Editorial view of Re-E & a quick background to a rant that follows:
Since 2015 Poland is ruled by the nationalistic/populist Law and Justice party. While they did win every election since, they do that with big help from very political Polish Catholic Church and tightly controlled state media (how does it work? read this Guardian piece by Timothy Garton Ash. He knows this sad part of Europe). They dismantle the rule of law, violate and threaten our freedoms, they are methodically building the sort of populist autocracy Orban already has created in nearby Hungary. The usual right-wing drivel about restoring greatness of the local nation has been combined with the ritualistic hypocrisy of an entrenched Catholic Church whose officials feel threatened and yet still strong enough to hold sway over a non-negligible part of the population, and culminated in one party treating the whole economic, cultural and political system of institutions as “spoils” to be shared among their staunchest supporters.
The recent presidential elections were a chance to do something about it. A democratic president obeying the rule of law could defend the last bits of liberal democracy in Poland, instead of supporting their destruction like the president-elect did for the last 5 years. It would not reverse the current situation, as in Polish political system president has limited power, for the most important ruling body is the lower house of Parliament – but it would have at least checked the autocratic slide.
We came close, closer then ever in recent history. Rafał Trzaskowski (his TEDx speech to be found here), a liberal mayor of Warsaw, our capital city, mobilised almost half of the voters. But almost half is not enough.
Piotrek: My window, with our guy on Wilhelm Sasnal’s poster.
Piotrek: President Duda, an enthusiastic stooge of the current regime, won his second term this Sunday. The fight was tough, lasted till the last minute, and the final results will probably be around 51/49. Still, after long, taxpayer-funded, hateful campaign built on overt homophobia, anti-Semitism, and absurd financial promises he won. We have to resign ourselves to this reality – Law and Justice’s message resonates deeply within the souls and brains of a big chunk of our compatriots. There’s more of them than there is of us. And I’m tired of trying to understand the other side, of pretending we actually share enough to be one nation in anything but a name. I don’t belong to their tribe, I don’t share their values and fears, they are not my people.
And this is a difference between how I saw the situation a couple of years ago, when it all started. There were some reasons to vote for them that I did not share, but accepted. It was all within the rules of democratic game. There were large groups of society kind of forgotten, neglected, my side of the political spectrum did not see that in time to offer them something meaningful.
This time we had a campaign of hatred towards minorities, the LGBT community, Jews, Germans, Europeans in general, non-white people, emigrants and refugees, towards, among other groups, people like me. As an atheist in this aggressively Catholic country I’m not in physical danger, but for many people on the regime’s side I’m not truly Polish, an abomination they hate – and are a bit afraid of, as there are more and more of us, especially among the younger generation.
So – I don’t feel compelled to feel much respect or understanding towards the victors this time. In fact, they’ve won everything but my respect. They don’t need it.
Now, I’m sorry for this long rant. I needed it.
Ola: I have emigrated two years ago. Not sure I can add much more than that 😉
But to put the current encroachment of one political party on Polish political system into context, we must remember that Poland’s most recent stint as a democratic state began only in 1989 (there were previous episodes, but not long, and the communist/socialist rule after 1945 had eroded or outright dismantled all democratic institutions). And so, all these institutions are much weaker than in old democracies such as UK or US – they are less trusted, less deeply ingrained in the system, and more dependent on political actors – which leaves an open way for manipulation, corruption, and ultimately destruction of them. And that’s what’s happening. Things have gone so far that many people aren’t even sure the elections weren’t rigged. And OSCE, who monitors the legality of elections in Europe remarked that
“Candidates were able to campaign freely in a competitive run-off, but hostility, threats against the media, intolerant rhetoric and cases of misuse of state resources detracted from the process. The polarized media environment, and particularly the biased coverage by the public broadcaster, remained a serious concern.”
But taking this all into account, the Goebbelsian propaganda in national media (which have the highest coverage in the country and are available for everyone, as they are reliant on tax money), the total control of the ruling party over the state institutions, the noticeable shift of the popular opinion toward political right – I’d say I’m still quite optimistic. Despite all this, nearly 50% of voters chose a democratic, liberal, pro-EU candidate – predominantly the younger, more educated voters living in larger cities (over 50k inhabitants), as well as the majority of women. So, there’s still hope for the future. Not the nearest future, maybe, the ruling party still has three more years in the Parliament, but hope nonetheless.
And yet, it is limited by the knowledge that right now, Poland seems more divided than ever. The differences between the two presidential candidates were stark; but they only reflected the differences between their prospective voters. Are there two Polands?
Click on the map for the source text and more interesting graphics (in Polish).
Piotrek: I’m fed up with this nation. I’m not yet ready to leave, but I’m really angry at the regions that always go for religious populists. There is a historical context to this division – when Poland was not a sovereign state, but divided between three neighbouring powers (Prussia/Germany, Austria and Russia), the regions (“voivodeships“) in red were Russian (central and northern ones) and Austrian (two southern ones, so called “Galicia”). The easternmost blue region is an exception, because Warsaw – our capital – is there. It’s the biggest city, quite modern and open, and its population outweighs pro-regime rural areas.
The blue provinces were either Prussian-occupied Polish regions, or actually German, with majority German population that was displaced after the Second World War.
There are still, after a hundred years, clear differences in how the small cities and villages look, how religious the locals are, in political views and social structure. Or rail network density.
We won 10 out of 16 provinces, all the big cities, majority among the young voters, the educated people. There are also some doubts about the fairness of the electoral process itself, especially the vote that took place abroad – that could have affected a small percentage of votes, but with such a close race, perhaps even enough to change the result. The division is real, there are quite coherent groups on both sides. I believe there really are two Polands. We are not one nation in anything but name.
Krakow, my city is in the southern red region, but we are a bastion of blue. That gives me some hope and keeps me here.
The below hip hop song by Taco Hemingway hit YouTube and Spotify last Friday. It is in Polish, but I’ve found a rough translation. I’m not a huge fan of hip hop, but there are some songs that are powerful like nothing else in our times. There are a few Polish artists with lyrics better than anything our pop, or even rock, created – this side of the year 2000, anyway.