Image: Wikimedia Commons/ UPLublin

Universities independence under threat amid abortion law protests in Poland

A university leader in Poland has said that “the last fortress of democratic society” in the country was under attack, after the new education minister threatened to withdraw funding from universities appearing to support pro-abortion protests.

15 academic institutions have cancelled classes during demonstrations protesting against new anti-abortion laws, allowing students and academics to attend.

The protests have been the largest in Poland since the fall of the communist government.

Education minister in Poland, Przemysław Czarnek, said: “Please do not forget that I am competent to distribute investment funds for universities, research funds and other grants. The ministry will take into account the recent actions of the authorities of these universities.”

The minister is a member of the ruling Law and Justice political party which has been in government for the past month, and is known for his opposition to LGBT and women’s rights.

We are the last fortress of democratic society. I’m afraid we are just the last element of this puzzle

– Przemysław Wiszewski

Przemysław Wiszewski, rector of the University of Wrocław, one of the institutions that cancelled classes, said he wanted to give students and academics the choice of whether to take part in the protests and avoid “quarrels and violent speech” taking place within the campus community.

The education minister, who is a professor at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, also wants to reorient curricula “towards the teaching of the church and the national vision of history and culture”, Professor Wiszewski said.

“We are in trouble because he’s setting values and aims that are absolutely different from ours as researchers. So we are on a collision course,” he said, adding that the erosion of the independence of the country’s justice system began as “small changes and then it snowballed”.

“We are the last fortress of democratic society. I’m afraid we are just the last element of this puzzle.”

Professor Wiszewski said that the middle of a pandemic was “a good moment for the government to charge and to destroy what’s left of democratic society”.

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