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The Dismantling of the Rule of Law in Poland

01feb11:00 am12:00 pmThe Dismantling of the Rule of Law in Poland

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The lecture will address the dismantling of democratic institutions in Poland since 2015, with particular emphasis on the attack on the independence of the judiciary. Poland was an example for Europe of a model transformation (after 1989) from communism to a system of liberal democracy and a market economy. It adopted a modern Constitution in 1997, joined the European Union in 2004, and has been successfully pursuing a process of rapid development, both in terms of building and strengthening democratic institutions and developing an infrastructure and raising the standard of living of its citizens.

The Polish example is an extremely interesting study of the rapid collapse of the rule of law and the simultaneous strong defense of it by society and the legal community. This is coupled with the precedent-setting application of European law and international institutions and courts to effectively counteract the erosion of the rule of law. The Polish example also shows that Europe and the world need new, even more effective mechanisms and instruments to defend themselves against populist attacks on democratic institutions.


Michał Wawrykiewicz is a Polish attorney specializing in constitutional law, human rights law, and European law. He is alsolegal and political analyst and social activist. In 2017, he co-founded the Free Courts Initiative, a think tank and educational center set up to defend the rule of law and raise public awareness about attacks on democratic values in Poland. In 2018, he co-founded the Justice Defense Committee for the legal defense and support of Polish legal professionals targeted by spurious disciplinary proceedings, intimidation, and harassment. He represents repressed judges of the ordinary courts, justices of the Supreme Court in numerous proceedings before the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxemburg and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

He has lent his expertise to international media outlets such as the New York Times, the Guardian and Le Figaro. In 2022, the International Association of Lawyers awarded the Free Courts Initiative the 2022 Rule of Law Award, and in 2021, the European Parliament awarded it the European Citizens’ Prize. In 2020, the Polish newspaper Dziennik Gazeta Prawna recognized him as one of the most influential lawyers in Poland, and in 2019, he was named Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.

He is currently a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy working on a project entitled: ‘Democratic Backsliding and the Decline of the Rule of Law in Poland: Resilience, Restitution and Prevention’.


Marlene Laruelle, Ph.D., is Director of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies; Director of the Central Asia Program; Director of the Illiberalism Studies Program; Co-Director of PONARS Eurasia; and Research Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University. She works on political, social, and cultural changes in the post-Soviet space. Marlene’s research explores the transformations of nationalist and conservative ideologies in Russia, nationhood construction in Central Asia, as well as the development of Russia’s Arctic regions.


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(Wednesday) 11:00 am - 12:00 pm


Elliott School of International Affairs

1957 E Street NW