“Nicotine”, is the first reply from Polish judge Igor Tuleya (51) when he in the documentary Judges under pressure is asked where he gets the energy to keep going. He adds some other exciting things: watching TV, drinking a beer, eating sausages with mustard, taking a ride on the merry-go-round. The answer takes Tuleya effort, evident from the pauses and his teary eyes. “The energy I use to force myself into action costs less than the sense of worthlessness I would otherwise feel for the rest of my life.”
Against his will, Tuleya is engaged in a battle with the Polish government over the independence of the judiciary. A year ago, the pro-government disciplinary chamber ruled that Tuleya can be prosecuted because he has ordered a judicial investigation into certain abuses and has held a public hearing about it as a judge. He has since been unable to work as a judge. With his characteristic glasses and T-shirt, Tuleya represents the resistance against the hijacking of justice by the conservative-nationalist government. He is a well-known figure in Poland: he speaks at pop festivals, his silhouette is graffitied on walls, strangers support him on the street.
He smokes a lot, but he does not drink alcohol and does not eat meat, Tuleya says during a meeting in Amsterdam. So no beer and sausage. Now he would answer the question of what gives him energy differently. “I can keep it up thanks to the support of friends, also abroad. The dean of the university I teach wanted to fire me. Due to protests from foreign lawyers, also from the Netherlands, that decision was reversed and the dean himself was fired. I still teach at that university.” He is also learning English, an interpreter is still needed.
Tuleya is visiting the Netherlands for the premiere of the documentary about Polish judges, in which he is mainly followed. For the uninitiated, the haggling over disciplinary action is difficult to follow. It becomes clear how taxing it is to be a judge in a country where the judiciary is gradually being taken over by politics. Where critical judges are transferred or suspended, or are attacked with smear campaigns.
This week it appeared again that the Polish government, under the unofficial leadership of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, does not care about all the criticism from the rest of Europe. The Constitutional Court, owned by PiS, decided that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), on the right to a fair trial, conflicts with the Polish constitution and does not apply in Poland. At the beginning of October, the Court said the same about parts of the EU treaty. Poland thus placed itself, according to the judgment in Brussels and elsewhere, outside the European legal order. Also this week, two judges were suspended, with a 40 percent discount on their salary.
Standing up for independent justice is not a political or activist act. That is part of our task, we have committed ourselves to it as judges
According to Tuleya, there is a ‘planned destruction’ of the Polish judiciary. “Orbán in Hungary and Erdogan in Turkey act as inspiration. First they took over the Constitutional Court, then the appointment of new judges in lower courts. The attack on the Supreme Court has been repulsed by the European Court of Justice.” The disciplinary chamber, declared illegal by the European Court, is still functioning, despite an exceptional penalty of 1 million euros per day imposed on Poland.
About a thousand of the 10,000 Polish judges have now been appointed by politicians, Tuleya says. “That does not mean that all these new judges are loyal to PiS, but that they do not oppose the wishes of PiS. Their statements will be in line with government policy.”
Read also this report about the battle between old and new judges in Poland
In such a polarized climate, also between judges, a neutral position seems impossible for a judge. “You can definitely be non-political. Standing up for independent justice is not a political or activist act. That is part of our task, as judges we have committed ourselves to it. If the independent judiciary is threatened, we have to stand up for it.”
Read also this opinion piece about the EU and the Polish rule of law
According to Tuleya, the accusation that judges engage in politics is part of government propaganda. “PiS accuses anyone who disagrees with their course of having a political agenda. Teachers, doctors, journalists. In my 26 years as a judge, I have never been accused of being involved in politics. My cases were not political, 90 percent were regular criminal cases.”
Even in the communist era, the government did not dare to attack judges as openly as they do today.
Even more than Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro seems to be the motor behind the ‘reform’ of the Polish judiciary. Ziobro, founder and chairman of the Catholic-nationalist United Poland party, is also the head of the Public Prosecution Service. What is his goal? Tuleya: „I see no vision, no ideology in Ziobro and Kaczynski. I don’t even believe in rancor against the judiciary. I think it’s all about power, and keeping it. Kaczynski’s ultimate goal is an authoritarian country, where judges put no restrictions on him.”
Tuleya sees similarities with the communist era, but “even then they did not dare to attack judges openly, as they do now.”
Tuleya holds hope for change. Perhaps in the elections of autumn 2023? “I am confident that the Poles will eventually come to their senses and the ruling party will disappear through democratic means. But I don’t know in which election that will happen.”
#destruction #Polish #rule #law #power