The state of votes
Freedom of Expression dominantes the desire to protect the image of the Head of State
The dignity of the supreme representative of Poland is rightly protected by law
Zuzanna Jablonska | 2013. January 14. 22:40
Despite of the Supreme Court's decision one can argue that the Polish law which protects strongly the President's image limits excessiveley the freedom of speech. As a matter of fact, the existence of a penalty for insulting the President makes it more difficult to criticize the President's way of exercising power as well as his political decisions.
Even if – as the Constitutional Tribunal justified it – the fact of publicly insulting the President can harm not only the President personally, but also the institution as well as the image of Poland itself, it should still not be prohibited. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of opinion... they are all necessary conditions for establishing a pluralistic democracy.
In the United States, one of the world's largest democracies, any measure which directly or indirectly limits the freedom of speech is absolutely unimaginable. Yet, the US has much more influence on international affairs, so insulting the President of the United States have graver consequences. Despite this, Americans protect more their individual liberties. And this should be the case for every democracy which wants to ensure freedom and equity of all citizens.
(Even if it means a silent permission to offend the chief public representative of Poland)
The above-mentioned blog gathers materials about the President Bronisław Komorowski, as well as some online games involving the shooting of his image, and pictures of him as a prostitute, a drunkard, a homosexual, or event a participant in sexual activity. Surely, it is insulting. Surely it can harm the image of the Republic of Poland too. However, the prohibition of publicly offending the Head of State can in fact lead to the elimination of any criticism concerning the person of the President.
In November 2011 Law and Justice (PiS) Party (the opposition to the current President Bronisław Komorowski) condemned the member of Warsaw City Assembly, Maciej Maciejowski, because he insulted the Polish President on Twitter. The party argued that it does not fit with the dignity of an alderman and that it is a scandalous lack of political culture and respect for the President elected in democratic elections.
Both cases are subjects to prosecution proceedings; however not laws but rather a developed political culture should regulate these kinds of situations in future.
Maria Dziumak | 2013. January 14. 22:40
Nearly a year ago, on the 6th of July 2011, the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny) unanimously ruled that the position of the President deserves respect and honor. In this way it confirmed the legality of article 135, paragraph 2 of the Penal Code, which defines a penalty of up to 3 years of imprisonment in the case of serious insult of the President.
"We have a fool for President”
This sentence caused a wave of public debates over the public outrage of the Polish President. These words were pronounced by the former Polish President Lech Wałęsa, for describing the President in function, Lech Kaczyński, in a TV broadcast on the channel tvn24 in 2007. Warsaw Prosecutor amortized the investigation, proclaiming that the statement had only an emotional character. However, after the formal complaint submitted to the district court in Gdansk by Polish President, the judges consulted the Constitutional Tribunal, which in turn officially confirmed the law stating that the presidential image should be protected from public insults.
The District Court had some doubts concerning the conformity of national law with article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protecting the freedom of speech. According to the District Court, in a democratic society, the opinion that the public outrage of the Polish President is harmful for the interest of the whole country, should not be accepted. Nevertheless it is true that he is a supreme representative of Poland on the international scene and thus his image should be respected by every citizen. Even if the freedom of speech is a fundamental democratic principle, there is another one: the respect of the will of the Nation shared by the majority of citizens, revealed throughout democratic elections. Thus, in the name of this rule all citizens should accept the elected President and not insult him publically, since in such a way they question the will of people. Moreover, other, less aggressive ways of expressing negative opinion about the actions of a Head of State exist, like critics supported by constructive arguments, which, in a democratic regime, are more than welcomed. Thus, whilst insulting is a very offensive way of expressing one’s disapproval. According to Civil Platform deputy (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) Jerzy Kozdroń, that can even lead to the disruption of the order in a country,while constructive critics can eventually cause the change of policy led by the President.
The fact that President’s honor is protected by the Penal Code does not mean that every other citizen is deprived from such a protection. On the contrary, article 216 of Penal Code defines the penailty which can be a fine or one-year imprisonment for the public outrage of any citizen. Even if the weight of a penalty in a case of the insult of President’s dignity is greater, there are still not many cases of such a judicial treatment and they are rather of a symbolic value. Since 1997, there were 210 accusations of outrage of the President, however only 3 of them ended up with a penalty; one with a one-year imprisonment whilst two others with a fine. Thus, in the case of the President’s dignity’s protection the measures have much more of an educational value. Based on the Penal Code, that creates the feeling of respect for the function of the President and recognition of its importance on national and international levels.
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