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Sławomir Sierakowski



Articles by Sławomir Sierakowski

Hijacking Western Complacency

27 days ago

By hijacking a commercial flight in order to arrest a dissident journalist, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko would appear to have crossed a new red line vis-à-vis the West. And yet, Western governments for years have shown that they are perfectly willing to tolerate KGB-style abuses right under their noses.

WARSAW – Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has once again demonstrated the lengths to which he will go to crack down on his opponents. On May 23, he deployed a MiG-29 fighter jet to force down a commercial flight, which was traveling from Athens to Vilnius, shortly before it left Belarusian airspace. The purpose was to apprehend Roman Protasevich, the former editor-in-chief of the Belarusian opposition

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The Polish Opposition’s Own Goal

May 21, 2021

Just when Poland’s illiberal ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), was in its most precarious political position in years, the country’s opposition parties managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Worse, while the opposition missed an opportunity to make significant gains, PiS could emerge stronger than ever.

WARSAW – Over the past six months, Poland’s government coalition, comprising Law and Justice (PiS) and two tiny parties, had been decaying markedly, creating a golden opportunity for the opposition to oust it. But, instead of forming a united front, the opposition fell to infighting, and Poland’s PiS-led populist government could emerge stronger than ever.

The Big Lie and Its Consequences

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Putin’s Sound and Fury

April 26, 2021

Although Vladimir Putin’s annual state-of-the-union addresses are always occasions for bluster and saber-rattling, this year’s over-the-top display fell into a category of its own. Fortunately, it is now obvious that the Russian president’s words signify nothing.

WARSAW – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent annual address on the state of his country was so ostentatiously threatening as to sound reassuring. Not only did he forbid the West from crossing red lines; he announced that he himself would determine where those lines are. He did not specify whether he would inform anyone else – as if it had always been the Creator, not politicians, marking red lines in the past.

Build Back the State

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Is Russia’s Future Belarus’s Present?

February 9, 2021

The protests in Russia spurred by the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny have drawn comparisons to the popular movement that emerged in Belarus last August after a fraudulent presidential election. But the differences between the two cases are more important than the similarities.

WARSAW – The biggest wave of protests in years has swept Russia, raising hopes that popular pressure will persist and intensify, gradually eroding an autocratic regime, as is happening in neighboring Belarus. But we should be wary of allowing the two countries’ similarities – which include history and language, religion and repression – to obscure profound differences.

Reimagining the Platform Economy

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Has Lukashenko Won?

January 11, 2021

The massive opposition movement that emerged in response to Belarus’s fraudulent presidential election last August has adopted a more subtle approach, which might lead outside observers to conclude that it has surrendered. Nothing could be further from the truth.

WARSAW – Following his fraudulent re-election victory in August 2020, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko spent more than 100 days suppressing the massive peaceful protests that engulfed his country. But don’t read too much into the silence: far from being cowed, Belarusians are constantly adapting their tactics to wrong-foot the regime.

Remove and Ban Trump Now

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

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Poland’s Populist Catch-22

December 10, 2020

The Polish government’s efforts to prevent the European Union from enforcing "rule of law" conditionality on future funding is not just a reflection of its illiberal nature. Rather, the ruling coalition is in the throes of a subtle but all-consuming fight over who will emerge as the future face of Polish populism.

WARSAW – A half-billion people across the European Union have effectively been held hostage by United Poland, a tiny Polish political party that is largely unknown even among the country’s voters. At issue was a principle that 66% of Poles support: EU funding should be made conditional on a recipient country’s respect for the rule of law – a key provision in the EU’s 2021-27 budget and COVID-19 recovery fund.

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Mini-Trumps in the Wilderness

November 12, 2020

After four years of hiding behind Donald Trump while they dismantled their countries’ democratic institutions, populist leaders in Poland and Hungary have suddenly found themselves exposed and out in the cold. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, in particular, should be preparing for an overdue reckoning.

WARSAW – Joe Biden’s election as president of the United States has seriously weakened authoritarian and populist governments around the world. For independent global powers like Russia, Brazil, and Turkey, Donald Trump’s departure need not amount to a complete tragedy. But for the current governments of Poland, Hungary, and Serbia – and perhaps Boris Johnson’s United Kingdom, too – it is a veritable disaster.

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Will Women Defeat Poland’s Illiberal Regime?

November 3, 2020

After weeks of watching massive peaceful demonstrations against neighboring Belarus’s authoritarian regime, Poles have finally taken to the streets to confront their own illiberal government. As in Belarus, Poland’s de facto ruler, Jarosław Kaczyński has overplayed his hand – and women have been the first to smack it away.

WARSAW – Authoritarian political leaders in neighboring Poland and Belarus have tested the limits of public tolerance in recent months. In both countries, they have provoked mass demonstrations. And in both cases, women have been in the front ranks of popular opposition.

One America, Two Nations

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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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.

How

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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

Hagen

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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

PS OnPoint

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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