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Sławomir Sierakowski

Articles by Sławomir Sierakowski

A Light in the East

September 16, 2020

Although the peaceful protests in Belarus have yet to overturn the results of August’s fraudulent presidential election, they have continued to grow. Here, Sławomir Sierakowski, having recently returned from Minsk, speaks with former European Council President Donald Tusk about what the events in Belarus mean for Europe.

BRUSSELS – After a month of massive peaceful marches, rallies, walkouts, and strikes in response to the fraudulent presidential election of August 9, Belarus remains in a state of political limbo. While the opposition continues to mobilize, Aleksandr Lukashenko, the president for the past 26 years, is clinging to power, exploring his options vis-à-vis Russia, and hoping the demonstrations will

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The Belarusian Kids Are Alright

September 3, 2020

To mark the start of the academic year, Belarusian students have taken to the the streets in solidarity with the growing opposition protest movement. And as has increasingly been the case in recent weeks, authorities’ responses were haphazard and inconsistent, reflecting their fundamental powerlessness.

MINSK – Belarusian university students marked the start of the academic year on September 1 by announcing a strike. They planned to gather in Victory Square and then march to the Ministry of Education, where they would present a petition criticizing the authorities’ actions in the weeks since last month’s fraudulent presidential election. But almost immediately upon reaching the square, they encountered the riot

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Lukashenko the Impotent

September 1, 2020

The Belarusian security services have largely given up on trying to quell the protest movement through violence, and are now pursuing a law-and-order strategy that focuses on controlling symbolic public spaces. But this approach, too, has failed, because it is obvious to everyone that the emperor has no clothes.

MINSK – Things are not going Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s way. Since the fraudulent presidential election on August 9, the security services have been trying to carry out Lukashenko’s order to end the peaceful protests against his regime. In recent days, riot police (OMON) have returned to the streets and resumed arresting protesters, but most detainees are now being fined rather than beaten.

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What Belarus Needs

August 29, 2020

As Belarus’s peaceful protest movement continues to challenge Aleksandr Lukashenko’s dictatorship, pressure is building not just on the regime but also on outside powers. While the world must tread carefully, it also can and should do more than simply cheer Belarus on.

MINSK – On August 25, the anniversary of Belarus’ declaration of independence from the USSR, the country’s peaceful protesters enjoyed a brief respite. Although President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime is not keen on this holiday, even the security forces understood that openly attacking Belarusian citizens on such an occasion would be awkward. Besides, the authorities had already blocked off Independence Square, the main gathering site for protests in

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Lukashenko in His Bunker

August 24, 2020

After two weeks of nationwide protests following a fraudulent election on August 9, Belarus remains in a state of political upheaval and uncertainty. But one thing is clear: while the opposition has continued to gain momentum, President Aleksandr Lukashenko has increasingly lost touch with reality.

MINSK – After weeks of nationwide protests over a fraudulent election on August 9, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko seems to have realized that he has lost popular support for good. His last resort is to radicalize his core base and try to terrorize everyone else into submission.

Belarus’s Revolution of Dignity

PS OnPoint

Sergei Supinsky/AFP via

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Belarus’s Revolution of Dignity

August 21, 2020

Like most revolutions, the mass uprising in Belarus has come as a surprise, even though it was long overdue. Here, Sławomir Sierakowski, a first-hand chronicler of the protests, speaks with former Polish dissident leader Adam Michnik about the historical context and implications of today’s events.

MINSK – Since claiming – preposterously – to have won 80% of the vote in the election on August 9, Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarus’s president for the past 26 years, has been facing a growing protest movement comprising not just opposition supporters but also his own blue-collar base. Writing from Minsk for the past two weeks, Sławomir Sierakowski of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw has tracked the evolution of the

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Europe’s Last Dictator Makes His Last Stand

August 20, 2020

Although it was always predictable, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s threat to unleash a violent crackdown on the country’s expanding protest movement represents an ominous harbinger of what may await the country. But Lukashenko may lose his bet on the loyalty of the security forces.

MINSK – Has this week of massive, mostly peaceful protests against Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko been merely the calm before the storm? Following the fraudulent presidential election on August 9, Lukashenko’s latest statements about the expanding protest movement sound ominous: “There must be no more unrest in Minsk. The people are tired. They want peace and quiet. … The majority is used to living in a quiet

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The Cracks in Belarus’s Regime Are Multiplying

August 17, 2020

The march by between 200,000 and 500,000 people through Minsk is the clearest evidence yet that President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is in deep trouble. With regime insiders now breaking with it, the Belarus opposition is increasingly confident of eventual victory.

