The Two Polands

We get political from time to time, that’s how we are. Remember this? Or this?

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.

IMG_20200708_074447Piotrek: 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.



43 thoughts on “The Two Polands

  1. Unfortunately, we’re seeing the same thing here in the U.S., though perhaps with more hope in the last few months. At the very least, our wannabe authoritarian is entering the election with falling approval ratings, an impeachment, and a massively bungled pandemic response. So, we can hope. But he still has extremely vocal, and armed, supporters, especially among white supremacists and religious extremists.

    We too live in a liberal bastion surrounded by conservative strongholds. Our state routinely elects conservative governors & legislators, while our city is one of three or four solid bastions of liberal voters (the others also being big cities with multiple universities).

    On a side thing, my father’s side of the family is from the Poznan area, really a small town outside Poznan.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. piotrek

      Thanks for the comment. Poznan is in a safely pro-democratic province 🙂 My city of Krakow is a stronghold of centrism in a pro-regime region, sort of like Austin in Texas (although I read Texas is becoming competitive 😉 ).

      There are many Polish citizens in America, do you know that the regime made it easier for them to vote in areas that generally support the ruling party (like Chicago) than in places where democratic opposition gets more votes (like L.A.?).

      A sort of federalism would give us some safety in at least parts of the country. If we had some form of electoral college, we would actually win 😉

      Local governments rely heavily on central government, with most funding being distributed in the capital. We fear the regime will attempt some hostile takeovers of our cities now, expecially after they finish subjugation of the judiciary. Press is also in danger.

      We lack the institutional safeguards you have in the US. Law and Justice won theiur first big victory around the same time Trump won his, but in a weak democracy it’s harder to reverse the tide.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unfortunately, an electoral college is easily subverted, as happened in 2016. Gerrymandering has also been a major problem—the “ruling” party in a state gets to draw the (federal) Congressional district lines, so conservatives have drawn bizarre districts to ensure their power and legislative seats don’t represent the voting demographics.

        That side of my family immigrated sometime in the 1870s to 1880s, I’m the third generation born in the States on that side (my great-grandparents were born in Poland and moved here as kids with their parents).

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, Americans have a similar homegrown populist problem on their hands – but as you say, the risk of Trump’s second term is low, because people realized how horrible he is as a person, but also how ineffective as a president. Yet the US are in better situation than Poland because the democratic institutions are so much stronger there.

      I thought your name is too Polish for you not to have some Polish ancestors! 😀 It’s really cool you actually know so much about them!

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Nothing beats saucy details in one’s own family! In my there is an unconfirmed story of a great-great-great-great…someone who had built a church in penance – and everybody’s been wondering if it’s true and if it is, what was that he did in the first place 😂😂😂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent and informative post!

    I’ve been watching political events unfold on the BBC in recent days and felt hopeful change was coming to Poland – I suppose I’m rather naïve but I was sure Andrzej Duda would be ousted and replaced by Rafał Trzaskowski. When I heard the news I thought of you two straight away. I’m so sorry it didn’t happen this time. However, it is people like you (writers and creative people in general) who often do most to bring about change for the better, so please don’t give up the fight. 🤗

    Liked by 4 people

    1. piotrek

      Thanks! We won’t. I’ve been quite involved this time, up to the election day, when I was an election observer in a small village in one of the pro-regime areas. It was a very nice experience, people were friendly, and they followed all the procedures correctly. And Duda got 86% there.

      I just feel we have a large segment of society that we can’t reach, and I don’t want to force them to see the world our way. I just don’t think we’re alike enough to fit into one centralised country. Perhaps some kind of federal model would work better…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you, Paula! 😊
      Your support and kind words are much appreciated – and much needed, certain hopes were crushed recently… 🙂

      We’re not going to give up easily – but it is difficult to think in the scale of decades when one’s life is more readily measured in years. I think this Polish situation is just one aspect of a broader problem of the globalized world in which fear starts trumping everything else. Duda’s election (tampered or not) is just another reflection of this fear. That’s why the good results of Trzaskowski give me hope still – so many people didn’t succumb to it! 😊

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I guess most countries in the West are experiencing a turn towards the (hard) right. I think things are changing too quickly for some, and migration is becoming ever more visible – up to the extent head scarfs become visible even in smaller villages – which was not the case 20 or even 10 years ago. On top of that, as most conservative teachers have been replaced by younger progressives, even some young people turn right in their desire to rebel. And last but not least: the internet reinforcing all that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      Well, and the countries east of the West are further behind… Poland never fully processed the Enlightenment. Many people here were afraid of scarves way before any were seen anywhere near. None are, still, in Law and Justice supporting areas.
      West has institution that can be expected to survive this wave of populism. Countries like Poland are more volatile. I wouldn’t be surprised if three years from now the regime gets this country out of EU and into the arms of Russia.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Come now, that’s an alarmist overstatement if I ever saw one 😉
        True enough, the main Polish weakness is the weakness of democratic institutions; and Russia will meddle as much as they can. But if there’s one lesson Poles took to heart from history it’s the one not to trust it’s Eastern neighbor 😜

        Liked by 3 people

        1. piotrek

          You think? When the EU finally throws Poland out, and the US is governed by Democrats, how long will it take for the State and Church media to convince their folk Russia is the new friend? The were pro-Russian sentiments on Polish right since forever, Targowica, Endecja, many small parties even now… Kaczynski and Putin share hatred towards liberal democracy, LGBT rights and the very idea of checks and balances…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I think Russophobia is so entrenched in our society that it would take a long, long time for Poland to get there. If we’re entertaining such far-fetched scenarios, however, I’d be more concerned with the Chinese direction 😛

            Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      Yes, that’s part of it – although Polish context is a bit different, shaped by our transformation from communism to the market economy in the 90-ties. What I’m worried about is that the Law and Justice managed to create a strong identity among its voters, and it’s a very insular culture build upon economic resentment. There was no left wing government in Poland for 15 years, and left wing parties can find no way to reach the parts of population that used to be their electorate. Regime offers some bread and a lot of games that is more to the taste of your average small town voter.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m reluctant even to ‘like’ this post as, in common with you two and the respondents here, I’m both distressed for you and the direction many countries are going (the UK no exception) but also often in despair — even though I in theory favour nil desperandum.

    The good news is that many cities, being magnets for a range of peoples and cultures, tend to be more liberal on the whole, a counterweight to the usually conservative rural population. So long as gerrymandering doesn’t give more weighting to those rural constituencies — and that’s always the kind of problem that faces political systems — then there’s hope, of a kind.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      I just hoped we might already be there… too early. And the regime consolidates it’s hard power (over courts, the police, media), not only its support. We might have had our last semi-fair elections. By the time enough people are ready, it might be too late.

      I never felt that alienated from the other side though. I don’t consider myself part of one nation with the kind of people that see all the hatred of Duda’s campaign and get excited, instead of disgusted.

      I’m old enough to remember when all the major parties were morally acceptable. People I liked often lost, but the country moved ahead anyway, as a whole. I miss that.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am hopeful, still; but I have the comfort of currently living far away from all that worrying mess.
      Education helps, but when the state tries to take over even this, things can get pretty ugly pretty soon. So yes, we’re down to pluralism inherent in the cities, and in the exchange of ideas with other cultures beyond the borders – but it is increasingly more difficult in times of covid-19 and economic difficulties.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      It’s very sad indeed. But it’s not just the evil politicians that are to be blamed. Some people are just ready for them, eager to pretend their problems are a someone else’s fault. That, if the LGBT community, or Jews, or even Atheist are removed, all will be well in their little, ugly world. It won’t, but there will always be someone left to blame, to be the designated enemy of the people.

      Polish right used to be very anti-Semitic. After Holocaust, there are no Jews here, but they still blame them for quite a lot (Duda accused his democratic opponent of having a plan to stop social spending and give the money to the Jews…). LGBT community is more visible now in Poland, so they are an even easier target. But such tactics only works on a population ready to hate the Other.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is a time-honored (insert sarcastic face) method of diverting attention from current issues: find a convenient target and blame it all on it. One would think that with today’s increased possibility of getting information, people would see these barefaced lies for what they are, and instead they accept whatever trash is served them without exercising a minimum of common good sense…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I, honestly, don’t know much about the history in Poland or the current political climate apart from what you two so eloquently presented here. It is unfortunate that the rule of law is not unanimously understood and preserved within a nation and that so much division is visible, almost tangible! Sometimes it makes me wonder what it takes for a whole nation to know a “revolution”, a collective shift in perspective that would lead to a new era. Maybe baby steps are the new change but if history has shown us anything, it often takes dramatic and catastrophic events for things like that to happen! 😮 Thanks for sharing this with us, guys. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading, Lashaan!

      I’m not a fan of revolutions – if history teaches us something it’s that they end badly for all sides, and usually generations must pass before the situation gets evened out. It’s like a pendulum; if you swing it too much to one side, it’ll get back right at you, with vengeance 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    2. piotrek

      I don’t know if we’ll get as far as to have a revolution, but I felt it probably was the last moment to stop the Law and Justice regime before it gets too entrenched. Now we might have them at least until a major economic crisis hits. And that will be painful, even if it moves the masses.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I have been wondering where all the Polish metal of late has come from and see how and why by this post. People are fed up, I am glad you educate us all on what is going on. I wish I could do the same regarding the situation in South Africa, but I will be taken as THE ULTIMATE REACIST, so I will keep quiet. It is good that you got this of your heart. I hope one day that we can truly live in a peace fiilled world. We are far from that ever happening…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Here in NZ there are many immigrants from South Africa; some of their stories are really horrible. I hope your family is safe there!

      Yeah, metal music is one of the outlets; usually when the political situation is bad, at least art gets better 😉

      Thanks for reading, Dave! I still hope it’ll all get better, sooner or later, and that weird nationalistic bend will go away together with Covid-19!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. piotrek

      The regime really hates it, when Polish people “defame the motherland abroad”. So, we wanna do our bit here 😉
      I don’t know much about South Africa, but I’ve read recently they’re not handling the Covid-19 situation too well, with a second wave already hitting, and hard. Hope all your friends and family are safe!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My family are dealing with things as they come up. People are told to stay at home but the majority of the population does not believe in covid… meanwhile, you are not allowed to visit family and friends, but the Taxi sector is allowed to fill their vehicles with no regards to the 1.5 meter rule. SA is a joke

        Liked by 1 person

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  8. buriedinprint

    Thank you for posting your discussion about recent events. I do listen to one global news program each week, but it only serves as a reminder of all that I do not know and do not understand, the tip of the proverbial iceberg. (So many more books to read!) But it’s tremendously reassuring to hear from other people, so far away, who are striving for equality and fairness. Keep on, keeping on!

    Liked by 2 people

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