From Musk and Tusk to Swift: Figures who defined 2023

From Iran to Hollywood, in the domains of space travel, football and tech, 2023 was a year shaped by strong personalities. Some inspired us, most made us reflect, and others occasionally annoyed us. As the year comes to an end, FRANCE 24 has selected some of the personalities leaving a mark on 2023.

  • Narges Mohammadi, fighting for human rights in Iran

Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for her fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all”. 

The journalist plays a key role in Iran’s “Women, Life, Freedom” movement garnering global attention since the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of Iran’s police in September 2022. The movement advocates for the abolition of mandatory hijab laws and the elimination of various forms of discrimination against women in Iran.

Arrested for the first time 22 years ago, Mohammadi has been held in Evin Prison, known for its mistreatment of detainees, since 2021.

From behind bars, where she has spent much of the last two decades on charges like “propaganda”, “rebellion”, and “endangering national security”, she continues her fight against what she terms a “tyrannical and misogynistic religious regime”.

At the Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, her 17-year-old twins living in exile in France since 2015 delivered her speech.

Read moreNarges Mohammadi: Iran’s defiant voice, even behind bars

  • Donald Tusk, bringing Poland back into the fold

After eight years of nationalist rule by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), Poland’s Donald Tusk is back in his country’s top job.

Already having served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014, the committed europhile and former president of the European Council (2014 – 2019) promises to put his country solidly back on democratic rails.

His priorities are clear: to restore the rule of law and rebuild Poland’s credibility within the EU. His coalition also advocates abortion in a country where the practice is only permitted in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life or health of the mother.

However, Tusk will have to contend with Poland’s far right, which still retains meaningful political power despite losing the premiership. 

  • Taylor Swift, shining so brightly

In a world where celebrity can be fleeting, Taylor Swift has never been far from the limelight. From Nashville to New York, the 34-year-old American singer has built a romantic-pop musical empire that has captivated millions of fans, known as “Swifties”, worldwide.

Named the Person of the Year 2023 by Time magazine on December 6, Swift, who started her career more than 15 years ago, boasts a long list of world records. Her albums frequently top the charts in the United States – since she debuted in 2006, 13 of her 14 albums have reached number one in US sales.

In October, Swift released concert film, “The Eras Tour”, which went on to become the highest-grossing concert film of all time, earning $249.9 million worldwide. 

In September, the singer demonstrated her cultural force. After a short message on Instagram encouraging her 272 million followers to register to vote, the website she directed them to – the nonprofit – recorded more than 35,000 registrations in just one day.

Committed to maintaining musical independence, the feminist icon re-recorded the tracks from her first six albums in 2019 to regain control of the rights after her former record label was acquired by music industry magnate Scooter Braun. 

  • Hollywood’s striking writers and actors, fighting and winning

In May 2023, Hollywood ignited. The industry’s writers, followed by actors in July, went on strike. The stakes in the negotiations included both base and residual pay – which actors say has been undercut by inflation and the business model of streaming – and the threat of unregulated use of artificial intelligence (AI) by studios.

The strike – the most significant since 1960 – paralysed film and series production for several months, costing the US economy at least $6 billion.

At the heart of the protest were fears that studios would use AI to generate scripts or clone the voices and images of actors without compensation. The strikers, supported by the public, refused to back down.

They chanted “When we fight, we win”, a slogan that has become the rallying cry for workers across the United States, from the automotive industry to hospitality. Prominent names in cinema join the picket lines, including actress and producer Jessica Chastain and “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston.

In September, the writers reached a salary agreement with the studios which included protections relating to the use of AI. Actors finally returned to sets in November after 118 days off the job.

  • Elon Musk, genius or man-child?

Elon Musk will leave 2023 an even more divisive figure than when he entered it. With a fortune of $250 billion, Musk has grand ambitions to conquer space, roads, and social networks.

Twitter, renamed X in late July after Musk bought the company in October 2022, has had a chaotic year: mass layoffs, a showdown with the EU over misinformation, controversy over certified accounts, and plummeting advertising revenues. Its survival is now an open question after Musk told advertisers who suspended their advertising over his repost of a tweet widely deemed anti-Semitic to “Go f—k yourself”.

Beyond X, Musk’s company SpaceX has been instrumental in the war in Ukraine with its satellite internet product Starlink. It has also made progress on the Starship Rocket, which could revolutionise space transportation. However, the two launches this year didn’t go as planned, raising concerns about the project’s feasibility.

In the workshops of Tesla, his electric car company, an international strike movement that is still gaining momentum has already tarnished his image. 

Finally, his Neuralink project, which aims to develop brain implants to assist paralysed individuals or those with neurological diseases, has also faced criticism. Some experts believe the risks this project poses to are too high.

Whether you love him or hate him, it seems Musk can’t stay out of the headlines. 

  • Jennifer Hermoso, the face of change for Spanish football

Until this summer, Jennifer Hermoso was only known by football enthusiasts. But the wave of support she received after the Women’s World Cup has made her a symbol.

As the Spanish player was being crowned world champion in Sydney, she was unexpectedly kissed on the mouth by Luis Rubiales, then president of the Spanish Football Federation. The image, broadcast live on television, circled the globe and sparked outrage.

A few days later, Hermoso broke her silence and denounced an “impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act”. She filed a complaint against Rubiales, who claimed it was just a consensual “little kiss”.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Official Announcement. August 25th,2023. <a href=”″></a></p>&mdash; Jenn1 Hermos0 (@Jennihermoso) <a href=””>August 25, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Ultimately forced to resign, Rubiales was charged with sexual assault by the courts and suspended for three years from any football-related activity by FIFA. The scandal led to a boycott by Spanish players of the national team for several days until the federation promised “immediate and profound changes”.

