There can be no doubt that in recent years there has been a large restructuring of politics in Eastern Europe, specifically within Poland. The right-wing populist has been gaining momentum on top of the power that they already held. The shift in rhetoric and policy coming out of the country has prompted many in the media to wonder what the cause is, and what can be done about it. The extreme right did not come from nowhere, and the reasons for their surge in support are not new in any sense.? Two possible explanations for the populist “Law and Justice” (PiS) party’s rise are racism, and economic anxiety.
Racism in Poland has been increasing since 2015, with nearly two thousand total recorded hate crimes occurring in 2018 and 2019. Immigrants and refugees have been told to go back home by polish nationalists, who believe that Poland is for Poles and no one else. The people who bear the brunt of these attacks and crimes are typically Turkish or Muslim, but the hate is spread towards all people not considered to be “Polish” enough. Poland does not have a clean history when it comes to the treatment of minority groups, with persecution against Jews and Romani being the focus as well as attention shifting to the perceived threat of Muslims. It is not only people on the street committing hate crimes against these groups, the government also has a hand in stoking the flames of racism. In 2016, a council designed to fight against discrimination in Poland was abolished, with no replacement planned. Polish MP Adam Andruszkiewicz successfully advocated for the removal of the National Radical Camps symbol from police literature detailing racist symbols, further confirming the Polish governments sympathies towards the extreme-right. All of this is to say that Poland has a history with racism and prejudice, and that one cannot ignore that when looking at PiS policy today.
The increase of hate crimes and violent acts against minority groups in Poland has caused many to feel unsafe. So called “anti-terrorism” laws are being used to deport anyone police deem fit. As long as the police suspect you of being involved in any potential acts of terrorism, they can spy on you, hide the case files from your lawyers and send you out of the country. This all comes despite the fact that according to Foreign Policy, Poland has experienced zero terrorist attacks stemming from an Islamist ideology as of October 2020.
While racism most certainly plays a crucial part in motivating voters toward the extreme-right in Poland, economic conditions also have to be taken into consideration. When it comes to Poland however, this explanation does not seem to hold water. The financial crisis of 2008 rocked almost the entirety of Europe, but Poland was not among the countries hit. In fact, when the recession was at its worst, Poland’s economy grew by 2.6 percent. While the countries economy is not at the levels of its Western European partners, to say that things are collapsing in Poland is not true. The economy of Poland seems to be doing well by most metrics. Polish President Andrzej Duda even uses the economy to get votes for the Law and Justice party. The PiS is able to take credit for a growing economy and claim that by voting for them, you are voting for increased social spending alongside increases in minimum wage and reductions in retirement age. This is not to say that PiS is doing this altruistically. The motivation for increased spending is to tie the people to them so that they are able to stay in power through continued promises of payment.
How the PiS frames these economic issues plays a role as well. While the party targets elites, minority groups are also in the crosshairs. The messaging is clear, if you are an LGBTQ+ person, a Muslim, black or simply not Polish, you are an outsider that threatens everything that the PiS has accomplished. To this end, PiS has demonized these groups, writing laws that ban the promotion of LGBTQ+ issues as well as the “anti-terrorism” law described above. PiS also frames issues brought up by minority groups and the left as “communist” in an attempt to play on peoples fears. In this way, they dilute the words actual meaning into something alien and hostile.
The future looks uncertain for Poland and Polish politics. Currently, PiS has a strong hold over the government, and their exclusionary policies continue to be enforced. The opposition in the Civic Platform (PO) is not as strong as it needs to be, and The Left not performing well enough to mount any serious counterattack. For now, it seems as if PiS will be able to spread their rhetoric of hate and blame for a while longer. However civic action is still strong, with women protesting abortion bans at the forefront of the ongoing outcries against the government. We will see if one day the opposition can mount a comeback and reverse the damage that PiS has inflicted among minority communities.
John, I think you make important points about the reasons behind the rise of the Law and Justice Party in Poland. Anti-immigrant sentiments were clearly a central position for the party. Another angle I have considered for them and other right-wing populist parties in Europe is the relative weakness of the traditional establishment parties.
In countries in Central and Western Europe, social democrat and center-right, often Christian or Catholic parties have long dominated. However, those parties and their embrace of neoliberal and globalist politics alienated parts of their core supporters. In the vacuum created by these parties, opportunistic right-wing populists such as Viktor Orbán, Marine Le Pen, and Heinz-Christian Strache were able to mobilize and siphon voters for their parties.
