We have not yet reached where Hungary is – a country without free media, and even less so Turkey – a country that puts dissidents in jail, mainly due to the fact that we are holding on to Western financial and military support. However, the direction of the road we are on is clear.
On Monday, the president signed the law “State commission for the study of Russian influences on the internal security of the Republic of Poland in 2007-22.” The law has been criticized by lawyers and other experts as openly unconstitutional on many grounds. Its manner of appointment and procedures, the range of cases it investigates, as well as its sanctioning powers may violate basic constitutional principles. The law has been criticized by the Legislative Bureau of the House of Representatives, most of the lawyers speaking in the media, and even the US ambassador, which in theory should be less important, but it shows the importance of the law.
Perhaps a study of Russian influence on Polish politics and public opinion is warranted. However, it is worth seeing how the Americans did it – by appointing a Senate commission made up of representatives of various parties, which for several years examined documents and testimonies of witnesses, finally issuing an extensive report. Polish law provides for the creation of an administrative committee, which is under the full control of the prime minister, can operate secretly, has almost criminal powers, and has very limited judicial review.
Ultimately, even a random journalist who claims Poland’s high inflation came from something other than a pandemic and a Kremlin-induced war may end up under the commission’s scrutiny. And he may be prevented from performing public functions by the commission (which is associated with responsibility for public finances), which, in fact, means eternal stigmatization (“This is the man who was condemned by the commission for checking Russian influence”).
I have no idea and will not write scenarios about what the committee could do. Will it produce interesting conclusions, or will it merely serve as a people’s court condemning inappropriate opponents? It doesn’t really matter at this point. The authorities are sending a clear message to the community: everyone should be afraid if they don’t cooperate. At every level: from politicians, through local government officials, to business and civic activists, as well as the media. Anyone can appear before a special committee.
We are just at the beginning of the road. However, the historical experience and the experience of other countries clearly indicate what is in its later stages. I would like to point out four main components. First, the full control of the executive over the judiciary – either direct (through special commissions with exceptional powers) or indirect. Secondly, the complete subordination of the media to power – both royal and financial (through orders from large state-owned companies), and through intimidation of journalists. Third: Amending the election law to make it impossible to change the government. Fourth, complete control of all the most important businesses in the country. I don’t think we’ll get as far as Turkey, but now we’re moving quickly in one direction.
How does this affect the economy? limited or even none at the moment. We are a country based on state-owned enterprises controlled by the authorities, and foreign companies that comply with the authorities. Small companies operate in an area that politics is unlikely to touch, and medium-sized companies try to stay out of politics. The system is based on the principle that anyone who does not stand in the way of the authorities has complete freedom of action.
Financial investors don’t care either. This has no direct impact on the valuation of the assets they own. A few years ago I met a manager of a large American fund. We were sitting in a café, and people gathered nearby to protest in defense of the Free Courts. I asked him if he thought changes in the judiciary and social strife were an important factor in evaluating Poland. “No, rather not. A typical emerging market,” he replied.
exactly. A typical bull market. We are like this country. But maybe we had other ambitions?