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.

  • Commentary
    • Inkstick
    • May 4, 2022
    Can Macron Play Nice with Other Europeans?

    To fully realize his ambitions for the bloc during his second term, macron will need to take greater care to forge consensus across eu member states, rather than repeating his...

    By Nicholas Lokker

  • Podcast
    • April 21, 2022
    Macron vs. Le Pen Redux, with Célia Belin and Ben Haddad

    What can we expect from the final round of the French presidential election? The possibility of a Le Pen presidency poses major concerns for the future of the European Union a...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Célia Belin & Benjamin Haddad

  • Commentary
    • Journal of Democracy
    • July 15, 2021
    How Personalist Politics is Changing Democracies

    This rapid increase is alarming: Personalist rule brings with it a host of negative outcomes compared to other types of authoritarian systems....

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Carisa Nietsche, Erica Frantz & Joseph Wright

  • Podcast
    • July 2, 2021
    President Biden’s Trip to Europe, with Jeremy Shapiro and Amy Mackinnon

    What concrete outcomes were achieved during President Joe Biden’s recent trip to Europe? Jeremy Shapiro and Amy Mackinnon join Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend to discus...

    By Jeremy Shapiro, Amy MacKinnon, Andrea Kendall-Taylor & Jim Townsend

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia