Protesters in Warsaw have numbered in the tens of thousands most nights during the week of demonstrations, with smaller but still sizable gatherings in dozens of other cities. More are planned for this weekend.
Lech Walesa, former head of the Solidarity trade union that led the independence fight, spoke to a gathering in his hometown, Gdansk. “You must regain the separation of powers,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner told them.
One of the proposed laws awaiting the signature of Mr. Duda, who is expected to sign them, would force all current Supreme Court judges to resign, replacing them with jurists chosen by the ruling party’s Minister of Justice. Another would alter the National Council of the Judiciary, the body that approves judicial candidates, to give new government-appointed members a near veto power.
Government supporters have insisted their intention is to reform Poland’s courts, making them less corrupt and less dysfunctional and to overturn a system in which they say judges are elite and untouchable. But opponents contend the government’s motive is to cement its control over a more centralized national government.
Frans Timmermans, the second-ranking official on the European Commission, warned Poland that the new court laws would hobble Poland’s judiciary and threaten the rule of law. Adopting them would draw a sharp response from Brussels, he said, beginning as early as next week and including possible legal action, eventual sanctions and even a loss of voting rights.
The United States State Department also weighed in Friday, saying it found the proposed laws troubling and urging all parties to negotiate a solution.
With the passage of the Supreme Court bill early Saturday, President Duda now has three weeks to decide what to do. He can sign the bills into law, veto them or send them to be vetted by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, now dominated by the ruling party. Mr. Duda refused a request to meet with Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and a former Polish prime minister from Civic Platform, which is now the chief opposition party. There was no reason to discuss Poland’s domestic policies with a Brussels official, a spokesman for Mr. Duda said.
But the president did agree to meet on Monday morning with Malgorzata Gersdorf, the president of the Supreme Court, indicating that he will not make his final decision before then.
Mr. Duda, 45, was a little-known figure in Law and Justice when the party’s undisputed leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 68, chose him as its presidential candidate in 2015. His surprise victory that spring was a harbinger of Law and Justice’s parliamentary victory in the fall. While winning the presidency gave Mr. Duda a degree of independence from the party’s leader, he has hewed closely to Mr. Kaczynski’s legislative agenda, supporting the government at nearly every turn.
How close the two leaders really are is not clear. Mr. Kaczynski, a workaholic who rarely ventures out, lives alone in northern Warsaw. Mr. Duda is a more public figure and comfortable dealing with the media. There have been local news media rumors, so far unsubstantiated, of some friction developing between the pair.
So while President Duda was still expected to sign the government’s court laws, the idea that he could reject them or pass them to the Constitutional Tribunal was not unthinkable, opposition leaders said, and protesters hope they can sway him not to sign.
Waldemar Jankowski, 60, a marine engineer from Szczecin in northeast Poland, adjusted his bright red cap, which read, “Make PiS Small Again,” using the Polish acronym for Law and Justice.
As someone who fought with Solidarity and the campaign that ended Communism in 1989, Mr. Jankowski said he was heartbroken to see the Polish government taking these steps. But being in Warsaw during the week of protests, and seeing how many young Poles were joining the demonstrations, he said he had started to be more hopeful. “They have woken up and realized they might have to lose what we fought for,” Mr. Jankowski said.
One of those younger protesters, Julia Michalowska, 19, a high-school senior from Gdansk, rested nearby.
“I came here because I wanted to fight for Polish democracy,” she said. “Because I want free courts. Because I don’t want to be put in prison for nothing, like standing here and protesting.”
Until recently, she said, she was like most people her age, having little interest in politics. But this move on the courts was too much for her. “I would like to be optimistic,” she said. “But there are still too many people who are doing nothing to protect what we have.”
Larger crowds were expected later Saturday, beginning with an evening gathering outside the presidential palace. There were 120 protests planned for Saturday around Poland.
Ms. Gasiuk-Pihowicz, the Parliament member, said opposition officials and protest leaders were discussing a plan on how to proceed. A major protest was planned for Thursday outside the Supreme Court building. The justices will be inside, and protest leaders said they intend to surround the building to “protect” the court.
Arek Szczurek, 52, quit his job in Warsaw as a construction engineer more than a year ago to join the protest campaign against Law and Justice.
“I have the feeling that someone stole my country,” he said
If President Duda does sign the new laws, Mr. Szczurek said he expected the crowds to grow. He said he hoped the protests remained peaceful, but that some are whispering that more aggressive action was needed.
“They say, we must be more radical, we must attack,” Mr. Szczurek said. “But they are a small number, so far.”
For the moment, the mood among the opposition was resolute. Mr. Jankowski, the marine engineer, removed his red cap and wiped his beaded forehead. “How long will we keep protesting?” he said. “Until the end of the world, and one day more.”
Continue reading the main story