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Our Rule of Law Festival at RUG

The Organizers of Our Rule of Law Festival. From the left: Tekla, Zuzanna, Elene, Anna.

Four second-year International and European Law (LLB) students at the University of Groningen have collaborated on organizing a two-day festival that will take place on the 17th and 18th of September and will feature several prominent figures involved in the struggle for the rule of law in Poland. Among them Adam Bodnar, former Ombudsman for Citizen Right in Poland, and Dariusz Mazur, a criminal judge whose involvement with the crisis had earned him a Badge of Honour by the highest judicial association in Poland.

Anna and Zuzanna are both from Poland, and with their friends, Tekla (Denmark) and Elene (Georgia), they took it upon themselves to the raise awareness of their peers about the Polish rule of law crisis. The crisis started in 2015 when the ruling party government had taken advantage of its new power of both parliamentary majority and victory in presidential elections to appoint judges to the Constitutional Tribunal, despite the previously elected judges waiting to be sworn. This had been considered unlawful by the Opposition.

Since then, the ruling party has been manipulating the composition of the judiciary, taking control over the public media and infringing on women and LGBTQ+ rights. The goal of the festival is to inspire a sociopolitical engagement of students to put pressure on the politicians in the Netherlands and the EU in general to take more decisive action against the people behind the crisis in Poland.

A secondary, but not insignificant goal is to bring students together and encourage engagement in the community. This is especially important after the year of self-isolation that robbed students of the opportunity to socialize. And with the pandemic continuing the festival reaches out to students who cannot be on site, to make it possible for them too to have a chance to participate. The event is particularly aimed at their colleagues from International and European Law program as well as International Relations students, but they believe that anyone who is interested should attend to learn more about the issue.

From one idea to the next

The four LLB students met during a walk with a stranger organized by Tekla to allow law students to meet each other in a safe and Covid-proof way. By chance, Tekla and Anna, and Zuzanna and Elene got paired together. Walking in pairs they bumped into each other in a park, where they started talking and discovered their shared interest in the issue of the crisis in Poland. They had been inspired by a lecture by professor Morijn organized regarding the topic earlier in February this year. Soon the decision to bring more students into the conversation took place and, with the support of professor Morijn, the Faculty of Law offered to help fund the event.

“After a year of being locked in your room, you want to do something with people and if the university gives you such an amazing opportunity you just take it and you go with it,” says Anna. “It far exceeded our expectations. It keeps blowing up massively, in different directions,” adds Elene. “At the beginning we didn’t think it would be this big.”

It’s not just a Polish issue

The organizers don’t consider the crisis in Poland to be as distant a matter as it seems.
“We live in the European Union; we are part of the community. When one country is violating the European principles- the fundamental rules upon which the EU is based upon, that puts the entire European community in question,” says Zuzanna “If one country, Poland or Hungary, doesn’t need to abide by the rule of law or any other fundamental values, then why would any other country have to do that? It’s not a Polish issue, It’s not a Hungarian issue, it’s an issue for the whole EU.”

To them Groningen, the international student city that it is, is a perfect ground to plant interest in this, and other European issues. The event aims to bring the issue to the attention of university students and build a greater European solidarity between the citizens of the EU. “We are in a special situation here in Groningen, especially studying International and European Law, but also more broadly speaking; it’s a student city that attracts a lot of European students. So, a lot of students have a stake in this situation,” says Tekla. “One of the reasons I came to Groningen was to learn what does it mean to be European get to know people from all over the EU. My world is bigger than just Denmark, it’s also this European Union and when there are issues in Poland then we should show solidarity from all over Europe and find ways to solve the issue and not push out countries that cause troubles,” she adds.

But the young women also highlight the sense of global importance of the issue they are tackling. To Elene, the situation in Poland, which is a European state, affects the EU. She sees this as hope for improvement in hers and other countries. “I think if we fight for this cause in Poland and it becomes stronger this stability in the European Union can be passed onto other countries outside as well.”

Sold Out!

As the organizers reported: the tickets for the physical events had sold out. However, the tickets to take part in all the events online are still available. All proceeds from the event go to OKO.press, an independent news agency, which has been highly involved in reporting on the rule of law crisis to the Polish readers.