Poland grapples with governments turn to the right

Photo: Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
Wadowice Mayor Mateusz Klinowksi in his office on July 8, 2016.
WADOWICE, Poland — Mateusz Klinowksi is the mayor of this birthplace of Pope John Paul II. He is an atheist, a motorcycle-riding blogger with a punk rock attitude and a corruption watchdog. He campaigns for legalization of marijuana and other drugs.
And Klinowksi is a thorn in the side of Poland's right-wing government.
"My ambition is to get rid of them all, push all the people that are now in power, the entire political class, out of the way," said Klinowski, 38, who has been mayor of his hometown since 2014.
Underneath a black, zip-down hooded sweatshirt he wore a T-shirt with a picture of a sloth in military uniform with an alien-style head. "These could be our leaders," said Klinowksi, pointing to his T-shirt. "The guys in our current government, they should be jailed for what they are doing to Poland and I believe eventually they will be. My rage against the machine is what brought me into politics," he said.
Poland has been moving in an authoritarian direction since 2015, when its Law and Justice party became the first right-wing governing majority since the fall of communism here in 1989. Like other countries across Europe, Poland has lurched to the right amid a string of problems besetting the continent, including terrorist attacks and a huge influx of refugees.
Since coming to power, President Andrzej Duda has tightened the government's grip on state institutions and companies including the judiciary and media, increased its powers to spy on its citizens, imposed new taxes and fines and supported socially conservative, church-friendly measures such as a proposed near-total ban on abortion in a Catholic country that already has some of Europe's most restrictive female reproductive laws.
"On these kinds of issues, as a Catholic, I follow the teaching of the bishops," Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice party, said recently.
"The government is deeply challenging the way in which the Polish system developed after the collapse of communism," said Tomasz Pietrzykowski, a legal expert at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Before returning to academia, Pietrzykowski held a senior post in the Law and Justice government.
"According to Kaczyński, after 1989 the country went in the wrong direction. He thinks the economic reforms weren't right and oligarchs got too much power. The problem is that it's difficult to define precisely what the government is trying to achieve longer term. It's much better at saying what's wrong right now, and what it wants to change," he said.
President Obama, who met with Duda on Friday in Warsaw, where he also attended a NATO summit, urged Poland's leaders to be careful to "sustain Poland’s democratic institutions." The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, opened an investigation earlier this year into whether changes to the way Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, its top court, rules on legislation amount to a breach of the bloc's democratic standards. Poland says they don't.
For Klinowksi, the stakes are high both professionally and personally.
The day after unseating the longtime Law and Justice candidate for mayor in Wadowice, he was charged by a public prosecutor with not fully declaring a personal loan from a friend that he used to purchase an apartment five years ago. He said the tax authorities told him it wasn't necessary to do so and that the case, now in court with a verdict due in the fall, is politically motivated by government hard-liners who object to his liberal agenda. For example, his attempts to bring refugees to Wadowice have been blocked.

Photo: Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
Zofia and Anna Silkowska at the home they share in Wadowice, Poland, on July 8, 2016.
If Klinowksi loses the case and is jailed or even given a probationary sentence, he will automatically be removed from office. He fears that a bank holding his mortgage may also call in a separate loan on his apartment. He would not be able to pay it.
"I will go Portugal and live in a squat and write a book," he joked.
Neither Ewa Filipiak, the Law and Justice mayor who Klinowksi replaced, and her ally, Prime Minister Beata Szydło, responded to a request for comment. Klinowski suspects both are partly behind the case against him.
Marek Magierowski, a spokesman for President Duda, also declined comment.
Klinowski is not without supporters. Chief among are them are sisters Zofia Silkowska, 66, and Anna Silkiwska, 65. Their father was a close friend of Karol Józef Wojtyła before he became Pope John Paul II and gave Wojtyła shelter after his parents were killed in World War II. After becoming pope, he referred to the sisters as his "favorite nieces."
Later this month, the current pope — Francis — will tour Poland and meet with Duda and members of the church. He is not scheduled to visit Wadowice, but the Silkiwskas are hoping he will. "With this government, we are afraid for the next generation," said Zofia, still in the home Wojtyła last visited in 1978, six months before he became pope.
"We don't want them to have to fight for a better life," she said, before returning to the subject of Klinowski.
"He is an atheist, that's true, but he behaves likes a good Catholic most of the time," she said.

Source http://amp.usatoday.com/story/86890544/


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