Polish govt fans cheer reform against 'communist judges'

Polish govt fans cheer reform against 'communist judges'

Warsaw (AFP) - Polish flags in hand and the icon of the Holy Virgin on their chests, a handful of government supporters gathered outside parliament to cheer the controversial court reform just backed by the ruling conservatives.

The parliament pushed through the change to the Supreme Court, which gives the government power to select candidates for the court, despite protests by thousands of people and unprecedented sanctions from the EU.

There are many more opponents of the reform gathered outside parliament. They rail against what they see as "a dark day for democracy", "a coup" and "the end of judicial independence," saying the court will now be subject to political pressures.

But though they may be fewer in number at the rally, the supporters of the Law and Justice (PiS) are far from alone.

The party, which is led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski and took power in late 2015, continues to enjoy solid support and is far ahead of the opposition parties in opinion surveys.

Many of the PiS supporters believe Poland's courts are still tainted by the nation's communist past and thus applaud the reform, which is now under debate in the senate, as a way to clear out the old system.

"I've been waiting 28 years for this last bastion of the communist regime to finally fall. For all those anti-Polish, communist judges to be sacked," said PiS supporter Zygmunt Poziomka.

The 59-year-old retired miner, who once worked at the well-known Wujek mine which in 1981 saw communist anti-riot units kill workers, has no doubt that both the senate and the president -- a close PiS ally -- will give their stamp of approval to the reform.

"The law will pass. They (the opponents) can protest all they want, night and day. We have a democracy," he told AFP, denouncing the government opponents carrying EU flags as "anti-Polish trash".

"It's an opportunity that might never come again and I hope nothing will divert the PiS from this path, even President Andrzej Duda," Poziomka added.

"We want normal courts at last. We need to be done with this caste," he said, ending his sentence with a word often used by the conservatives in power.

- 'Caste' -

Such claims may seem tough to understand 28 years after the fall of communism in Poland, when the average age of a judge is 30-40 and former members of the Communist party belong to the PiS itself.

One of them, Stanislaw Piotrowicz, is even an ex-prosecutor from the communist era and, for an added twist, is the politician who tabled the contested Supreme Court law.

None of that makes any difference for the PiS supporters.

"Yes, there are young judges but most of them are descendents of the caste of communist judges, genetically infected by an anti-Polish mentality," said art historian Izabella Galicka.

"Jaroslaw Kaczynski is the only man able to free Poland from the remnants of communism. Yet we give him the label of fascist and dictator. No, he's a real democrat. Today he has to resort to semi-democratic methods in order to lead the country towards a real democracy," she told AFP.

Galicka is ready to forgive him his unusual methods. The Supreme Court law, for example, was passed in parliament extra fast, without debate or consultation.

For Galicka, Kaczynski is a man who has no other goal but "the good of Poland".

The controversial reform led tens of thousands of Poles to take to the streets in the capital Warsaw and other cities across the country in protests organised by the opposition parties, who chose to unite for the occasion.

But for Marian Srebrny, a computer science professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences, the judicial reforms was just a pretext for the rallies, not the real reason.

"The point is to harm PiS, even as the opposition has no alternative solution" to propose, he told AFP.

The PiS has picked up an additional three percentage points in support since June, according to an opinion survey carried out Tuesday and Wednesday by the Ibris institute for the Rzeczpospolita daily.

It also found that 37 percent of Poles would vote for PiS if elections were held today, while 21 percent would back the Civic Platform (PO) main opposition party.

PiS critics are well aware of the party's strength.

"I don't have much hope regarding the president's veto but we have to stick together and show unity," said Agnieszka Wolfram, a 50-something opponent of the reform.