot missiles in the most modern configuration,” Macierewicz said in a news conference broadcast on public television on Thursday morning.

“I am glad that I can pass on this information on the day of President’s Trump visit to Warsaw,” Macierewicz also said.


Polish, US Leaders to Talk Security and Business

July 5, 2017

WARSAW, Poland — Polish President Andrzej Duda says he and visiting U.S. President Donald Trump will hold talks on “very concrete issues” of security and economic cooperation.

Trump arrives in Warsaw Wednesday night and will hold meetings with Duda and other leaders and deliver a speech on Thursday, before traveling to a G-20 summit in Germany. Poland is hailing the visit as a huge success and confirmation of its European standing.

Duda said Wednesday on TVN24 that his talks with Trump will not be “some general talk about world security” but will tackle concrete issues like energy security for the region still dependent on gas and oil deliveries from Russia.

Duda said the visit will have a “historical character” and Trump’s speech will be “not only for Poland but for the whole world.”


Warsaw court jails lawyer for spying for Moscow

March 20, 2017


© AFP/File | A lawyer has been jailed in Poland for giving Russia information on a new liquefied natural gas terminal at Swinoujscie, whose port is pictured above, on the Baltic coast
WARSAW (AFP) – A Polish-Russian lawyer has been sentenced to four years in prison for spying for Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, a Warsaw court said Monday.The lawyer, a man with dual citizenship identified only as Stanislaw Sz. for legal reasons, pleaded not guilty at the trial held behind closed doors. He can appeal the verdict.

Judge Agnieszka Domanska said the man gave Russia information on Poland’s energy sector, in particular regarding a new liquefied natural gas terminal at Swinoujscie on the Baltic coast, according to the Polish news agency PAP.

He notably got hold of a secret report by the national audit chamber NIK on natural gas contracts and the launch last June of the Swinoujscie terminal, which Poland built to ease its dependence on Russian gas.

Poland currently relies on Russia for about forty percent of its gas, with a third coming from domestic sources and 20 percent from central Asia.

Stanislaw Sz. was arrested in October 2014, at the same time as a Polish officer, Zbigniew J., who was sentenced last year to six years in prison by the Warsaw military court for spying for Russia.

Their cases were related but the two men did not work together, according to Polish media reports.

NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland — NATO alliance meets to formally agree to deploy four battalions with 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and eastern Poland in response to Russian moves

July 8, 2016
Fri Jul 8, 2016 4:01am EDT

People walk outside PGE National Stadium, the venue of the NATO Summit, in Warsaw, Poland July 8, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama urged NATO leaders on Friday to stand firm against a resurgent Russia over its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, saying Britain’s vote to leave the European Union should not weaken the western defense alliance.

In an article published in London’s Financial Times newspaper as he arrived for his last summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation before leaving office in January, Obama said America’s “special relationship” with Britain would survive the referendum vote he had sought to avoid.

“The special relationship between the US and the UK will endure. I have no doubt that the UK will remain one of NATO’s most capable members,” he said, adding that the vote raised significant questions about the future of EU integration.

The 28-nation NATO alliance will formally agree on Friday to deploy four battalions with 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and eastern Poland on a rotating basis to reassure eastern members of its readiness to defend them.

“In Warsaw, we must reaffirm our determination — our duty under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty — to defend every NATO ally,” Obama said, saying the West must help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by keeping sanctions on Moscow until it fully complies with a ceasefire agreement.

“We need to bolster the defense of our allies in central and eastern Europe, strengthen deterrence and boost our resilience against new threats, including cyber attacks.”

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland requested a permanent NATO presence amid fears that Moscow could seek to destabilize their pro-Western governments through cyber attacks, stirring up Russian speakers, hostile broadcasting and even territorial incursions. Critics say the NATO plan is a minimal trip wire that might not deter Russian action.

The Kremlin denies any such intention and says NATO is the aggressor by moving its borders ever closer onto former Soviet territory which it regards as its sphere of influence.

