Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said on May 29 that he will sign into law a controversial bill seeking to investigate how far Russia penetrated the country's security under previous opposition governments.
Duda’s decision has caused a political storm in Poland just a few months before a general election that the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party – of which the president is a staunch ally – will seek to secure a third straight term in office.
The controversial bill could also estrange Poland further from mainstream EU politics as well as from the US at a time when the West is trying to support Ukraine in fighting off Russian aggression.
PiS passed the bill on May 26 after a heated debate in the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament. The bill establishes a commission, which will have the power of barring individuals from receiving security clearance or “performing functions related to spending public funds” for a period of up to 10 years if the commission determines their decisions were influenced by Russia.
Both sanction types would effectively make it impossible to take up any important government post or even run in elections for people handed the measures by the commission.
The commission’s decisions will effectively be final, according to the text of the bill. Although they could be challenged in an administrative court, doing so does not stop their enforceability until a ruling is issued, which could take months, if not years.
The commission will look at alleged instances of Russian influence that might have taken place between 2007 and 2022. The timeframe covers two terms of the centrist government of Civic Platform (PO) headed by Donald Tusk in 2007-2015.
That has had the opposition fear the bill could be an attempt at eliminating Tusk from running in this autumn’s election under trumped-up allegations served up by the commission.
PiS claims that Tusk had allowed Poland to become too dependent on imports of Russian commodities like gas and coal. Via friendly media, the ruling party also says Tusk was too lenient on Russia in the aftermath of the 2010 plane crash that killed then-President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other people in Smolensk.
The commission’s vast powers are in flagrant violation of several constitutional rules, such as separation of powers and the right to a fair trial, experts say.
“In a democratic country, there are law enforcement agencies that establish certain facts, collect evidence and present it to an independent court,” judge Bartlomiej Przymusinski told the news website gazeta.pl.
“This commission … is supposed to replace both the prosecutor and the court at the same time. It will be a farce,” Przymusinski said.
Unfazed, Duda said in an address broadcast on television and in social media that “Russian influence requires clearing out” .
“I have decided to sign the bill. I believe that the parliament will select members of the commission responsibly so that its composition does not raise public opinion’s doubts regarding the commission’s objectivity,” Duda also said.
The opposition vowed to boycott the commission and, in the political storm that ensued, called Duda’s decision a cowardly act that struck at the heart of democratic freedoms in Poland, much in the vein of policies pursued by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"They want to investigate alleged Russian influence based on laws that Moscow would be proud of … Another proof that the best antidote to Russian influence in Poland will be to remove [PiS] from power. Let's do it this autumn," tweeted Rafal Trzaskowski, deputy head of Tusk’s party, the Civic Platform (PO).
"Poland does not have a president. He is just a cowardly stooge of the [PiS] party leader," Marcin Kierwinski, an MP for PO, tweeted, referring to PiS’ chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Tusk himself said last week that he had a “strategy” to handle the commission and those who voted in favour of its creation would “regret doing so very, very much”.