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Solidarity for Adamowicz, Poland, and Europe

The assassination of Gdańsk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz at the hands of a deranged ex-con did not occur in a vacuum. It cannot be separated from the degeneration of public discourse in Poland under the Law and Justice (PiS) government – or from the anti-European nationalism embodied by the PiS and similar parties elsewhere.

BRUSSELS – As the birthplace of Solidarity, the movement that helped bring communism to an end in Europe, Gdańsk has long served as a symbol of freedom and openness. But now the city is coping with the assassination on January 13 of its mayor, Paweł Adamowicz. Simply writing that sentence is a surreal and painful experience for me. The question is what consequences his public murder will have for Poland – and for Europe.

Adamowicz had been the subject of repeated political attacks in recent years. Because he was a tough leader with strong support in Gdańsk and beyond, his enemies pulled out all the stops to malign his reputation. But he was not alone. Since the Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, European Council President Donald Tusk, judges such as Andrzej Rzepliński and Małgorzata Gersdorf, and even the charity founder Jerzy Owsiak have all been targeted with shameless smear campaigns by the state-run media.

Polish politics has reached a point where dehumanizing one’s opponents is the surest route to victory. In the case of the PiS, such adversaries include not just opposition parties, but also immigrants, independent judges, and average citizens protesting abuses of power. Tactics that were once used only by gutter tabloids have now gone mainstream.