Wielowieyski for Gazeta Wyborcza: Open Dialog at a crossroads

Voice in defense of the Foundation. Open Dialog at a crossroads

When the rule of law in Poland was contested and its political system started to evolve towards a single-party regime, the core mission of the ODF was also put into question.

I first came across the Open Dialog Foundation in 2011 during OSCE Summit in Warsaw, when, together with MPs of Civic Platform and Law and Justice, the ODF stood up in defence of persecuted pro-democracy activists and miners of Zhanaozen (i.e. crude oil region in Kazakhstan). The Kazakhstan authorities promised to release the prisoners and kept their promise.

The ODF (Open Dialog Foundation) was founded at the end of 2009 on the initiative of Lyudmyla Kozlovska, a Ukrainian citizen, who, as a high-school student, had been highly inspired by the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Lyudmyla was supported by Bartosz Kramek and a group of her friends. Lyudmyla’s brother, Petro Kozlovski, an entrepreneur from Crimea, Ukraine, and owner of several IT, electronics, metallurgy, construction and trade companies, provided them with financial support.

The Foundation’s objectives included promoting democracy, defending human rights and the rule of law in post-Soviet states. All these issues seemed much topical in the context of persistent violations of civic rights occurring in authoritarian police states of that region. The ODF started close cooperation with the Council of Europe and European Union, West European NGOs, Polish Parliament and democratic organisations in post-Soviet states.

Interpol got the message

The Foundation also took steps in aim to defend Mukhtar Ablyazov, former Minister for Energy and political prisoner, who were at loggerheads with President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ablyazov was granted asylum in the UK, but then he was chased by Interpol on behalf of the Republic of Kazakhstan and detained in a French prison for 3.5 years. The efforts taken by the ODF and other European organisations in 2013-2015 eventually convinced Interpol to ignore demands raised by police states in relation to prosecuted activists staying abroad, if no judgments had been issued by courts in the countries providing asylum. As a result, Ablyazov regained his freedom.

The fact that Interpol adopted new rules was our unarguable success. As Member of the Foundation Board since 2013, I was also proud of this success.

A false assumption

In 2013 – 2015 the ODF was engaged in the struggle for democracy in Ukraine, the Euromaidan protests, and later, defending the Donbass against separatists, and, finally, supporting reforms in Ukraine.

We have supported dozens of Ukrainians who have been unlawfully detained in Russian prisons, and mobilised European media. Thanks to our efforts, Nadiya Savchenko regained her freedom, but many Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars still remain in Russian prisons. One of them is Oleg Sentsov, a film director and social activist of Crimea, who was convicted to twenty years’ imprisonment in an unfair trial.

During Euromaidan protests, access to protective devices, food and medicines was of topmost importance. After the Russian attack on the Donbass, the ODF was granted a permit for "trading in materials of strategic purpose". The scope thereof was strictly limited to protective helmets and bulletproof vests. This year the ODF formally renounced this type of “trade” due to the lack of duly qualified staff and resources. Samuel Pereira’s claim that " the Polish counterintelligence helped the ODF to obtain a permit to trade in weapons in order to overthrow the Polish government" presented on TVP1 Channel, is an absurdist false allegation.

However, the frenzy goes on and on. On 3August, Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz, allegedly claimed that "let alone the noble intentions of the Foundation, permitting them to trade in weapons was a mistake". In fact, we have never got any permits, nor any other opportunities to trade in weapons, but our vests, protective clothes and medicines have been broadly used by thousands of people, including Polish MPs and journalists, both at Euromaidan and in the Donbass region.

Proper financial statements

The Foundation can continue its operations thanks to the support of several Ukrainian companies, including those owned by Petro Kozlovski, who contributed to over half of its 2013 budget.