  • Mortaza Behboudi, Afghan journalist fighting for press freedom

Most of 2023 unfolded behind bars for Franco-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi. His crime? Simply doing his job. 

It all started on January 7 when he was arrested on charges of espionage in Kabul by the Taliban. During his 9 months in prison, he was regularly tortured and threatened with death.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its support committee, created by his wife Aleksandra Mostovaja, moved heaven and earth to secure his release. Their determination eventually paid off, and he was released on October 18.

Working for French news outlets including France Télévisions, TV5Monde, Libération, and Mediapart, he already wants to return to Afghanistan. “My fight is to give a voice to those who don’t have it,” he told FRANCE 24.

According to the annual round-up compiled by RSF, 45 journalists were killed worldwide in connection with their work (as of 1 December 2023). 

  • Rayyanah Barnawi, first Saudi woman in space

On May 21, Rayyanah Barnawi became the first Saudi woman to travel to the International Space Station. A biomedical science graduate, she dedicated her ten-day mission to the field of cancer stem cell research.

Her journey is an important symbol for Saudi Arabia, where women face restrictions. Barnawi is emblematic of a new generation of highly educated and ambitious Saudi women ready to take on important roles in the historically conservative society.

The journey is also part of the Saudi monarchy’s strategy to renew its international image.

  • Sam Altman, the father of ChatGPT

At 38, Sam Altman is one of the most prominent names in the tech world. He is the CEO of OpenAI, the San Francisco-based AI lab that created ChatGPT – a chatbot with 100 million weekly users now disrupting the technology ecosystem.

On top of being a prolific entrepreneur, Altman officially launched Worldcoin, a new cryptocurrency with an identity verification system using the human iris. Like Elon Musk, with whom he co-founded OpenAI in 2015, his grand ambition and sometimes controversial methods have earned him criticism. Some accuse him of prioritising security over innovation.

In November 2023, he was dismissed by the board of directors of OpenAI, only to be reinstated in his position after most of the company’s employees threatened to leave the group.

Watch moreSam Altman to return as OpenAI CEO after his tumultuous ouster

His activity is not restricted to entrepreneurship. In May, Altman invested $375 million in Helion, a nuclear fusion startup.

  • Barbie, a triumphant return

For better or worse, Barbie has been a icon since she first hit store shelves in 1959. The 29-centimetre doll has had an impact on generations of girls and women: long reviled by feminists, she had an image makeover in 2023.

This summer, Barbie experienced a triumphant return thanks to a film directed by Greta Gerwig starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. Released in July, the film is a critical and commercial success praised for its intelligent script, impeccable performances, and feminist message.

Gerwig created a world where Barbie is a rebellious icon fighting against gender stereotypes, surrounded by strong and independent female characters.

In the process, Gerwig became the first woman to direct a film grossing more than a billion dollars at the box office. The 40-year-old capped off her stellar year by being named jury president at Cannes 2024. 

This article is translated from the original in French. 

Source link

#Musk #Tusk #Swift #Figures #defined

Young voters’ turnout in Poland showed it’s ‘No country for Old Men’

By Tom Junes, Historian, Assistant Professor, Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Despite PiS winning the election, Sunday’s vote produced an electoral victory for the opposition spurred on by younger voters, Tom Junes writes.


It was a remarkable sight in Poland on Sunday: in the middle of the night, hours after the first exit polls in the country’s parliamentary election projected a Pyrrhic victory for Law and Justice (PiS), scores of young people were still queueing at polling stations waiting to vote.

Over the past eight years of PiS rule, Polish society has become increasingly polarised and divisions now run so deep making the idea of political reconciliation no longer seem possible at times.

This year’s election campaign was the ugliest and most vicious of Poland’s post-1989 era. Yet, the effect was such that ultimately a large part of the generally non-voting population got motivated enough to take to the polls.

In Jagodno, a district of Wrocław, the last voters cast their ballots just before 3 am. Indicatively, the results from that district echoed a trend among youth. 

In 2019, PiS came first among voters between 18 and 29 years of age with 26.3% of the vote share. Last Sunday, the ruling party of the past eight years finished last with a mere 14.9% — and, in Jagodno, PiS even failed to clear 6%.

The most astonishing aspect of these elections was the record voter turnout of 74% — ten percentage points higher than the elections in 1989 that brought an end to decades of communist rule. 

And although the total number of eligible voters this year amounted to more than one million less than in the previous elections in 2019, a million and a half more people ended up going out and casting ballots.

Against the backdrop of these elections that were perceived as “free but not fair”, the massive voter mobilisation was a clear win for democracy as such. 

This makes the youth vote, traditionally the least prominent voting group, perhaps even more extraordinary. Turnout among voters from 18 to 29 years reached 68.8%, compared to 46.4% in the previous elections of 2019.

An electoral youthquake

In the months before the elections, amidst an ever more polarising climate, media attention started focusing on the younger generation of voters. 

In particular, this was because surveys showed a stronger polarisation and gender divide factoring into their political preferences with a striking dominance of the far-right Konfederacja on the one hand and the Left on the other hand. 

The youth vote was heralding change to come as most young voters have never known any government beyond the Civic Platform (PO)-PiS duopoly fueled by the persisting Donald Tusk-Jarosław Kaczyński rivalry.