President Vladimir Putin has made several gestures that seem aimed at defusing tension ahead of the summit, even as Moscow highlights its intention to deploy nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between NATO nations.

Putin agreed to a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council next week, the second meeting this year of a consultation body that was put on ice after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. Russia allowed a U.N. resolution authorizing the EU to intercept arms shipments to Libya in the Mediterranean, and Putin talked by telephone with Obama in the run-up to the NATO meeting.

However, a White House spokesman said they reached no agreement on cooperation in fighting Islamic State militants in Syria during that call on Wednesday.


Outgoing British Prime Minister David Cameron, who announced his intention to resign after losing the referendum on EU membership last month, will seek to underline active commitment to Western security at his final NATO summit, to offset likely concerns about Europe’s biggest military spender leaving the EU.

“The backdrop to this summit is the historic decision taken last month to leave the European Union but this summit will be an opportunity for us to demonstrate the enormous contribution that Britain makes to Europe’s and NATO’s security and that we will continue to do so even outside of the EU,” a British government official said.

Ironically, the first agenda item at the summit is the signing of an agreement on deeper military and security cooperation between the EU and NATO. The U.S.-led alliance is expected to announce its support for the EU’s Mediterranean interdiction operation.

NATO is also supporting EU efforts to stem a flood of refugees and migrants from Turkey into Greece in conjunction with an EU-Turkey deal to curb migration in return for benefits for Ankara.

Obama and the other NATO leaders will have a more unscripted discussion of how to deal with Russia over dinner in the same room of the Polish Presidential Palace where the Warsaw Pact was signed in 1955, creating the Soviet-dominated military alliance that was NATO’s adversary during the Cold War.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg sought to temper the beefed-up military deployments and air patrols close to Russia’s borders by stressing the alliance would continue to seek “meaningful and constructive dialogue” with Moscow.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told reporters before leaving Ankara to attend the summit that NATO also needed to adapt to do more to fight a threat from Islamic State militants, accused of last week’s deadly attack on Istanbul airport.

“As we have seen from the terrorist attacks first in Istanbul and then in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, international security is becoming more fragile,” Erdogan said.

“The concept of a security threat is undergoing a serious change. In this process, NATO needs to be more active and has to update itself against the new security threats,” he said.

Host nation Poland sought on the eve of the summit to defuse U.S. and European criticism of its moves to shackle the independent constitutional court by rushing through an amendment to its court law, although critics said it did not address the main concerns. The European Commission is conducting an official investigation into the rule of law in Poland over the issue.

(Additional reporting by Wiktor Szary and Robin Emmott in Warsaw and Elizabeth Piper in Lodon; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Thousands of pro-EU, pro-democracy demonstrators march on Warsaw

May 8, 2016

A massive demonstration has taken place in the Polish capital to show support for the EU. Poland’s conservative government has alienated many on the right and the left, as well as Brussels.

An anti-government rally in Warsaw

Around 240,000 people marched through Warsaw on Saturday, the same day a smaller, pro-government rally took place.

The rally of nearly a quarter of a million people gathered in the Polish capital to express support for both democracy and the EU, as the country’s right-wing government, headed by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), continues to draw criticism for suppressing opposition and alienating Brussels.

Anti-government rally in Warsaw

People march during an anti-government demonstration organized by the main opposition parties in Warsaw

“We are here because we believe in Polish law, Polish freedom and common action in the EU,” ex-President Bronislaw Komorowski told demonstrators.

At the same time, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 nationalists gathered in the city to protest what they saw as the EU’s interference in Polish life.

Hand-picked news

PiS drew strong condemnation earlier this year when its representatives signed into law a bill that allows the government to hand-pick officials in charge of state-run news organizations. Critics – including Reporters Without Borders, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) – have said the measures curtail free speech.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski raised eyebrows across the 28-member bloc when he said that EU criticism of the bill was hypocritical.

