Making Progress in Poland

February 3, 2014

We all know that good things take time. Nowhere does democracy emerge fully mature, open and transparent. It takes dedicated people to make these things happen. Poland's progress to open, mature democracy is faltering, with the Catholic Church and far right elements acting as drags on liberalization. Against these powerful forces CFI-Poland is quietly working away. Andrzej Dominiczak, head of CFI-Poland, has built up a reputation for fair-minded and objective work across a range of normally deeply divisive topics.

As a case in point, Dominiczak has been working for more than a decade to reform the country’s rather strict blasphemy laws. Looking at what is achievable, Dominiczak has worked on a rewording of the laws, which water it down and work more in the interests of all parties. Since 2001, Dominiczak has been working with academics and politicians to build some momentum for change. Halfway through 2012 it looked like progress was speeding up when a proposal went to the Polish parliament to amend the blasphemy legislation. To many people’s surprise, the proposal was not summarily rejected, but was packed off to a specialist penal law committee for ‘further investigation’. The hope was, of course, that the proposal would die a slow death there, away from media scrutiny, and never be heard of again.

But this did not happen. In October last year, a politician with an interest in the area approached Dominiczak for assistance. It seemed that the blasphemy amendments had attracted the interest of the government and that they were interested in proceeding with it. So, the slow, unromantic process of building up support behind the scenes is now underway.

The core change Dominiczak proposes is not to abolish the law entirely. The Church would not tolerate that. Instead it is to remove blasphemy to the code of petty offences. In this way, insulting religious sensitivities while in a place of worship would no longer be a crime, but would be treated as a petty offence. Dominiczak finds himself assailed from both sides of the political spectrum. On the one side, conservative Catholics oppose any alteration to the law as it currently stands. And at the other extreme, hardline anti-clericals oppose any change short of full repeal. But Dominiczak and CFI-Poland can take heart that he must be doing something right when the extremists from both ends of the spectrum are attacking you.

Photo: Patryk Kosmider / Shutterstock.com

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