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Polish human rights commissioner gives speech at IU's Maurer School of Law


Polish Commissioner for Human Rights Adam Bodnar speaks Feb. 12 at the Maurer School of Law. Bodnar spoke about authoritarian changes in Poland’s government. Shelby Anderson

Polish Commissioner for Human Rights Adam Bodnar spoke about authoritarian changes in Poland’s government Wednesday at the Maurer School of Law. 

A room of about 100 students and faculty listened as Bodnar spoke about the progression of the Polish legal and political systems. His presentation, “Human Rights and Power: Polish Road towards Illiberal State,” was the law school’s annual Addison C. Harris Lecture.

Bodnar said democracy in Poland is slowly being dismantled and the government is becoming more controlling. However, activist behavior has continued through peaceful protesting.

As the commissioner for human rights, Bodnar said he views his position as useful because it is a bridge between the new, more authoritative Poland and the old, more democratic Poland. He said part of his work is trying to preserve democratic values that are growing less common in Poland. 

“If Poland comes back to democracy, it will still look totally different,” Bodnar said. “It may take a whole generation.”

When an audience member asked him about journalists in Poland, he said some are still attempting to do investigative work, but others are submitting to the government.

Attendee Andrzei Porebski, a Polish fourth year law student said he enjoyed how Bodnar focused on explaining important issues that are taking place in Poland. He said the speech helped him see how to explain Poland’s complicated political system to people who aren’t from Poland.

Joseph Hoffmann, an IU law professor, compared Poland to a canary in a coal mine. He said activists in Poland are showing resistance, and Poland could be an example to other states with nationalist, populist governments trying to take over of how they can try to keep democracy from being diminished.

As Poland’s government attempts to consolidate power by taking over the courts and justice department, Hoffmann said something similar could happen in the U.S. He referenced President Donald Trump’s recent controversial statements about Roger Stone’s prison sentencing in which he berated the federal judge and prosecutors involved in Stone's case on Twitter.

Hoffmann said the U.S. is susceptible to authoritative change, but he said he is encouraged by the U.S.’s 200 years of political history compared to the 30 years Poland has been a democracy.

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