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Sławomir Sierakowski

Articles by Sławomir Sierakowski

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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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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A Murder in Gdańsk

January 17, 2019

The assassination of Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz at a fundraising event for Poland’s most beloved charity culminates years of fear-mongering about the country’s opposition and judiciary by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. And now the PiS has chosen the wrong scapegoat for Adamowicz’s murder.

WARSAW – The murder of Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz has sent Poland into a tailspin. The nature of the crime speaks to the febrile state of Polish politics under the rule of Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images



Adamowicz was everything that the PiS is not.

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The Yellow Vests Are Here to Stay

December 20, 2018

Although the recent attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, has sapped some of the energy from the Yellow Vest protests, the root causes of French voters’ discontent remain. At issue is not the need for reform, but rather the costs – and who should bear them.

WARSAW – The terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, on December 11 came after a month in which the “Yellow Vest” protests in Paris and other cities dominated international headlines. French police have since tracked down and killed the attacker in a shootout, and an old law of politics holds that the French will now rally behind President Emmanuel Macron – at least for the time being.

Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

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Germany Is Still Playing Defense

December 13, 2018

The Christian Democratic Union’s selection of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as its next leader means that Chancellor Angela Merkel is still very much in charge of Germany. That means three more years of cautious restraint in the face of challenges that demand bold action.

BERLIN – An old joke among non-Americans is that they, too, deserve a vote in US presidential elections, given how central that office is to their lives. When Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) met this month to select a new leader, Europeans probably felt the same way.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Veronique de Viguerie/Getty Images


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How Poland Could Return to the EU Fold

November 26, 2018

After three years of watching the ruling Law and Justice party undermine the judiciary and attack EU institutions, Polish voters seem to have had enough of populist rule. With next year’s European Parliament election fast approaching, the European center right should renounce the populists in its ranks once and for all.

WARSAW – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has finally taken steps to comply with a European Court of Justice (ECJ) decree ordering it to reverse some of the judicial “reforms” that took effect in July. Under the offending legislation, the PiS had tried to force out disfavored Supreme Court justices by arbitrarily lowering the retirement age. It also created two new judicial chambers: one to discipline

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The End of Germany’s Two-Party System

October 23, 2018

Ever since Germany’s federal election last September, it has been clear that the country’s once-stable political party system is in peril. Most significantly, collapsing support for the Social Democratic Party means that Germany – along with the rest of Europe – could be heading for a new era of paralysis and instability.

BERLIN – The German Social Democrats’ (SPD) existential crisis can no longer be treated as a typical party crisis. The party captured a mere 9.7% of the vote in regional elections in Bavaria this month, and it is trailing both the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Greens in national opinion polls. With another important regional election fast approaching in Hesse, polls indicate that the SPD will lose

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The Left Will Decide Poland’s Future

September 20, 2018

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party has long been the beneficiary of political infighting among the country’s divided opposition parties. But with important local, national, and European elections approaching, an emerging star on the Polish left could soon mount a credible challenge to the country’s populists.

WARSAW – On October 21, Poland will hold local elections, which will be followed by the European Parliament elections in May 2019, national parliamentary elections next fall, and a presidential election in May 2020. Taken together, these four elections may be the country’s most important votes since 1989.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images


As the European Union’s

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Poland’s Dictatorship of Myth

August 13, 2018

After passing a controversial law proscribing any mention of Polish complicity in crimes committed by the Nazis in World War II, Poland’s populist government is now backpedaling. But as a new amendment shows, history by legislation inevitably abuses the past.

WARSAW – There is no escaping history in Poland. At an abruptly convened session in late June, the Polish Sejm (the lower house of parliament) rushed through an amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, reversing another amendment that had been adopted in January of this year. Effective immediately, attributing blame to Poland for World War II-era Nazi crimes would no longer be punishable by three years in prison.

Sadak souici / Barcroft

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Only Poles Can Save Polish Democracy

July 13, 2018

In recent weeks, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has moved forward with legislation to undermine the country’s independent judiciary and pack it with loyalists. Poles who still support liberal democracy should not hold their breath waiting for the European Union – or Poland’s judges – to step in.

WARSAW – Massive protests in Warsaw have made headlines around the world in recent weeks. Poles are demonstrating against legislation enacted by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that would lower the retirement age of Supreme Court justices, effectively forcing out all judges over the age of 65 and allowing the PiS to pack the court with its own tame justices.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Merkel’s House Divided

June 26, 2018

After years of blocking eurozone reforms at every turn, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suddenly come out in favor of a common budget. But the reason is not that she has seen the economic light; it is that she needs help facing down a domestic political rebellion that could very well topple her government.

BERLIN – Divisions within Germany’s ruling coalition over refugees have started to jeopardize Chancellor Angela Merkel’s control of the government. To put down a rebellion launched by her own interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU), Merkel now must secure agreements with other European Union member states to bring order to Europe’s asylum system. And that, in turn, requires

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Will Defunding Hungary and Poland Backfire?

May 24, 2018

Since 2014, when the European Union last adopted its seven-year budget, the governments of Poland and Hungary have been captured by populists who have little regard for EU values and institutions. But while it stands to reason that the EU is considering a suspension of both governments’ funding, whether it should do so is not straightforward.

BERLIN – Discussions surrounding the European Union’s 2021-2027 budget are intensifying, owing to many European policymakers’ insistence that regional development funds be disbursed only to member states that are in compliance with EU rules. Under the Copenhagen Criteria, all member states are required to uphold the institutions of liberal democracy, the rule of law, respect for human

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Germany’s Populist Temptation

April 19, 2018

After months of difficult coalition talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally managed to establish a new government in early March, only to find that she has a spoiler in her own camp. To shore up his right flank, Christian Social Union leader Horst Seehofer has launched a cold war against Merkel and the German establishment.
BERLIN – Because populism is not an ideology in itself, it can easily appeal to mainstream political parties seeking to shore up flagging electoral support. There are always politicians willing to mimic populist slogans and methods to win over voters, even if doing so divides their own party. This has been proven by Republicans in the United States, Conservatives and Labourites in the United Kingdom, and Les Républicains under the new leadership

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Poland’s Child-Like State

March 21, 2018

The Polish government’s wholesale refusal to admit any guilt or own up to mistakes speaks to a deep-seated immaturity. Recently, when the US secretary of state called President Andrzej Duda to oppose the government’s controversial historical memory law, Duda wouldn’t answer the phone, essentially sticking his fingers in his ears.
WARSAW – According to recent reports, the US Department of State warned Poland’s foreign ministry that it would suspend high-level meetings if the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party enacted a new law making it illegal to insinuate Polish culpability in crimes committed by the Nazis. The PiS government enacted the law anyway.

The Year Ahead 2018

The world’s leading thinkers and

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Understanding Populism in Eastern Europe

February 14, 2018

Eastern European populism differs from that in the West in important ways, owing to the region’s weak liberal tradition, which translates into ineffective checks and balances on government and shallow support for institutions such as freedom of expression and independent courts. Sławomir Sierakowski, the founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement, explains.

**For English subtitles, please click CC on the player below.**

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