Konfederacja’s rise to double-digit numbers and third place in pre-election surveys propelled it to the status of potential “kingmaker” in what was perceived to herald a further swing to the right in Poland. 

The Lewica or Left’s prominence was in turn seen as a consequence of the PiS-led drive to further criminalise abortion and its assault on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

But on the day of the vote, the pre-election predictions concerning youth turned out to be far off the mark as neither the far right nor the Left came out on top. 

Voter outflow to the Third Way key?

Both parties arguably fared much better among youth than in older age groups, but it was the Tusk-led PO coalition that held a decisive advantage among younger voters, with the Trzecia Droga, or Third Way, coalition also producing a strong showing.

More so, while the Left is seen as part of the winning camp securing its own voter niche, it lost half a million votes compared to the last elections. 

And though Konfederacja appeared as the biggest flop of the night underperforming by even its least ambitious aims, the far right did increase its overall vote tally by some three hundred thousand votes.


In both cases, there was most likely a potential voter outflow to Trzecia Droga. Though frequently portrayed in the media in the weeks running up to the election as at risk of not crossing the threshold, the coalition managed to present itself as a credible alternative to the PO-PiS duopoly for voters who favoured a more moderate or centrist approach than the Lewica or far right were offering.

Perhaps the mass mobilisation in the Tusk-led “Million Hearts March” two weeks before the vote or the fact that Szymon Hołownia, one of the leaders of Trzecia Droga, managed to pull off the best performance in the only TV election debate that took place influenced the outcome. 

However, neither during the debate nor in the campaign as a whole did the political parties and their candidates pay much attention to youth.

Yet, the vote ultimately shows that the younger generation voted overwhelmingly against PiS. And young people did so for a variety of reasons provided in the first place by PiS who managed to antagonise the overall majority of young voters.

An opposition victory where caveats apply

Despite PiS winning the election, Sunday’s vote produced an electoral victory for the opposition spurred on by younger voters. 


Youth has managed to swing elections a few times in Poland’s democratic history. In 2007, young voters helped Tusk and PO beat Kaczyński’s PiS in a snap election, and in 2015, the youth vote came out against the out-of-touch PO establishment propelling PiS to power.

And although the country might now see a political moment reminiscent of 1989 leading to the end of PiS rule, Poland’s democratic history shows that the pendulum can swiftly swing the other way. One should not forget that PiS still has the single largest group of political supporters.

It will thus be important for the opposition to navigate carefully in the coming weeks and months facing probable obstruction and stiff opposition from PiS and the country’s PiS-backed president, Andrzej Duda, while having to keep together a disparate political alliance ranging from PiS-curious conservatives to radical left sympathisers.

Taking a page out of Italy’s book

Over the past eight years, Poland was often compared to Hungary for its illiberal tendencies and democratic backsliding under PiS. But last weekend’s election outcome also shows that Poland is not Hungary. 

Rather, today’s situation is reminiscent of Italy’s in 2006, when a broad but fragile coalition led by former European Commission President Romano Prodi managed to narrowly oust Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing populist government.


The comparison to Italy should serve as a warning since Prodi’s coalition rapidly fell apart and paved the way for Berlusconi’s comeback. 

Tusk, who was the European Council president himself, and like Prodi, twice defeated his country’s inflated right-wing populist opponent, could learn something from his counterpart and seize the opportunity to address young people’s concerns to galvanise his support. 

Unless it wants to founder to the same flavour of infighting spurred on by a lack of vision for the future, Poland’s opposition has a distinct opportunity to listen to the youth’s desires and help transform Poland into a country not ruled by old men.

Tom Junes is a historian and Assistant Professor at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is the author of “Student Politics in Communist Poland: Generations of Consent and Dissent”.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Source link

#Young #voters #turnout #Poland #showed #country #Men

Five critical issues shaping Poland’s upcoming election

With the mood growing increasingly tense, Euronews looks at the main issues – and flashpoints – ahead of the pivotal vote.


Poland’s politicians are making big promises, and opposition supporters have flooded the streets – it can mean only one thing: An election is just around the corner. 

The pivotal vote on 15 October will see the incumbent right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) face off against Donald Tusk’s liberal Civic Coalition, alongside parties from the left and far right. 

Politicians are fighting tooth and claw, but what exactly have been the main issues – and flashpoints – shaping the election so far? 

1. Security

Even before campaigns got underway, security was one of the most important topics in Polish politics, with the country lying on the borders of Belarus and Ukraine. 

PiS leaders have promised to ramp up military spending and build one of the strongest armies in Europe, emphasising the risk of Russia’s war in Ukraine spiling into its territory.

The populist party is “naturally more sensitive” to this issue because its support base sits in the east and south of Poland on the frontier with Belarus and Ukraine, says Wojciech Przybylski, a political analyst at Visegrad Insight. 

But the opposition attaches the same significance to security concerns, he adds.

Other observers take things further, arguing PiS is deliberately over-exaggerating insecurity to influence the vote. 

“They are mostly trying to play on people’s fears,” explains Filip Pazderski, head of the democracy and civil society programme at the Polish Institute of Public Affairs. “The war is helping the ruling party because of this rally behind the flag effect.”

Part of this threat perception is the idea that Poland is being “invaded by strange others”, he continues, referring to the country’s long-running migration crisis with Belarus. 

“They are using pictures of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea or taking clips from riots in France to claim they if Poles vote for the opposition this is what will happen.” 