MINSK – August 14 marked a symbolic breakthrough in Belarus. Thousands of people gathered at Independence Square in Minsk in front of the National Assembly, including many women and workers – the coalition that saved the opposition in its most difficult moment, when it looked like police violence might succeed in repressing the protest movement. For the first time, the authorities did not intervene, even though this is an area where protests in the wake

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Belarus’s Moment of Truth

August 14, 2020

While the Belarusian security apparatus has stepped up its violence against peaceful protesters, the demonstrations themselves have evolved to maintain the moral high ground. There is no longer any question that President Alexander Lukashenko has lost any remaining shred of legitimacy.

MINSK – The protests that have roiled Belarus since Sunday’s stolen presidential election are evolving, with mass demonstrations giving way to more dispersed mobilizations on the model pioneered in Hong Kong. Because such “liquid” protests arise spontaneously and quickly gather massive numbers of participants, they are much harder for the state to suppress.

Deconstructing Donald

PS OnPoint

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Peaceful Protests and Polish Bullets in Belarus

August 12, 2020

After showing relative restraint on the night of Belarus’s fraudulent presidential election, police and security forces have now started going on the offensive against opposition protestors. And, despite EU sanctions against the regime, they are using ammunition supplied by a Polish company.

MINSK – Monday evening’s peaceful protest in Minsk was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Victory Square, around the Minsk Hero City Obelisk. But police had blocked off the area, so demonstrators followed the opposition’s contingency plan and gathered around the main metro stations instead. At around 10 p.m., the police moved in to suppress the protests, and rumors began circulating that they were escalating the violence of their response.

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The Struggle for Belarus

August 11, 2020

As has long been anticipated, Belarus’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, has promptly declared victory in an election marred, as usual during Lukashenko’s 26-year rule, by widespread fraud and vote rigging. But this time, the opposition is organized, widely supported, and not going home.

MINSK – Belarusian opposition leaders knew beforehand that they would be protesting the falsified result of the presidential election this past weekend, and had already adopted three governing principles. Their demonstrations must be absolutely peaceful, they must be sustained, and they must seek specific objectives, including free elections and the restoration of the country’s democratic constitution.


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Europe Bails Out Its Populists

July 29, 2020

Following grueling negotiations over the European Union’s budget and pandemic response, it is not surprising that much of the attention has focused on an historic agreement that will establish a proto-fiscal policy. Less surprising still is that the rule of law has once again received short shrift.

WARSAW – As expected, the European Parliament has torn into the European Council’s recently agreed budget and pandemic-response package. The €1.8 trillion ($2.1 trillion) price tag and proposed cuts to development funding, including science and research, have predictably met with resistance. But the biggest stumbling block was always going to be the proposal to make EU funding conditional on respect for the rule of law.

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Poland Slouches on

July 15, 2020

After a noxious and underhanded campaign, Poland’s incumbent president, representing the country’s illiberal ruling party, has clinched a narrow re-election victory. That gives the government three more years to dismantle the country’s democracy.

WARSAW – In the second round of Poland’s presidential election, incumbent Andrzej Duda narrowly defeated Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Though he carried just six provinces in eastern Poland, compared to Trzaskowski’s ten, and lost in medium and large cities, Duda’s support in villages and small towns was just enough to push him over the finish line.

Toward a New Fiscal Constitution

PS OnPoint


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The Polish Opposition’s Last Chance

June 4, 2020

After ignoring public-health warnings in an effort to secure its hold on the presidency, Poland’s illiberal ruling party has been forced to backpedal, for now. But if the leading opposition candidate cannot maintain his current momentum in the polls, the country’s authoritarian subjugation will be complete.

WARSAW – Poland’s democratic opposition is approaching its last chance to stop Law and Justice (PiS) party leader Jarosław Kaczyński from consolidating his illiberal populist regime. His puppet, Polish President Andrzej Duda, is up for re-election, and Kaczyński is so keen to clinch a victory that he initially resisted postponing the May 10 election, despite the obvious risk to public health amid the pandemic.

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Populists Love the Pandemic

March 31, 2020

One byproduct of the COVID-19 crisis is that opposition parties are finding it increasingly difficult to hold governments accountable. In Poland, Hungary, and other countries under populist rule, the authorities are exploiting this to the fullest.

