Poland obtains a law against “Russian influence” which can curb the opposition

The leader of the opposition, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, will see the Warsaw parliament adopt the law on Friday that could put him in a bind.  Image access point

The leader of the opposition, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, will see the Warsaw parliament adopt the law on Friday that could put him in a bind.Image access point

Duda announced the signing on Monday morning after the law was passed by the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament, on Friday. The legislation creates a commission with broad powers to investigate “Russian influence on the internal security of the Polish republic between 2007 and 2022”.

Those found guilty cannot hold any office involving public funds for ten years. In practice, this means the banning of any position in government. It is not possible to appeal the decisions of the committee.

The commission has significant investigative powers, such as access to classified documents, searches and seizure of evidence. The Sejm, where the current governing coalition of the Law and Justice party (PiS) has the majority, selects the members of the committee. The Polish Prime Minister elects the chairman of the committee.

About the Author
Arnout le Clercq is Central and Eastern Europe correspondent for by Volkskrant. He lives in Warsaw.

The Polish government describes the law as an important tool for “finding the truth”, which should strengthen Polish sovereignty. According to the Polish opposition, it is clear that the law targets Donald Tusk, leader of the largest opposition party, Civic Platform. Tusk served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014.

Russian interests

The law is also known as “Lex Tusk” in Poland. The current government regularly accuses Tusk of promoting Russian interests when he was prime minister. A PiS lawmaker said in November that the law should be used to “bring the pro-Russian Tusk to the state court and put him in jail”. Opposition leader Tusk, who moved to Brussels as EU president after his time as prime minister, has denied the allegations for years.

The fear of Russia is deeply rooted in Poland. In the hands of the PiS, this fear threatens to become a political tool before the important legislative elections in October or November.

Prominent political analyst Piotr Buras writes on Twitter that the law opens the door to a “McCarthy-style witch hunt”, referring to the American politician who hunted suspected communists in the United States in the 1950s.

If the commission of inquiry targets someone, it will lead to a flurry of negative publicity in state media during the election campaign, the opposition warns. And if the current ruling party loses the election, the committee could create obstacles for a new government.

Unconstitutional law according to experts

Legal experts qualify the law as unconstitutional: the commission of inquiry is chosen by the power in place and fulfills the role of both prosecutor and judge. Critics called on the Polish president to veto the law, but Duda decided otherwise.

Duda however sends the law to the Constitutional Court after signing it, which tests the legislation against the Polish constitution. This check will not be used for much. After all, the court has operated as an extension of the Polish government in recent years. Moreover, the tribunal has not met for some time due to a raging dispute between its judges.

In the meantime, the commission of inquiry can get to work. She hopes to complete the first survey in September – a month or two before the election.

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