Anti-migrant and refugee rhetoric has been aired across the political spectrum, with Tusk vowing in a clip posted on social media: “Poles must regain control over this country and its borders”. 

2. The EU (aka: relations with Berlin)

Central to debates in the run-up to elections has been Poland’s ties with the European Union (EU), especially its foremost power Berlin. 

Since taking office in 2015, PiS has veered towards authoritarianism and undermined the rule of law, bringing it into conflict with Brussels. 

Civic Coalition led by Tusk, a former president of the European Council, is firmly pro-European, seeing the EU as the best way of guaranteeing the country’s future security and prosperity. 

He has proposed reversing erosions to the rule of law to release billions in frozen EU funds, a welcome boost for Warsaw’s coffers. 

In contrast, PiS is whipping up anti-German sentiment and striking an isolationist stance, says analyst Przybylski. 

“They are capitalising on the older electorate’s distrust towards Germany… PiS is framing the opposition as agents of Berlin in its supposed big plan to recreate the Second World War in which Germany and Russia attack Poland.” 


“These are ridiculous claims,” he adds. 

Poland’s de facto leader, deputy PM Jarosław Kaczyński, has repeatedly accused Tusk of planning to sell state-owned companies to German investors, calling him a stooge of Berlin. 

3. Ukraine

Issues around Ukraine have played a prominent role in the election campaign.  

As a former satellite state of the Soviet Union, Poland was quick to rally behind Kyiv when Russian tanks steamed across the border in February 2022. 

The country welcomed hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and provided much military and financial support. 


But relations have since soured, with Warsaw saying in September that it would stop sending weapons to Kyiv

Poland’s hard-right – growing in popularity – has tried to inflame hostility towards Ukrainian refugees, while Polish farmers have protested against cheap Ukrainian grain imports flooding the country, helping prompt the policy change.  

“PiS is trying to gain additional votes because they have no certainty of achieving a majority like in previous elections,” Przybylski. “They’re trying to play this [refugee] card that is consistent with their isolationism and nationalism.” 

However, supporters of both the main parties are overwhelmingly in favour of helping Ukraine, he continues. 

Refugees were listed as the least important issue out of 12 social problems in a September poll of Polish voters by IBRiS.


“I think the opposition maintains a good line. They see refugees as a challenge and say they know how to handle it. That this issue that can be sorted out, rather than played,” argues Przybylski.

4. Inflation

As in many European countries, worries about sky-high prices of essentials, like food and energy, have been hotly debated.  

“Inflation is very, very important,” says Pazderski. “It used to be even more important, but inflation has got a bit less recently.” 

“The opposition would use it to attack the current ruling majority, claiming that it’s their fault,” he continues.

PiS have blamed price hikes on external events such as the war in Ukraine and the EU’s green policies, attempting to imply the problem is out of their control, according to the expert. 


Rising prices were named the second most important problem facing Poles in the IBRiS’s September survey. 

Last month Poland’s headline inflation rate slowed to 8.2% year-on-year, below analysts’ expectations of 8.5%, according to a flash estimate by Poland’s state statistics agency GUS. 

It is the first time the figure has fallen below 10% since fighting broke out in Ukraine and is the lowest level since late 2021. 

5. Social policies

While perhaps less prominent than others, social issues have come up on the agenda. 

With an ageing population, pensions have been hotly debated, besides policies around “making babies”, such as state support for families with children, notes Przybylski. 


Poland faces a huge democratic challenge with population growth flatlining since the early 2000s, meanwhile, many PiS policies limiting abortion rights have drawn fierce criticism. 

The conservative party has also promised to expand its hugely popular “500+” child benefit programme, introduced in 2016, with Polish families set to receive a 60% increase in payments from next January. 

Przybylski says the Civic Coalition, a catch-all political alliance, has emphasised policies aimed at improving health. Another idea they have floated is offering direct subsidies to grandparents who want to stay at home and take care of infants. 

“But the main message of the opposition is that they will also cut down the negative emotions and energy that drive so much polarisation and hatred,” adds Pazderski.

Source link

#critical #issues #shaping #Polands #upcoming #election

Are Polish elections taking place on a (grossly) uneven playing field?

By Wojciech Sadurski, Professor, University of Sydney Law School, University of Warsaw

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

The ruling authoritarians have fundamentally subverted democracy, including the electoral process. For the democratic opposition to win, it will almost take a miracle, Wojciech Sadurski writes.


While it is impossible to predict today who will win the parliamentary elections in Poland in a few weeks, one thing is sure: these will not be fair elections. 

Free, perhaps, but not fair. The right-wing populist incumbents have tilted the playing field so that the opposition is denied an equal opportunity in the electoral contest. And it’s not even close.

The elections to be held on 15 October will determine the future of Poland — and, in the process, of the European Union and Europe more broadly — for many years, perhaps decades to come. 

If the incumbent Law and Justice or PiS party is re-elected, the populist-authoritarian regime in Poland since 2015 will enter into a stage of comfortable consolidation. 

After two consecutive parliamentary and presidential elections over the last eight years, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński will be on a safe road to emulate his role model, Viktor Orbán of Hungary.

Can Pis skew the dead heat race to its own advantage?

As Kaczyński and his closest collaborators have made abundantly clear, his party needs a third consecutive mandate in order to complete its “reforms” — read: capture or disable the last remaining traces of pluralism and institutional independence, such as some recalcitrant judges or private media and NGOs critical of the ruling elite. 

Poland will radically loosen ties with the EU, perhaps all the way down to “Polexit”. 

