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.
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.
Recently I have had the great pleasure of participating in an event commemorating what would have been Willy Brandt’s 100th birthday in Berlin. During the conference we elaborated on his legacy together with his old friend Egon Bahr. The discussions were very inspiring, however they led to the sad conclusion that Willy Brandt is not enough remembered in Central and Eastern Europe.