On October 13th, a parliamentary election will take place in Poland. After four years of the Law and Justice party (PiS) in government, this is a much-awaited ballot. Most probably, however, the result will not determine whether the current political course will continue—but rather how radical it will be. As of today, there is no serious competition to the PiS in sight.
This month, the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini of the Lega, travelled in search of possible partners for a ‘European spring’ alliance —‘a new plan for Europe’—comprising similar right-wing, populist, Eurosceptic movements. On his way, he had to stop by in Poland, governed since 2016 by the nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which seems a natural partner for this enterprise.
In the 2015 parliamentary elections, the results of the Polish Left were not good enough to enable them to win seats in the Polish parliament. Today, the biggest problem on the path towards challenging the governing national-conservative PiS party is that left wing parties are fragmented. Maria Skora looks back at the last elections and paints a picture of the state of the Left in Poland.
Poland and Hungary tend to be paired up when discussing the political crisis of the European Union (EU). The reason is the emergence of so-called “illiberal democracies” in these eastern member states, which do not comply with some of the founding values of the EU. Viktor Orbán seized power in Hungary in 2010, and he’s just won the elections for the third term. In Poland, the Law and Justice party (PiS) has taken over after winning parliamentary elections in late 2015. Shortly after, in the Krynica Forum in October 2016 both party leaders, Jarosław Kaczyński and Viktor Orbán, announced they would stand together for “cultural counter-revolution” and renewal of the post-Brexit EU. So, how long will it last?
For years Poland was depicted as a success story in the great transformation of Central and Eastern Europe. A democratic system was built swiftly, with stable institutions. At the international level, Poland aspired to be a bridge between East and West. Economic growth continued despite the financial crisis, resulting in improved social conditions and living standards. However, a deep belief in trickle-down economics never really eliminated social inequalities. The latest developments in Poland, including declining rule of law, are directly attributed by some commentators to that unhealed fracture within the Polish society. But as much as incomplete cohesion is a domestic matter, the ensuing institutional destabilisation and political turmoil have become a European issue: a threat to further integration and democratic standards that demands a strong response. Is the EU capable of one?
2015 brought significant political changes to Poland. It proved to be a great election comeback by the Law and Justice Party (PiS). Although new faces have appeared in the Parliament (MPs), this refreshing change did not prevent the monopolisation of political power: after 10 years in opposition, PiS won the most seats in both chambers of the Polish parliament.
In summarizing the results of last year’s parliamentary elections in Poland I briefly mentioned that “the rule of Catholic conservatives might stand in opposition to respecting the rights of women “. It took less than a year for this prophecy to come true. Thousands of women in Poland are joining Black Protests to demonstrate against the newest radical anti-abortion law proposal.
The refugee crisis has exposed cracks in the EU’s political foundations. Failure to agree over how to implement refugee quotas and inability to coordinate humanitarian actions has allowed Eurosceptics to vaunt their populist talents. Information chaos has wreaked havoc in Europe, radicalising public opinion. The Right joined forces, holding a hard line on immigration policy while appeals for solidarity and common action crashed against the opposition of the Visegrad countries – two of them run by ‘social democrats’. Thus, the refugee crisis has also exposed the crisis of the European left and its internal axiological incoherence.
Last Sunday’s election results left some Poles devastated, but others seem to be if not hopeful, then relieved. The massive victory of the conservative Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) defeating Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska – PO) was, however, not a political earthquake, but rather a self-fulfilling prophecy that finally came true. Perhaps it also is a manifestation of a deeper change within Polish society. The question is if this will turn to good account for Poland – and for Europe, too.