If one wants to see a blueprint for Kaczyński’s program for the third term, today’s Hungary offers a good insight into — in Kaczyński’s own words — the “Budapest in Warsaw”  scenario. It is not a pretty picture.

The election results cannot be foreseen today: it’s too close to call. PiS, together with its likely government coalition partner, the extreme right-wing Konfederacja or Confederation, scores in opinion polls about the same as the three democratic opposition parties combined: the centrist Civic Coalition, the Left, and the centre-right Trzecia Droga or Third Way.

But the democratic opposition’s marginal lead may be easily wiped out by the peculiarities of the electoral system, which penalises fragmented oppositions — as the democrats in Poland, unfortunately, are. 

More importantly, it is likely to be eviscerated by how PiS has skewed the playing field to its advantage, in a big way.

A referendum amid elections?

The main dirty trick is combining parliamentary elections with a “referendum”: a propaganda hoax and a shameless money grab. 

The referendum, held at the same time and in the same locations as the elections, will have four questions — all loaded, and all based on false factual premises. 

For instance, there is a question about accepting thousands of illegal migrants as a result of “the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy”. The other three referendum questions are similarly disingenuous.

None of the questions is asked in good faith, and none seek a popular response about legislation contemplated by either the government or the opposition. 

They are no one’s policies, but the referendum insinuates a stark choice between the government which condemns them and the opposition to which PiS attributes them, falsely. 

In this sense, an intimate connection exists between the electoral campaign and the referendum questions. 

The referendum serves to amplify all the fears that PiS is exploiting in its campaign. It is not distinguishable from that campaign but is part and parcel of it.


Last-minute changes to electoral rules and overburdened diaspora ballot commissions

Yet, here’s the thing: the referendum opens up virtually unlimited campaign finances. PiS has access to greater financial assets than the opposition, having captured all the key state-owned industries. 

But there are some campaign limits, policed by the Election Committee, which apply to elections but not to referenda. 

So, under the disguise of the referendum campaign, virtually unlimited funds will go to the PiS election campaign.

That is not all. In the eleventh hour before the elections, PiS pushed through a change in electoral district rules, creating many new districts in villages and small towns. 

This is nothing short of gerrymandering: the countryside and small towns are the main reservoir of PiS political support. 


At the same time, PiS makes it more difficult for the Polish diaspora, especially in the UK and Western Europe, where the greatest numbers of émigré Poles live, to vote and have their votes counted. 

Ballot commissions in places such as London or Dublin will be overburdened with voters, but under the new rules, the commissions will have to proceed in a more time-consuming way — all members of the commission must look at every single ballot, one at a time — and must complete all their paperwork within 24 hours. 

Simulations prove this will be virtually impossible in some districts, especially with the added effort needed to serve the referendum. 

And yes, you guessed it: the Polish diaspora in the UK and other EU member states have voted predominantly for anti-PiS parties in recent years.

‘No one will give you as much as PiS can promise’

Good old-fashioned pork-barrel policies are in full swing: PiS has been throwing gifts at its usual clients since late spring this year, and over time, the speed and the size of those presents have grown exponentially. 


Upgrading of family subsidies, an extra monthly pension to retirees (aka the 14th pension), a ludicrous cut in interest rates by the subservient central bank, an artificially low level of petrol prices maintained against the worldwide trends by the state-controlled oil company Orlen — you name it, they’ll give it. 

The long-term disastrous effects of these policies don’t count; what matters is instant gratification by the electorate. 

As the saying in Poland goes: “No one will give you as much as PiS will promise”.

The central imbalance, though, is in the media scene. Public media in Poland are “public” only in name and the source of their financing — through taxpayers’ money. 

In their contents, they are one-sided, aggressive governmental propaganda outfits addressed against the opposition.


The vulgarity and partisanship of TVP — the state-controlled broadcaster, which has a monopoly in some areas of the country — is difficult to describe; especially in pre-election times, it becomes a non-stop electoral propaganda machine. 

‘The Law to Take Out Tusk’

It airs all the PiS official events, including Kaczyński’s speeches, but never goes live for an opposition rally with the leader of the main opposition party, Donald Tusk. 

The Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reports that on a randomly chosen recent date, Tusk was shown five times in the main evening news on TVP, always in a negative light (including a historic photo with Russia’s Vladimir Putin), while Kaczyński appeared eight times, always positively portrayed.

This is a long list, but “The Law to Take Out Tusk” also merits a mention: setting up a kangaroo court tasked with demonstrating that the leader of the main opposition party has been acting under the influence of Russians. 

The venerable Venice Commission has already warned that the new body may become a tool to eliminate political opponents. 


This is a tool Kaczyński may well activate any time now if the polls look bad to him. Nor have I mentioned the new chamber of the Supreme Court peopled only with judges handpicked by the ruling party, which will have the last word on the legality of election results. 

On top of that, there is also the issue of illegal use by the secret services of surveillance devices, such as Pegasus spyware, against the opposition.

Would opposition victory be a miracle?

So, whatever the outcome of the elections in Poland that you hear about on or just after 15 October, remember that the field will have been badly skewed in favour of the current rulers. 

The ruling authoritarians have fundamentally subverted democracy, including the electoral process. 

For the democratic opposition to win, it will almost take a miracle. But perhaps it’s not hopeless. 


Miracles happen, especially in Poland.

