Human Rights in Poland

Article published on Feb. 12, 2003
community published
Article published on Feb. 12, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Polands Cold War dream of freedom, respect of human rights and longing for the normality of the Western European life and standards seemed to come true from 1989 onwards. But do Poles know how to use their freedom? Can they respect human rights themselves in their own sovereign state?
Or maybe the old habits and patterns of behaviour still remain alive some 13 years after liberation from the totalitarian soviet oppression?

Poland joined the Council of Europe as early as 1991, the institution which among other activities, protects human rights and freedoms. However, in the recent report of the Councils Court of Human Rights, it is no other country than Poland from which the Court received most complaints: from the total of 31 000, 4 000 came from this country. Next in line were Russians, Turks and French.

But does that mean that human rights in these countries are not being respected, or is it more a sign of people's awareness and the importance they tend to attach to the issue today?

In the case of Poland, the latter seems to be true, although the inefficient and chaotic functioning of the judicial system, that most of the complaints concern, is also often criticised and targeted as a weak point in the reports of the EU Commission concerning Polands preparation for accession. As for the number of rulings: the overall number is 844, and 26 of them concern Polish citizens cases. As a result of such civic activity and awareness, the Polish government was already twenty times accused by the Court of violating the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Recently, Poland also appeared on the Council of Europe's list of countries violating the freedom of media, namely legal and judicial harassment of media. This concerns activities of Resspublika- the Norwegian co- publisher of the Rzeczpospolita daily. Resspublika tried to take over the daily from its Polish publisher Panstwowe Przedsiebiorstwo Wydawnicze-PPW, with the help of economic and tax pressure, police raids and searches.

The daily's take over was presented in the media as a measure undertaken to control this important Polish daily by the left wing government of ex-communist Leszek Miller.

Other countries on the list are : again Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Croatia.

The report talks also of the chaos and problems that surrounded the revision of the bill on television and radio services of which remnants are still present in the media- the so called Rywingate- where bribes and media anti-concentration provisions were at stake.

The author of the report Ms Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa claims that programming of the two public television channels is dominated by the governing coalition: over 15 hours last summer, comparing to almost 3 hours starring the opposition.

Even if the report is a major blow to the Polish political establishment, one may say that luckily the omnipresent in the Western world market-politics-media war and competition was transported into Poland, and not the brutal Russian solutions of solving problems by containing the free media by force.

In the same vain of human rights protection, it may not come as surprise, having in mind strong Catholic lobby in Polish politics, that the government adopted 28/01/03 a declaration concerning morality, culture and protection of human life, that it proposed to attach to the EU accession treaty. As soon as 29/01/03 the text of the declaration was sent to Brussels. With this political document, as a declaration it will not have any legal value, as a result of its formal character as well as the fact it was adopted late, the government of Poland confirms its belief that none of the EU treaties shall hinder Polands capacity to regulate solely matters of moral value and importance, such as, e.g. protection of human life.

In fact, this declaration has more of a symbolic value and it is a way of extending a hand of good will and invitation to cooperate on EU matters to the Catholic Church authorities in Poland, and the population potential it represents. The aim of the left-social-peasant coalition is to win this year's referendum on EU accession, and gaining Church support seems to be the only chance of success.