“In the past eight years there was no pluralism in the public media [in Poland] and no EU Commissioner deplored it,” he told German newspaper “Bild.”

A giant Polish flag provides a backdrop for demonstrators
A giant Polish flag provides a backdrop for demonstrators

He went on to say that PiS wanted to cure Poland of “some diseases,” insisting the country was on its way to becoming a world of “bikers and vegetarians,” things that “had nothing more to do with traditional Polish values.”

Former presidents speak out

In April, Komorowski and fellow former presidents Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski had a letter published in Polish daily “Gazeta Wyborcza,” arguing that PiS has “no intention of abandoning this path of demolishing the constitutional order” and “paralyzing the work of the Constitutional Tribunal and all of the judicial authorities.”

The three leaders also reiterated their support for both the EU and NATO, saying that under PiS, “we’re on our way to becoming a nation of sorrow.”
blc/jm (dpa, AFP)


BBC News

Opponents of Poland's government march in Warsaw, 7 May 2016.

The protesters back the EU’s criticism of the government. AP

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Warsaw to protest against the Polish government.

The protesters say the governing conservatives run an undemocratic administration that violates European values.

A smaller protest against EU interference was also held.

The Law and Justice party has drawn criticism from the European Commission for its reforms of judicial, surveillance, and media laws.

The government passed legal amendments late last year which change the way the Constitutional Court operates.

The changes require a two-thirds majority of the 15 judges to support a ruling for it to be valid, and also stipulate a quorum of 13 judges for rulings to be valid.

Why is Poland worrying the EU?

Government takes control of state media

Critics have said the changes mean the court is now unable to examine government legislation, and the issue has sparked mass protests in Poland.

The Council of Europe says changes undermine the rule of law, and the European Commission has launched an inquiry into changes to the Constitutional Court and media laws.

Recently approved media laws have placed public radio and TV under a new national media council and have given the treasury minister the right to hire and fire management.

Nationalist and Catholic activists march in a protest against the European Union, 7 May 2016.

Nationalist activists marched in a protest against the European Union. AP

Poland: Anti-Government Protesters Fill The Streets of Warsaw — “Are We Soviets or Europeans?”

May 7, 2016


Tens of thousands of Poles waving national flags staged a huge protest march through Warsaw on Saturday, accusing the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party that took power last year of undermining democracy and putting Poland’s European future at risk.

WARSAW: Tens of thousands of Poles waving national flags staged a huge protest march through Warsaw on Saturday, accusing the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party that took power last year of undermining democracy and putting Poland’s European future at risk.

The throng stretched at least 3 km (2 miles) along a ceremonial boulevard leading past the presidential palace, and Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, a member of the opposition centrist Civic Platform (PO), put the number of demonstrators at 200,000.

Critics say the nationalist-minded administration is curbing democratic checks and balances and driving a wedge between Poland and its allies in the European Union, which it joined in 2004.

They also say the PiS’s euroscepticism could push Poland, a former Soviet satellite, back into the Russian sphere of influence. PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna told the crowd it was the largest demonstration since Poland threw off communist rule in 1989.

Some PiS actions, including attempts to take more direct control of the judiciary and public media, have prompted the EU’s executive Commission to launch a “Rule of Law” procedure, which could result in a suspension of Poland’s voting rights.


The economically left-leaning PiS says it has to strengthen its hold over state institutions to share out the benefits of economic transformation more evenly, and that Poland needs to defend its interests more assertively in the EU.

While anti-government rallies are frequent, the PiS continues to enjoy strong popular support. A recent poll put it at 33 percent, only a few points down from October’s election, and still well ahead of the largest opposition party in parliament, the PO.

Saturday’s march was organised by various pro-European groupings and parliamentary opposition parties, including the PO and the liberal Modern (Nowoczesna) party, led by a former World Bank economist.

Waving Polish white-and-red and EU flags and chanting “we are and will be in Europe”, the protesters demanded the PiS respect EU standards of governance.