Wojciech Sadurski is a Professor at the University of Sydney Law School and the  University of Warsaw’s Center for Europe. He is the author of “A Pandemic of Populists”(Cambridge 2022).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

Source link

#Polish #elections #place #grossly #uneven #playing #field

Armenians find themselves pushed aside yet again

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

Last week, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “inching ever closer to a great fracture in economic and financial systems and trade relations.”

That may be so, but not when it comes to Azerbaijan.

A country a third of the size of Britain and with a population of about 10 million, Azerbaijan has faced few problems in bridging geopolitical divisions. And recently, Baku has been offering a masterclass in how to exploit geography and geology to considerable advantage.

From Washington to Brussels, Moscow to Beijing, seemingly no one wants to fall out with Azerbaijan; everyone wants to be a friend. Even now, as Armenia has turned to the world for help, accusing Baku of attempted ethnic cleansing in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh — the land-locked and long-contested Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan.

Warning signs had been mounting in recent weeks that Baku might be planning a major offensive, which it dubbed an “anti-terrorist operation,” and Armenia had been sending up distress flares. But not only were these largely overlooked, Baku has since faced muted criticism for its assault as well.

Western reaction could change, though, if Azerbaijan were to now engage in mass ethnic cleansing — but Baku is canny enough to know that.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Azerbaijan has been courted by all sides, becoming one of the war’s beneficiaries.

On a visit to Baku last year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had only warm words for the country’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev, saying she saw him as a reliable and trustworthy energy partner for the European Union.

Then, just a few weeks later, Alexander Lukashenko — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s satrap in Belarus — had no hesitation in describing Aliyev as “absolutely our man.”

Is there any other national leader who can be a pal of von der Leyen and Lukashenko at the same time?

Aliyev is also a friend of Turkey; Baku and Beijing count each other as strategic partners, with Azerbaijan participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative; and the country has been working on expanding military cooperation with Israel as well. In 2020 — during the last big flare-up in this intractable conflict — Israel had supplied Azerbaijan with drones, alongside Turkey.

That’s an impressive list of mutually exclusive friends and suitors — and location and energy explain much.

Upon her arrival in Azerbaijan’s capital last year, von der Leyen wasn’t shy about highlighting Europe’s need to “diversify away from Russia” for its energy needs, announcing a deal with Baku to increase supplies from the southern gas corridor — the 3,500-kilometer pipeline bringing gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

She also noted that Azerbaijan “has a tremendous potential in renewable energy” in offshore wind and green hydrogen, enthusing that “gradually, Azerbaijan will evolve from being a fossil fuel supplier to becoming a very reliable and prominent renewable energy partner to the European Union.”

There was no mention of Azerbaijan’s poor human rights record, rampant corruption or any call for the scores of political prisoners to be released.

Azerbaijan uses oil and gas “to silence the EU on fundamental rights issues,” Philippe Dam of Human Rights Watch complained at the time. “The EU should not say a country is reliable when it is restricting the activities of civil society groups and crushing political dissent,” he added.

Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, warned: “Ukraine serves as a reminder that repressive and unaccountable regimes are rarely reliable partners and that privileging short-term objectives at the expense of human rights is a recipe for disaster.”

But von der Leyen isn’t the first top EU official to speak of Azerbaijan as such a partner. In 2019, then EU Council President Donald Tusk also praised Azerbaijan for its reliability.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, however, the EU’s courting has become even more determined — and, of course, the bloc isn’t alone. Rich in oil and gas and located between Russia, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is a strategic prize, sitting “on the crossroads of former major empires, civilizations and regional and global powerhouses,” according to Fariz Ismailzade of ADA University in Baku.

And Azerbaijan’s growing importance in the latest great game in Central Asia is reflected in the increase in foreign diplomatic missions located in its capital — in 2005 there were just two dozen, now there are 85.

For Ankara, and Beijing — eager to expand their influence across Central Asia — Azerbaijan is a key player in regional energy projects, as well as the development of new regional railways and planned infrastructure and connectivity projects.

Thanks to strong linguistic, religious and cultural ties, Turkey has been Azerbaijan’s main regional ally since it gained independence. But Baku has been adept at making sure it keeps in with all its suitors. It realizes they all offer opportunities but could also be dangerous, should relations take a dive.

And this holds for all the key players in the region, whether it be the EU, Turkey, China or Russia. The reason Baku can get on with a highly diverse set of nations — and why there likely won’t be many serious repercussions for Baku with this latest military foray — is that no one wants to give geopolitical rivals an edge and upset the fragile equilibrium in Central Asia. That includes its traditional foe Iran – Baku and Tehran have in recent months been trying to build a détente after years of hostility.

For the Armenians, so often finding themselves wronged by history, this is highly unfortunate. They might have been better advised to follow Azerbaijan’s example and try to be everyone’s friend, instead of initially depending on Russia, then pivoting West — a pirouette that’s lost them any sympathy in Moscow.

But then again, Armenia hasn’t been blessed with proven reserves of oil or natural gas like its neighbor.

Source link

#Armenians #find #pushed

Lech Walesa joins hundreds of thousands of Poles in anti-govt march in Warsaw

An enormous anti-government march took place in Poland’s capital Sunday, with citizens traveling from across the country to voice their anger at a right-wing administration that has eroded democratic norms and created fears the nation is following Hungary and Turkey down the path to autocracy.

The local government in Warsaw estimated that 500,000 people joined the march, which was led by the opposition party to which the city’s mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, belongs. It was not possible to verify that figure.

Large crowds gathered in Krakow and other cities across the nation of 38 million, showing frustration with a government that critics accuse of violating the constitution and eroding fundamental rights in Poland, a country long hailed as model of peaceful and democratic change.