A year later this contribution decreased to 20 percent only, because after the Russian annexation of Crimea, Kozlovski lost his companies and emigrated to the US. Nevertheless, we also received support from other entrepreneurs, West European NGOs and institutions. We particularly appreciated the inputs from Google Inc. in the form of online advertising, which helped us to highlight the issue of Interpol and support for Ukraine. We also benefited from crowdfunding initiatives aimed at supporting Ukraine. Many trainings concerning state reforms, cultural events and supporting refugees were carried out.

The ODF’s financial accounts were inspected last year by the tax authorities, and the Ministry of Interior and Administration scrutinised our trade in protective clothes. No irregularities were reported.

Two appeals

When the Constitution and rule of law in Poland were contested, and its political system started evolving towards a single-party regime, the core mission of the ODF was also put into question.

Hence, Bartosz Kramek, in his statement full of determination and despair, which was issued on behalf of the ODF, stated that when facing problems occurring in post-Soviet states, one must not overlook the attacks on the rule of law and democracy in Poland, or attempts to question of its affinity with liberal Western democracies confirmed by its EU and NATO membership. Bartosz Kramek, stressing that he is not an antinational radical, calls the authorities to stop dismantling of the rule of law and, instead, dwell upon the experience of the “Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity".

The sixteen items of the democracy defence agenda summarised by the claim: "The state must be stopped: Let’s switch off the government!" assume that the Constitution should be defended by courts, judges, teachers on strike, and, potentially, by citizens refusing to pay taxes. No wonder that pro-government media have started to trumpet the news that the ODF could “bring Euromaidan to Poland".

It is worth observing that shortly after the two draft system reforms had been vetoed by President Andrzej Duda, Bartosz Kramek published another seven-point statement where he expressed his hopes for reconciliation, and referred to Polish and Ukrainian experience in a dialogue and compromise. Nevertheless, he still stood firmly for the defence of the Constitution, independent courts and civil society. He also called upon the society to become more proactive and reminded that caution should not be misled with a wait-and-see attitude, but also, a noncompromising approach should not be tantamount to violence.

He also expressed his gratitude to those MPs of the Law and Justice with whom the ODF used to co-operate in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan (i.e. A. Lipiński, M. Osyka, T. Woźniak, K. Maciejewski, S. Pięta, P. Pyzik and M. Dworczyk) for their support and co-operation beyond the boundaries, and especially, for helping political refugees. He emphasised that the Law and Justice with its parliamentary majority was now in charge for damping down the controversy over the judicial system reform.

A threat

The ODF leader’s appeal for reconciliation and protection of a democratic state seems to be visibly linked to the most topical European issues. The conflict between the EU and Polish government, which has commenced unlawful systemic transformations, and opposed the EU principles, is detrimental to Europe and Poland itself, exposing it to isolation and huge economic costs.

Yet, there is a third aspect of this matter. Poland’s departure from the EU principles leads to the strengthening of Putin’s regime in post-Soviet states (except for the Baltic countries). In the case of other post-Soviet states, this process also wrecks many hopes for their EU accession, or even for tightening their co-operation with the EU.

And this is, undoubtedly, a tremendous risk for credibility and efficiency of operations of the ODF, whose main purpose is to promote Europeanisation of the post-Soviet regions.

***

Andrzej Wielowieyski – a former "Solidarity" activist, ex-Polish MP and current member of the Foundation Board.

 

 

The Source: Gazeta Wyborcza

Read:

  1. The statement and correction of Igor T. Miecik’s articles (Gazeta Wyborcza, 7 August 2017)
  2. ‘We are here to defend democracy’ - Lyudmyla Kozlovska and Bartosz Kramek in an interview for Gazeta Wyborcza

See other texts:

Read also:

  1. Open Dialog Foundation’s statement of 21 July 2017 on the dismantling of the rule of law in Poland
  2. Open Dialog Foundation’s statement of 23 July 2017
  3. The statement of the decision of the President of the Republic of Poland of 24 July 2017 regarding the judiciary reform
  4. The Open Dialog Foundation’s statement of 31 July 2017 (funding and donors, or a few words about ‘soroses’)