WARSAW – Threats to national security invariably limit domestic political disputes. Now that governments have assumed a leading role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, the political opposition in countries under populist rule is quickly being marginalized. In theory, the authorities in these countries could use the crisis to invoke a state of emergency to limit democracy. But even if they don’t go that far, the need for social distancing and other containment measures

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PS Say More: Sławomir Sierakowski

March 31, 2020

This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.

Project Syndicate: Last year, you celebrated the relative victory of opposition forces in Poland’s parliamentary elections, suggesting that if they could prove themselves, they might be able to secure a victory for a common opposition candidate over the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the May presidential election. Is that still likely? How do you think the COVID-19 coronavirus – which Poland’s government quickly took drastic measures to keep in check – will affect the opposition’s chances?Sławomir Sierakowski: The situation in Poland is

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Macron’s Travels in Lilliput

February 7, 2020

During a recent visit to Poland, French President Emmanuel Macron avoided the controversial topic of judicial independence and focused instead on economic and defense cooperation. By responding to this overture with open displays of contempt, Poland’s populist leaders have condemned their country to continued isolation and ridicule.

BERLIN – When French President Emmanuel Macron visited Poland on February 3-4, he touched only briefly on the topic of judicial independence, mentioning Poland’s dispute over that issue with the European Commission, but not with France. Macron, clearly, was attempting to thaw the Franco-Polish relationship and offer Poland a chance to end its isolation within the European Union.

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The Twilight of EU Foreign Policy

January 28, 2020

Following decisions by both Russia and Turkey to involve themselves in Libya’s civil war, Germany and France have responded with their own diplomatic initiatives, and the European Union has been left playing a bit part. But by violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Treaty of Lisbon, EU member states merely weaken themselves.

BERLIN – Reporting on a recent conference in Berlin to discuss the conflict in Libya, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, notes that, “the days when America dominated the Middle East are over.” For more than a decade, the United States has been pulling back, forcing Europe to unfurl its own protective umbrella, either through the European Union or through the foreign

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Europe’s Age of Humiliation

December 18, 2019

The European Union is ending 2019 seemingly helpless and resigned in the face of its biggest challenges. If this stagnation continues, the only question is whether Europe will become a satellite of the United States or of China.

WARSAW – In 2004, the American economist Jeremy Rifkin wrote a bestselling book, The European Dream, in which he proclaimed that the twenty-first century would belong to Europe – and even would depend on it. In Rifkin’s view, a Europe held together by the idea of “unity in diversity” would be the most effective answer to globalization. Europe was supposed to represent a new “global awareness” and “freedom from the slavery of materialism,” which would be “replaced by empathy.”

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Macron Alone

December 3, 2019

Since taking office in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron has cultivated an image as a champion of the European Union at a time of shifting global power balances and resurgent populism. But his latest diplomatic efforts risk alienating Germany and other key EU players.

WARSAW – You can be talented, handsome, rhetorically skilled, and politically brave, and yet suffer for it. In the long run, prudence and restraint are crucial ingredients of successful leadership, and it is precisely these two qualities that, up to now, French President Emmanuel Macron appears to lack.
Democratic Leadership in a Populist Age

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orired/Getty Images

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The Survival of Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe

October 16, 2019

Following parliamentary elections in Poland and local elections in Hungary, populist autocrats in both countries remain in power, where they will continue to undermine democratic institutions. Even so, relative victories for opposition forces in both countries show that the region’s "illiberal democrats" are not unbeatable.

WARSAW – Is populism in Central and Eastern Europe finally losing its momentum? In Poland, opposition parties won the Senate, and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s share of the vote slipped to 43.7%, from 45.5% in European Parliament elections this past May. And in Hungary’s local elections, the opposition retook power in Budapest and won mayoral races in ten other cities.

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The Mainstreaming of Corruption

September 27, 2019

Unethical behavior by populist parties across the West has forced traditional parties to abandon their own moral standards. And the evidence suggests that if mainstream politicians want to try to beat populists at their own corrupt game, their supporters will reward them for it.

WARSAW – As we have seen in recent years, domination by a populist party can lead to the deep polarization of an electorate. But it also erodes the ethical fabric of political life. Unable to defeat populists through the usual methods, traditional parties have begun to emulate their opponents, leaving voters with no alternative but to embrace cynicism.
The Constitution Won’t Save American Democracy

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Inside the Hong Kong Protests

August 21, 2019

The Communist Party of China would like the mainland Chinese population and the rest of the world to believe that the ongoing, sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong pose a threat of "terrorism." But the truth is that China has only itself to blame for pushing the city’s idealistic youth into the streets once again.