Former President Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement that played a historic role in toppling communism in Poland, stood on a stage with the leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

The crowd cheered on the two men, both of whom are reviled by the ruling Law and Justice party led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and at times chanted “Democracy!” and “Constitution!”

Tusk had called on Poles to march with him for the sake of the nation’s future — a message that resonated for Radek Tusinski, 49, who rallied with his wife and two young children. A handmade sign reading “I cannot give up freedom” was attached to their baby stroller.

Tuskinski said he worries about the creeping return of an authoritarian system similar to what he remembers from his childhood.

“We want a free country for our children,” he said.

Supporters of the march have warned that the election might be the nation’s last chance to stop the erosion of democracy under the ruling party, Law and Justice, amid growing fears that the fall election might not be fair.

In power since 2015, Law and Justice has found a popular formula, combining higher social spending with socially conservative policies and support for the church in the mostly Catholic nation.

However, critics have warned for years that the party is reversing many of the achievements made since Poland emerged from communist rule in 1989.

Even the United States government has intervened at times when it felt the government was eroding press freedom and academic freedom in the area of Holocaust research.

Critics point mainly to the party’s step-by-step takeover of the judiciary and media. It uses state media for heavy-handed propaganda to tarnish opponents. Law and Justice also tapped into animosity against minorities, particularly LGBTQ+ people, whose struggle for rights the party depicts as a threat to families and national identity. A clampdown on abortion rights has triggered mass protests.

Critics fear that the party could eventually force the country to leave the European Union, a 27-member union founded on democratic ideals.

March participants carried EU and Polish flags, with some also holding up rainbow flags.

Some also voiced anger at the double-digit inflation in the country. The government blames Russia’s war in Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, but economists say its spending policies have accelerated spiraling prices.

Barbara Dec, 26, and her grandmother left their hometown of Zielona Gora at 4:30 a.m. and traveled seven hours on a bus organized by Civic Platform to protest. They planned to return home immediately after the Warsaw event.

Dec held up a cardboard sign that read, “I am afraid to have children in Poland.”

“Women have lost the right to have an abortion even when the fetus is terminally ill, and some women have died,” she explained. “And I am also afraid I couldn’t manage financially.”

Alarm over press freedom

The march was held on the 34th anniversary of the first partly free elections, a democratic breakthrough in the toppling of communism across Eastern Europe. It was seen as a test for Tusk’s Civic Platform, a centrist and pro-European party which has trailed behind Law and Justice in polls.

However, the passage of a controversial law last month appeared to mobilize greater support for Tusk. Poland is expected to hold a general election in October, though a date has not yet been set.

The law allows for the creation of a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland. Critics argue that the commission would have unconstitutional powers, including the capacity to exclude officials from public life for a decade. They fear it will be used by the ruling party to remove Tusk and other opponents from public life.

Amid uproar in Poland and criticism from the U.S. and the EU, President Andrzej Duda, who signed the law on May 29, proposed amendments to it on Friday. In the meantime, the law will take effect with no guarantees lawmakers in parliament will weaken the commission’s powers.

Some Poles say it could come to resemble the investigations of Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. senator whose anti-communist campaign in the early 1950s led to hysteria and political persecution.

That fear was underlined last weekend when Kaczynski, the ruling party leader, was asked by a reporter if he still had trust in the defense minister in connection with a Russian missile that fell in Poland in December.

“I am forced … to view you as a representative of the Kremlin,” he replied. “Because only the Kremlin wants this man to stop being the minister of national defense.”

The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders expressed concerns that the commission might be used to “wage a witch-hunt against journalists” and “could serve as a new weapon for this type of attack, in which doubt is cast on journalists’ probity in an attempt to smear their reputation.”

Tusk, who is also a former EU council president, had called for the march weeks ago, urging people to demonstrate “against high prices, theft and lies, for free elections and a democratic, European Poland.”

Initially some opposition figures planned to stay away. But after Duda signed the law, other opposition leaders announced they would join in.

Law and Justice sought to discourage participation in the march with a video spot using Auschwitz as a theme — drawing criticism from the state museum that preserves the site of the Nazi German death camp.


Source link

#Lech #Walesa #joins #hundreds #thousands #Poles #antigovt #march #Warsaw

What is Poland’s ‘Russian influence law’ really about?

The US and EU have harshly criticised the new legislation, which the Polish opposition say amounts to a campaign of public humiliation.

“Poland is here!” opposition leader Donald Tusk shouted in front of a crowd of thousands of protesters gathered in central Warsaw on Sunday. “No one will silence us!”

Opposition parties and their supporters, including civil society organisations, marched through the Polish capital to mark the 34th anniversary of the first democratic elections held in Poland in 1989 since the communist party abandoned its monopoly on power.

“There are thousands of us, thousands of people with Poland in our hearts, millions of Polish women and men in front of TV sets who did not let themselves be broken, did not let themselves be intimidated,” continued Tusk.

Tusk was flanked by Lech Wałęsa, a former Polish president and renowned protest leader from Gdańsk who founded the Solidarność or Solidarity movement, often single-handedly credited for ending communist rule in Poland.

The subway in the capital was jam-packed as participants made their way to the march, which began on Plac Na Rozdrożu.

While the main demands of the protesters are “free and fair elections” and a “democratic, European Poland”, the march has brought together a diverse crowd of people affected by the decisions of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), including women’s rights groups and LGBT activists.

