Polish opposition want to appoint official representing Polish diaspora

Poland’s largest opposition group has outlined plans to create a new office responsible for overseeing the interests of the Polish diaspora. There are an estimated 20 million people of Polish ancestry outside Poland, equivalent to around half the population of the country itself.

The new commissioner would deal with such issues as the electoral rights of the Poles abroad, children’s access to the Polish language classes, support for cultural institutions, recognition of professional qualifications, and repatriation of ethnic Poles.

Rzecznik Praw Polonii będzie analizował najważniejsze problemy naszych obywateli za granicą i rozwiązywał je we współpracy z organami państwa. Pomoże to zapobiec wielu nieprawidłowościom, również tym dotyczącym funkcjonowania placówek dyplomatycznych. https://t.co/lh3htSOd5D

— Adam Bodnar (@Adbodnar) September 18, 2023

The idea has been promoted in particular by Adam Bodnar, Poland’s former human rights commissioner who is now standing as a senate candidate for the centrist Civic Coalition (KO).

“Issues concerning the rights of Polish citizens outside Poland have been within the scope of interest of the human rights commissioner,” said Bodnar.

“But at the same time, we are under the impression, taking into account our numerous international visits, contacts, and the current situation concerning respect for voting rights, that Poland needs…a commissioner for the rights of the Polish community [abroad],” he added.

📌Proponujemy utworzenie Rzecznika Praw Polonii. Byłby to urzędnik wysokiego szczebla w Kancelarii Senatu, wybierany w drodze otwartego konkursu. Te miliony obywateli mieszkających poza granicami Polski zasługuje na powołanie instytucji, która będzie reprezentować ich interesy.🔽 pic.twitter.com/Us1AG9nQ2n

— Platforma NEWS 🇵🇱✌️ (@NewsPlatforma) September 12, 2023

Earlier this year, the current human rights commissioner, Marcin Wiącek, warned that new rules on counting overseas votes violate the country’s constitution and could disenfranchise Poles voting abroad.

Changes to the electoral code pushed through by the national-conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in January set a deadline for electoral commissions abroad to submit their counts within 24 hours of the end of voting. No such time limit exists for districts in Poland itself.

Concerns that this would leave overseas electoral commissions without enough time to count votes have since been exacerbated by the government’s decision to call a referendum that will take place alongside the parliamentary elections on 15 October.

New electoral rules require counts of overseas votes to be submitted up to 24 hours after polls close, a deadline that does not apply in Poland itself.

The human rights commissioner says that this is unconstitutional and may disenfranchise some voters https://t.co/Zy7mzaiTo8

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 19, 2023

The Polish government already appoints a plenipotentiary for the Polish diaspora and Poles abroad. KO’s proposal is to create a new office whose incumbent would be chosen by the Senate.

Bodnar suggests that the commissioner for Poles abroad should first be established working as part of the Senate and only after a few years, if the function proves useful, would the office be permanently created in law as a separate entity.

The opposition managed to take control of the Senate in 2019 through an arrangement between various parties not to stand candidates against one another. The same groups have reached a similar agreement for next month’s elections.

Polish has been made an official language in the Brazilian town of Áurea, which was founded in 1906 by Poles and where today over 90% of the population are of Polish descent https://t.co/waxA2MPKrb

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) August 1, 2022

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Main image credit: Polish Parade/Facebook

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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