Concerningly, the establishment parties have since realized their mistake and, in some cases, have embraced parts of the right-wing populist platform in an attempt to secure their political survival. Emmanuel Macron’s government has championed legislation that, if passed, will infringe upon French Muslim’s religious freedoms. In Austria, Sebastian Kurz has shifted his Austrian People’s Party significantly to the right in response to the growing support of the Freedom Party.
The pandemic could serve as a reset for some in Europe, but politicians across the continent must make a concerted effort to promote open-minded policies rather than embrace isolationism, nationalism, and right-wing populism as a short-term strategy. Similarly, the European Union must use its tools more effectively to counteract the Euroskeptic rhetoric coming from Poland, Hungary and elsewhere.
As the author of ‘’How did we get there? Right-wing- populism in Poland’’ states in the last paragraph- the future looks uncertain for Poland and Polish politics, however, from my perspective, the nature of right-wing populism in Poland is a little bit more complex. Especially, if we look at the results of the presidential election in 2020 when the representative of PiS (right-wing) received 51% of votes and the representative of PO (left-wing) received 49% of the votes, thus creating significant tension between members of society.
I do agree that situations like the demonstrations against immigration, racism, discrimination of LQBT+, etc. described in the article of John Lindenau happens, but the complexity of the problem is significantly bigger. At first, I would like to clarify that those incidents are supported by less than 50% of the society- mainly because 50% supports the left-wing party, but also because a huge part of society voted for the right-wing party due to propaganda and populist way of speeches without actual realization of the PiS intentions. The political situation in my country is critical, but thousands of people regularly go to the streets in order to protest in order to protect women rights https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55866162 or actively protect LQBT+ members through creating huge demonstration in order to block access of the police that was trying to arrest ‘’the head’; of LQBT+ movement:https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/12/poland-punishes-lgbt-rights-activist-pretrial-detention
I am mentioning all those things to present the perspective that even if our goverment represents very right-wing and conservative views, it does not necessarily represent the values and preferences of the majority of Poles. Therefore, we should bring the question- how did we actually get there?
I believe that the pattern of an emerges of right-wing populist parties in Poland is very similar to the one in the United States, but even more, intense; it is because Polish Society has more retired and elderly people than young adults or simply adults. What this creates is that the oldest generation carries very conservative values, and the right-wing emerges when its members begin to feel threatened by actions perceived as antithetical to their views. The undermining of capitalism, the belief in Communist political infiltration, and the belief that the entire societal apparatus is being manipulated are just a few brief examples that Hofstadter points to in order to describe the emergence of the American radical right (it represents Polish situation as well). Lipset argues that the radical right emerges in a quest to “eradicate those that threaten the traditional sense of values and economics” in the United States. Similarly, women right, LGBT+ or even immigrants are perceived by the older generation as a threat to their freedom and values that they were representing through they entire lives. What is more, the older generation has limited access to independent media ( as they are not fluent in technology), they mostly use TV (which is highly controlled by the goverment) as a main source of information. This is very beneficial for propaganda created by PisS (Law and Justice). It helps PiS to be on the side of the “people’’ in a struggle against groups like Muslims, LQBT+, etc. that according to them are trying to jeopardize the ethical standards of Poland. Additionally, Poland used to be a very religious country and in many households, religion plays a key role in the way people perceive the world in problems. This aspect creates a dangerous tool for the right-wing party to manipulate society. PiS supports Catholics with extremely big amounts of money, which push many representants of the Catholic religion to openly talk about politics during religious meetings by presenting PiS as the only one right choice: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24356444?seq=1
The future looks uncertain for Poland and Polish politics; however, every day many realize that PiS puts democracy in danger. The destructive actions of Kaczyński (‘’the head’’ in PiS) and his political followers to date, such as an attack on the judiciary by attempts to destroy, addict, or incapacitate the Constitutional Tribunal and courts, liquidation of the independence of the prosecutor’s office, liquidation of the civil service, appropriated and destroyed public media, dividing Poles at their discretion, nepotism and cronyism in filling posts, creating a false Smolensk cult, ruining the foundations of the country’s economic development, or scandalous foreign policy which is dangerously isolating and compromising Poland, mean that social discontent and the negative effects of the highly harmful rule of PiS will also fall, or perhaps above all, on those who supported them and pursued harmful activities. The ideological-political tradition (PPS Revolutionary Faction), legacy, and the connotations of PiS (KOR) do not allow us to reject the assumption that those actions will undermine credibility and lead to the loss of the authority PiS, which will lead to different choices of voters in the nearest future.