“By not respecting European values, PiS is ensuring that we will first find ourselves on the fringes of the European Union, and then outside of it,” Modern party spokeswoman Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz told the protesters.

“Only two trains leave from the historic station at which Poland is standing. One is the European Express. The other is the Trans-Siberian Railway.”

The PiS released a video on Saturday in which party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of late president Lech Kaczynski, said that “today, being in Europe means being in the EU”.

“We want to be a member of the European Union, because we want to have an influence on Europe’s fate. But our position depends above all on our strength. We have to gain a strong position, become a strong, European nation,” Kaczynski said.

(Writing by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Anti-Islamic Refugee Groups Protest in Europe — counter-demonstrators also marched

February 6, 2016

By  February 6,, 2016, 12:30 P.M. E.S.T.

DRESDEN, Germany — Germany’s anti-Islam PEGIDA movement staged rallies in several cities across Europe on Saturday to protest against the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

The movement, whose name stands for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, originated in the eastern German city of Dresden in 2014, with supporters seizing on a surge in asylum seekers to warn that Germany risks being overrun by Muslims.

Police officers detain an activist who was taking part in a demonstration against migrants, which was organized by the anti-Islam group PEGIDA, near the railway station of Calais, France, February 6, 2016.

After almost fizzling out early last year, the movement has regained momentum amid deepening public unease over whether Germany can cope with the 1.1 million migrants who arrived in the country during 2015.

The alleged involvement of migrants in assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve has also spurred PEGIDA, which says it is proof that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming stance to refugees is flawed.

“We must succeed in guarding and controlling Europe’s external borders as well as its internal borders once again,” PEGIDA member Siegfried Daebritz told a crowd on the banks of the River Elbe who chanted “Merkel must go!”

Supporters of the anti-Islam movement Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (PEGIDA) hold posters depicting German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a demonstration in Dresden, Germany, February 6, 2016.

Police in Dresden declined to estimate the number of protesters. German media put the number at up to 8,000, well below the 15,000 originally expected by police.

Hundreds of counter-demonstrators also marched through Dresden under the motto “Solidarity instead of exclusion”, holding up placards saying “No place for Nazis”.

Far-right groups see Europe’s refugee crisis as an opportunity to broadcast their anti-immigrant message. There were 208 rallies in Germany in the last quarter of 2015, up from 95 a year earlier, Interior Ministry data showed.


Protests also took place on Saturday in other cities, including Amsterdam, Prague and the English city of Birmingham.

In Calais, in northern France, more than a dozen people were arrested during a protest that was attended by more than a hundred people despite being banned, local authorities said.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East camp out in Calais, hoping for a chance to make the short trip across the English Channel to Britain.

In Prague, an estimated 2,200 people including both supporters and opponents of Pegida held a series of rival demonstrations around the Czech capital. Police had to intervene in one march when supporters of the migrants came under attack from around 20 people who threw bottles and stones.

An activist against migrants is seen with a French flag as he argues with gendarmes while participating in a protest organized by the anti-Islam group PEGIDA, in Calais, France, February 6, 2016.

Later, around 20 masked assailants threw Molotov cocktails during an attack on a center that collects donations for refugees, forcing the evacuation of the building and injuring one person who was hit by glass, police said.

In Warsaw, hundreds of people waved Polish flags and chanted “England and France are in tears, that’s how tolerance ends”.

“We’re demonstrating against the Islamisation of Europe, we’re demonstrating against immigration, against an invasion,” Robert Winnicki, leader of Poland’s far-right Ruch Narodowy (National Movement), told demonstrators.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have together taken a tough stance on migration and have been largely opposed to taking in significant numbers of refugees.

(Reporting Caroline Copley and Reuters TV; Additional reporting by Wiktor Szary in Warsaw, Petra Vodstrcilova and Michael Kahn in Prague, Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris, Estelle Shirbon in London and Pierre Savary in Calais; Editing by Gareth Jones and Toby Chopra)