As the political crisis deepens due to the fight between the ruling Conservatives of the PiS and the Liberal opposition, Poland might soon have no more ombudsman.
Poland – On February 18, the Polish Senate rejected the candidacy of Professor Piotr Wawrzyk for the post of Ombudsman, the head of the country’s national human rights institution. It happened for good reason. The PiS-led United Right coalition holds only 48 of the 100 seats in the upper house. Piotr Wawrzyk had been Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the government of Mateusz Morawiecki since 2018. Although he had been a member of the PSL agrarian party for a very long time, he was elected in October 2019 to the Sejm on the PiS lists. On January 21, during the vote on his candidacy in the Sejm, he had therefore obtained only the votes of the United Right coalition. As a consequence, Adam Bodnar continues to exercise his functions as the country’s Ombudsman, even though his term of office ended in September 2020.
“We sincerely believed that Professor Wawrzyk would be appointed,” PiS spokesman Radosław Fogiel said the day after the vote in the Senate. He took the opportunity to castigate the opposition for its supposed irresponsibility, but did not wish to comment on a remark made by the Senate vice-president, Stanisław Karczewski (PiS). In Karczewski’s view, Adam Bodnar is no longer the national Ombudsman, since according to the Constitution he was appointed for five years. Another PiS senator, Marek Pęk, stated for his part, in the face of reproaches from opposition ranks that Piotr Wawrzyk is linked to PiS and the Morawiecki government, while the Ombudsman should be a personality independent of the government and the parliamentary majority:
“Adam Bodnar, despite his apolitical appearance, was in fact an additional senator from the Civic Platform (PO) when he came to the Senate. He has been involved, in an extremely intensive and consistent manner, on the side of one political camp. ”
And it is true to say that Ombudsman Bodnar, whose statements have often been quoted by EU institutions and the media accusing PiS governments of undermining democracy and the rule of law, has been a very politically and ideologically committed player. For example, while he has never attacked the LGBT+ Declaration of the PO Mayor of Warsaw, despite some apparent contradictions between the LGBT charter and the Polish constitution (in particular regarding the right of parents to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs), he has systematically attacked the declarations adopted by other local authorities, in reaction to the Warsaw declaration, to reaffirm their rejection of LGBT ideology and their respect for freedom of expression and education.
The NGO Ordo Iuris, which brings together conservative lawyers committed to the protection of life and the family, accuses Adam Bodnar of wanting to reinterpret human rights, rather than defending the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Polish constitution, as an Ombudsman is supposed to do. As another example, the current Ombudsman has advocated the registration in the Polish civil registry of foreign birth certificates with the names of two biological parents of the same sex. Bodnar has further called for laws allowing gender reassignment in the civil registry and recognizing civil unions of two partners of the same sex, whereas the Polish Constitution only provides for the protection of the institution of marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
In a country where abortion is strongly limited by constitutional guarantees in favor of the right to life, which has been confirmed several times by the Constitutional Tribunal (and not only with the recent ruling concerning abortion in case of disability of the unborn child),
the Ombudsman prefers to speak of “reproductive and sexual rights,” which mean nothing in the light of Polish law, but refer to the right to abortion in the language of international institutions. On the other hand, Adam Bodnar has always refused to intervene when the religious feelings of Poles, theoretically protected by law, have been derided and profaned, or when blasphemy and the desecration of symbols of the Catholic faith in the public space have become a means of political or artistic expression.
This is why Ordo Iuris proposes that the next Polish Ombudsman should give priority to the defense of the rights of families, the right to life from the moment of conception, freedom of conscience and religious freedoms, as well as freedom of expression. These are all areas neglected by Adam Bodnar, who was vice-president of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights – one of the many organizations benefiting from funding from George Soros’ OSF – before being appointed Ombudsman by a parliamentary majority led by the Civic Platform liberals a month before an electoral defeat that was already being predicted by opinion polls.
In such a context, it is difficult to understand the attitude of PiS. Prior to the failed attempt to appoint a member of the Morawiecki government to the post of Polish Ombudsman, PiS had initially abstained from presenting a candidate, simply voting against the candidacy of Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz, a lawyer proposed by opposition parties and supported by many left-leaning NGOs. Rudzińska-Bluszcz already works under the direction of Adam Bodnar and shares the same world view.
There could probably be a way to find within the opposition, particularly in the ranks of the PSL and among the few independents, the three additional senators required to approve the choice of the Sejm. For this to be possible, however, the proposed Ombudsman, although seen as holding conservative views, must not be perceived as someone with close links to the government and its parliamentary majority.
While refusing to start serious discussions with the opposition, PiS MPs have referred the matter to the Constitutional Tribunal to determine whether Adam Bodnar can continue to exercise his functions beyond his term of office. The Constitutional Tribunal is expected to consider the case in March, and Poland could then find itself without an Ombudsman.