Earlier this week after days of mass protests in Poland, President Andrzej Duda vetoed two bills that would have severely compromised the independence of the country’s judiciary, particularly that of the Supreme Court. Duda’s own party had put the measures forth, making his surprising, courageous move all the sweeter for lovers of liberty in Poland. One of them who played a key role in it all is a remarkable woman I first met in 1986 named Sofia Romaszewski (Zofia Romaszewska in Polish).
“We asked them to blink their lights and when we then went to the window, all of Warsaw was blinking.”
All of Warsaw Was Blinking
For more than three decades I have shared with audiences around the world a story I first learned from Sofia and her late husband Zbigniew when I secretly spent an evening with them in communist Poland. The two had only recently been released from prison for having run an underground radio during martial law. Its message was anti-communist and pro-freedom. When I asked them in November 1986 how they knew if people were listening and supportive when they were broadcasting, Sofia said, “We asked them to blink their lights and when we then went to the window, all of Warsaw was blinking.”
You can read more about the famous “blinking lights” story here.
Sofia is now 76. Her husband Zbigniew became a member of the Polish parliament when the communists were swept from power in 1989 and served until his death in February 2014. Three friends and I visited them in a free Poland in 2003 and I’ll never forget the kindness they showed us at their summer cottage in the Tatra Mountains near Zakopane, seventeen years after my initial interview of them.
Sofia was a hero 35 years ago, and she’s a hero again today.
Referring to Sofia by name, the July 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal reported, “The laws, she said, would return Poland to an era when courts took orders from the ruling party, as they did under Communism.” She knows what she’s talking about, from personal experience. Sofia was a hero 35 years ago, and she’s a hero again today. You can see photos and video of her this week with President Duda here, here, and here.
One of several organizations in Poland that FEE collaborates with is a student group called KoLiber, and its president is a good friend, Mikolaj Pisarski. KoLiber was among the first pro-market private groups in the country to issue a statement in defense of the rule of law during the recent controversy that Sofia helped to resolve. By e-mail, Mikolaj offered this comment:
As Aristotle famously stated in his Politics, “it is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens.” Ironically the party revering “The Law” in its very name wanted to completely ignore this wise advice. The current set of bills “reforming” Common Courts, the National Council of the Judiciary of Poland and the Supreme Court would have effectively centralized all power within hands of the Minister of Justice (who in Poland's case is also Prosecutor General).
He would have gained power not only to halt already running terms of office of appointed judges but also would be able to arbitrary nominate judges on all levels of the judiciary system: from Presidents of Common Courts all the way to Supreme Court judges. These proposed laws represented a serious threat to the Rule of Law.
We at KoLiber urged Parliament to reject the bills and then when they passed, we asked the President to veto them. Luckily the President, himself a lawyer and a former member of Law & Justice, mustered the courage to veto two out of the three bills, opening a path towards much needed systemic and thought-through reform of the Polish judiciary. We applaud the President’s vetoes and Zofia Romaszewska for her important role in making them happen!"
Thank you, Sofia, for your life commitment to speaking truth to power! Your courage, your heroism, remains a beacon for us all.
For other articles by Reed on Poland and Polish heroes, see:
- A Tribute to the Polish People
- The Polish Underground
- Witold Pilecki: Bravery Beyond Measure
- Science Fiction and Communist Reality
- Marie Curie: Trailblazing Scientist
- Jerzy Popieluszko: Witness to Truth and Freedom