HONG KONG – Whether it happens now or in 28 years, when the “one country, two systems” framework is set to expire, millions of people in Hong Kong want to stave off the inevitable: the city’s forced integration into mainland China. And yet there are deep divisions within Hong Kong about how to prevent that outcome. On one side are those, like Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, who

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How Europe’s Populists Lost the EU Game of Thrones

July 29, 2019

In the European Union’s leadership negotiations this month, populist governments failed not only to act as spoilers, but also to secure any concessions at all. They now have every reason to worry that they will be held accountable for their routine violations of the rule of law when EU funds are disbursed.

WARSAW – The conventional wisdom about European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s confirmation by the European Parliament this month is that Central and Eastern European populists pushed her over the line. That is wrong. Had such parties actually backed her, von der Leyen’s margin of victory would have been much larger, considering the support she had from the center-right European

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The Age of Cynical Voters

July 17, 2019

Voters who support populist parties and leaders are making political choices that they know to be risky because they feel as though they have nothing to lose. As behavioral economists would predict, people become less risk-averse when the perceived choice is between “bad” and “worse.”

WARSAW – We all know that politicians are cunning and cynical, but could the same now be said for the electorate?
Asia’s Scary Movie

Getty Images

Philanthropy vs. Democracy

PS OnPoint

Michael Orso/Getty Images


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Teflon Populism

June 19, 2019

Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s populist Law and Justice party has chalked up repeated scandals and proven to be utterly unworthy of the public’s trust. Yet, by disbursing handouts to key constituencies, debasing the country’s public discourse, and co-opting the prosecutor’s office, it has escaped accountability.

WARSAW – Populist rule is invariably associated with corruption, nepotism, and incompetence. Why, then, do populists appear immune to scandal? Revelations that would have shocked electorates just a few years ago leave nary a mark on populist leaders and government ministers. And, sometimes, what doesn’t kill them even seems to make them stronger.

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Can Donald Tusk Go Home Again?

May 16, 2019

After the European Parliament elections this month, Poles will begin preparing for their own parliamentary election in October, followed by a presidential election next spring. For the Polish opposition, much will depend on whether two leaders with a long personal and political history can come together again for the sake of the country.

WARSAW – Donald Tusk’s term as president of the European Council will end on 30 November, which is perfect timing for the Polish opposition. After the parliamentary election in late October, Poland will hold its presidential election in April 2020, and opposition voters already see Tusk as the only viable candidate.
The Economy We Need

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The Rorschach Test of Notre Dame

May 2, 2019

Although the Notre Dame fire in Paris provoked universal shock and grief, its meaning has been refracted through radically different lenses. Whereas the French have focused on issues of distributive justice, Poles have locked horns in another battle in the culture war that has defined the country’s post-Cold War history.

WARSAW – Following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, a group of young Polish activists and artists donned T-shirts that read: “I did not cry for the Pope.” At a time of seemingly obligatory national mourning, it was the kind of provocative act that can only happen in a free, pluralistic society. In a country as staunchly Catholic as Poland, the meme immediately caused a scandal. Yet because it

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How to Beat a Populist

April 2, 2019

The progressive reformer Zuzana Čaputová’s victory in Slovakia’s presidential election suggests that populists’ biggest strength is a weak opposition. If her winning formula is adopted elsewhere, populist forces’ recent gains in Western democracies could be reversed.

WARSAW – There have never been more populist governments in place than today. Until now, populists have not been voted out of power in any Western country. Even though the president of Slovakia has only symbolic power, anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Čaputová’s landslide victory over a populist candidate this weekend could signal a change in populists’ ability to make the political weather in Europe. At the same time, the apparent victory of TV comedian and

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The Sikorski Doctrine

February 19, 2019

After almost four years of rule by the Law and Justice party, with its fantastical notions of national honor, Poland has become increasingly isolated. But a new book by the country’s longest-serving foreign minister since 1989 shows how Poland once played a significant role beyond its borders – and could do so again.

WARSAW – Radosław Sikorski served as Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs for seven years, longer than anyone else since the transition from communism 30 years ago. During his tenure, Sikorski faced many serious challenges, from the 2010 plane crash at Smolensk that killed then-Polish President Lech Kaczyński to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014. Now, he has published a new book,

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