The protests come on the heels of a bill passed last week in the Polish Sejm and approved by President Andrzej Duda that will form a commission to investigate alleged Russian influence and collaboration with Russian authorities starting in 2007.

PiS, which is the largest party in the Sejm, sponsored the bill, and is aligned with Duda.

The commission, in its currently proposed form, will investigate Russian influence on the internal security of Poland, including public figures as well as businesses that have ties to Moscow that could be detrimental to Poland.

According to the text published by the parliament, the law will apply to “persons who, in the years 2007-2022, were public officials or members of senior management staff who, under Russian influence, acted to the detriment of the interests of the Republic of Poland”. 

Additionally, the law ostensibly “aims at preventing them from acting again under Russian influence to the detriment of the interests of the Republic of Poland.” 

This proposal has proved deeply controversial.

Duplication of powers

The commission has the power to enforce various penalties, among them a 10-year ban on obtaining a security clearance or assuming public office, as well as the revoking of firearms licenses.

Experts say these measures in fact fall within the jurisdiction of the courts and other government bodies in the country, not an ad hoc commission created to duplicate or replace the judicial process.

Ever since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year, countries along Ukraine’s border have worried about a spillover in the Kremlin’s covert or malign influence. Moscow’s influence operations have long been a source of concern for Poland, even before its first assault on Ukraine in 2014.

Many in Poland see the creation of the commission as an attempt by PiS to boost their standing with the public ahead of upcoming elections.

“While PiS is still leading the polls, there is a lot of fatigue, especially from their more moderate supporters,” explains Christopher Lash, a historian and professor at Lazarski University in Warsaw.

“Nobody is saying Russian influence should not be investigated. It’s precisely because there are already people out there whose job it is to investigate this that people are worried that this commission is part of a political game by the ruling party,” he continued.

For him, this is more akin to a “witch hunt”.

Sure enough, the bill has faced condemnation from the US and the EU, who said the commission could be used to block opposition candidates from assuming office.

“The US Government is concerned by the Polish government’s passage of new legislation that could be misused to interfere with Poland’s free and fair elections,” said US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

He added that such a law “could be used to block the candidacy of opposition politicians without due process”.

In response to the deluge of criticism, Duda has proposed amendments to the law which would remove these powers from the commission and limit its ability to mete out punishments.

He also made clear that the commission would not feature sitting members of parliament.

Szymon Hołownia, the leader of the opposition Poland 2050 party, mocked the president’s statement, saying that he had basically walked back his own rhetoric from earlier in the week.

“President Duda today used the right of veto over his own signature. And the Sejm will now have a choice: it can choose the opinion of the president from Monday or the one from Friday,” Hołownia said on Twitter.

To win political power, criticising Russia is essential

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has revived historical grievances across the continent, not least from the countries that suffered the most at Russia’s hand.

Poland and Russia have been rivals over territories such as modern Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania in the past, and have had turbulent political relations.

“As Poland weakened over history, Russia gained a lot of territory and gobbled up about two-thirds of the old Polish commonwealth,” explains Lash. “So there’s this historic fear of Poland losing its sovereignty to Russia or being threatened by it.”

A fear, it seems, that PiS is happy to capitalise on.

Even before last year’s invasion, the Kremlin expended significant political capital trying to minimise its historical role in diminishing Poland’s power.

In 2020, Moscow launched a glitzy propaganda campaign trying to portray the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union for the partition of Poland – which led to Soviet troops entering the country 15 days after the Germans – as a necessary evil.

In turn, Poland has fiercely supported Ukraine and criticised Nord Stream 2, a pipeline that allowed Russia to deliver natural gas directly to Germany while circumventing its Eastern European neighbours.

“Criticising Russia is not controversial,” Lash confirms. “All shades of the Polish political sphere are anti-Russian except for very tiny fringe political actors.

“It seems as if the goal [of the commission] is to polarise the debate and label people as being pro-Russian or in league with the Kremlin.”

And from the point of view of most experts, top of the list of the commission’s expected targets is former Polish Prime Minister Tusk.

A meeting of hardened rivals

The leader of the opposition party Civic Platform (PO), Tusk was prime minister for two terms, from 2007 until 2014, when he left for Brussels to become the European Council president and, later, the head the European People’s Party (EPP), which is also the largest bloc in the European Parliament.

Some argue that it was Tusk’s move to Brussels that cleared the way for PiS to be elected to power in 2015. His experience in the EU hierarchy has been harshly criticised by the leader of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, who often portrays the EU as an enemy of a sovereign Poland and whose party has consistently been on a collision course with the EPP.

“Tusk and Kaczynski are two fundamental, central figures of Polish politics from the early 2000s onwards,” said Lash. “Tusk is seen as Kaczynski’s mortal enemy, and he is the only one who can stand up to him and his way of controlling Polish politics.”

Poland has openly coordinated its foreign policy aims with the US, and when Tusk was the prime minister, the administration of President Barack Obama was trying to navigate a middle course with Russia.

“Tusk, just like Obama did in the US, attempted some sort of reset with Russia in 2009 and 2010 because that was the general atmosphere and it was a different time. It is likely that this would be the main period the commission will focus on,” explained Lash.

On the other hand, PiS claims to have always warned about Russia’s expansionist project. Now that most Western powers have turned against Moscow, that supposed legacy is one they are keen to cash in on.

As Lash predicted: “They will try to paint themselves as the true patriots who were always fiercely critical of Russia.”

Source link

#Polands #Russian #influence #law