August 14, 2020

Political Attacks on Eastern Europe Watchdogs Compound Threats to Democracy

By Jeff Cirillo

Poland’s embattled commissioner for human rights, Adam Bodnar, marked the end of his term in office yesterday with a warning about the future of Poland’s democracy — and his own institution. Like counterparts across Central and Eastern Europe, known collectively as ombudspersons, Bodnar is an independent government watchdog investigating violations of human rights and the Constitution. This role has made him a target for Poland’s increasingly authoritarian government, part of a pattern threatening institutions that have become a bulwark against democratic backsliding in Europe.

Eroding the power of ombudspersons risks the loss not only of influential advocates for human rights and freedoms, but also of consistent watchdogs of public administration.

Bodnar, who took office under a previous government in September 2015, brought a legal challenge in 2016 against a new anti-terror law pushed through by the new ruling party, a measure that he said violated constitutional rights to privacy and free expression. Retribution was swift. The ruling Law and Justice party exerted intense political pressure, while the Parliament slashed the office’s budget by 20 percent and changed regulations to make it easier to remove the commissioner’s legal immunity. President Andrzej Duda’s narrow – and challenged — re-election victory on July 12 makes it less likely that any successor to Bodnar could be truly independent, as originally intended. Duda began his second term on Aug. 6.

Read the full article in Just Security.

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