The Opposition Against an Abortion Ban Contributed to Preserving Polish Democracy

Abortion Ban
Credits: CBC

Poland’s new Justice Minister, Adam Bodnar, shared with me the significant challenge of restoring liberal democracy in the country after an eight-year shift toward authoritarianism.

Drawing a parallel, he posed a hypothetical scenario where Donald Trump had won a second term, emphasizing the potential damage such a prolonged period could inflict on democratic institutions.

Unlike the United States, where the aftermath of Trump’s four-year presidency left a deeply divided nation, Poland underwent a comparable experience of hollowed institutions and the replacement of technocrats and neutral judges with loyalists and ideologues.

Abortion Ban
Opposition Against an Abortion Ban (Credits: Notes From Poland)

Recognizing the urgency to repair the damage, I visited Poland, a rare beacon of hope for liberal values amid a global trend of their erosion.

The Polish electorate, particularly women and young people, rebelled against religious nationalism, advocating for the restoration of their rights.

This echoed the backlash against the recent Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

While witnessing the inspiring resistance in Warsaw, it also became evident that fixing a modern democracy systematically undermined is a complex endeavor.

Poland’s recent shift in administration, led by the centrist Prime Minister Donald Tusk, marked a turning point after the rule of the deeply Catholic and reactionary Law and Justice Party since 2015.

This party, part of the global populist wave alongside Brexit and Trump, had employed various tactics to sway electoral outcomes in its favor.

In the October election, despite concerns about fairness, an exceptional voter turnout of over 74 percent played a pivotal role in overcoming the ruling party’s advantages. Young voters, in particular, defied expectations, turning out at higher rates than their older counterparts.

The victory, often likened to the monumental events of 1989 when the Solidarity movement triumphed over communism, signaled a significant shift in the political landscape.

When I met with Adam Bodnar, a respected legal scholar in his late 40s, Poland’s new administration had been in office for just over a month. The transition marked the end of Law and Justice’s rule, characterized by its deeply conservative stance and populist tactics.

Despite the ruling party’s attempts to delay the transition, the momentum of the electorate prevailed. Daniel Ziblatt, a Harvard professor and co-author of “How Democracies Die,” described Poland as a “good news story” about challenging electoral authoritarianism but also highlighted the limitations of post-authoritarian transitions.

The restoration of liberal democracy in Poland serves as both inspiration and a cautionary tale for other nations facing democratic erosion.

The complexity of addressing systematic undermining and rebuilding institutions underscores the challenges inherent in safeguarding democratic values, a lesson that America may need to confront in the future.

 

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