Ahead of elections in the fall, the Polish government is attracting attention with seemingly incredible projects: Anyone who disturbs a church service faces up to three years in prison. and the Committee to Search for Russian Spies and Exclude Them from Public Life. SRF’s correspondent in Eastern Europe, Sarah Nowotny, who lives in Warsaw, has answers to your most important questions.
Eastern European Correspondent
Sarah Nowotny is SRF’s correspondent in Eastern Europe. She lives in the Polish capital, Warsaw. Nowotny has been working with SRF Radio since 2014. She previously worked on “NZZ am Sonntag” and “Der Bund”.
Church hooligans: why do you need a law?
Young people in particular are turning away from the church in highly Catholic Poland — and fast. If things continue like this, in about six years the majority of young people will no longer be practicing Catholics. Some of these boys still go to church, but they wear rainbow vestments, interrupt masses, cry out for equality, and carry signs that offend believers. This happens often in Poland, most recently a week ago. Older visitors to the trade fair are shocked.
Who still goes to church in Poland?
In Poland a lot of people. For a long time, the church was a place of resistance to communism, and going to church was almost a political act. Even today, even in liberal Warsaw, churches are so packed on Sundays that sometimes the doors are left open so that people from outside can attend.
What is the scheme for those who disturb the fair?
A person who disrupts Mass so badly that it must be interrupted can be imprisoned for up to three years. Someone only bothers them for up to two years. Now one might say: judges do not have to impose such brutal punishments. But the government camp, which wants tougher criminal laws, can task prosecutors and judges to decide in its favour.
Why does the law come now?
Because Poland votes this fall. In a few months, it will be a matter of the Tories staying in power. Closely allied with the Church, they want to impose their vision of Poland in every sphere of life and are irreconcilable with the more liberal opposition. So conservatives are trying to mobilize with amazing laws: Vote for us and you will defend Christianity.
Would such a law actually help the government?
You might bring one of them to the polls—the ones who agree with her anyway, but who wouldn’t have voted. But what is very important is that most of the political projects that seem amazing and make headlines abroad do not leave much in Poland in the end. Whether it is because international pressure is working. Whether it is because Poland has a strong civil society, because people do not tolerate extremism so easily. Because they took to the streets, as well as in court – the government is far from having all courts under its control.
Are there other examples of arousal laws?
Yes, a few weeks ago the Polish government announced measures against Russian spies. A committee full of parliamentarians from the ruling party was supposed to find Russian spies and ban them from public life for years. Now, it is unlikely that there will be any Russian spies in Poland, and many have read the commission as a way to get rid of opposition politicians before the elections. After pressure from Polish civil society, the European Union and the USA, there is not much left of this project either.
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