21st Century Authoritarianism in Poland

It’s a NSFW revolution…. “wypierdalać” means “get the fuck out”

Ola: As much as we’d love to keep to the books and movies, the Polish ugly reality won’t allow us this luxury. After the brazen dismantling and subjugation of the judicial system, effective reintroduction of censorship in media, transforming the Roman Catholic Church into a political force, and crawling incapacitation of the military and foreign policy, the ruling authoritarian party ironically called Law and Justice decided to take posession of the citizens’ hearts and minds – by force. Starting with the persecution of the minorities: from LGBTQ to foreigners, Polish government has ended on a very Atwoodian note – by overturning (arguably illegally) the already very restrictive abortion laws, in effect banning nearly all forms of abortion, even in cases of severe foetal damage or abnormality, which often results in the death of the embryo.

Let’s put this in context: 98% of the 1,100 terminations permitted last year in Poland (a country with a population of nearly 38 million) were in the category of severe fetal abnormality. The current government had sought to overturn this law before, and not because of some high abstract values but mostly for a very concrete political gain – the removal of women’s rights comes as a gift from the Law and Justice politicians for the ultra-conservative Polish Catholic Church; it serves a very significant symbol of goodwill and a tangible guarantee of continuing support of the dominant religious institutions for the authoritarian regime.

Let’s be clear here: while the abortion theme might be the most apparent, controversial, and commanding attention, it is not the main issue here. The crux of the problem is that an increasingly authoritarian ruling party decided to overturn a long-standing and widely accepted axio-normative compromise rooted in law in the middle of a growing deadly pandemic, hoping that the battered an divided Polish society won’t notice this (yet another in a long line of progressively punitive) encroachment on civil freedoms. And now, when Poles are protesting on the streets, the leader of the Law and Justice party officially calls for the extreme right-wing organizations to defend traditional values “at all cost,” exhorting them to “win this war” – basically, and in not so many words, inciting social unrest and violence. The Guardian called it simply a betrayal of democracy, and is right.

Piotrek: It’s increasingly controversial to call what we had a compromise. If it ever was one, it was between conservative politicians and the Church, and resulted in some of the harshest abortion laws in Europe. The Church seemed to be doing well despite a growing wave of scandals, but this time they might have gone too far and the bishops are seen as just as valid a target of public anger as politicians.

There is something going on in Poland. And we’re not talking about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases – although this is very worrying, as we had twice as much cases in October than during the entire pandemic before the current month.

There is also a rise in people marching against the regime. They march, they drive very slowly on busy streets, they sit and block crucial crossroads in city centres. The rural areas I blasted in our previous political post are on the move as well, bless them. What has changed? It’s too early for a final verdict, but one thing is clearly visible – young people are mobilized like never before. It’s probably the biggest political mobilization of Polish teenagers ever. I was among the oldest on the first demonstration last week. Veterans of the resistance are a bit bitter, perhaps if we had more support five years ago we could prevent a lot of evil – but that doesn’t matter now, and clearly people younger than me needed to find their very own reasons to join the good fight. Now they see they have a very personal stake in how the society is organized and they are doing something about it. I salute them!

I’ve never seen so much energy, joy, optimism. It’s a street revolution, it’s a meme war, there’s music. Politically we might achieve nothing, again – although I might be surprised again. But this week revealed a huge social change that never before translated into the world of politics – the catho-nationalistic ideology the regime tried to feed to the young generation didn’t take.

My city, my people. Photo by filmowanielotnicze.pl

There is hope; please, even now, when the most important thing going is is undoubtedly happening in America, pay some attention to our sad little country.

41 thoughts on “21st Century Authoritarianism in Poland

  1. The authoritarian right, in politics and in religion, with their doublespeak names (‘law and justic’ and ‘catholic’) have betrayed the nation and made their open criminality a virtue. I’m so sorry Poland has come to this, Soviet-era double standards under a different guise, and I hope that examples like Ukraine and the small Baltic states will inspire the population in the belief that mass disobedience will accomplish more than individual actions. So, so difficult in these pandemic days, I know. But these criminals (and I use the term advisedly) must be stopped, in your country, in the US, Hungary, the UK, and elsewhere.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. piotrek

      Thank you, Chris 🙂 I really see more hope than at any other time since they took power. Beautiful things are happening that will shape a new generation!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you, Chris!
      Yes; they are criminals – they’ve been doing strictly illegal things since they came to power. I believe that the fear of future accounting for their crimes is partly what drives them now – after all, they’ve passed a point of no return a long time ago.
      But what I’m worried about is the Belarusian scenario, and another one – of an unannounced, creeping Polexit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I meant to add Belarus to my list, but thank you, Ola, for including it, and pointing out the dangers of Polexit. Politics now — the US election, the EU fracturing, Russian toxicity, the Shia/Shiite divisions, Chinese imperialism etc etc — is carrying on its power games regardless of the pandemic and the climate crisis, and that has to be of great concern to us all. And your analysis that criminals in power have to maintain power to safeguard themselves from the judicial consequences of their wrongdoing is as true as it’s ever been, as we can see in all those nations that have fallen under the sway of populist parties.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Poland is nearby, only a few hundred kilometers away. As a neighbor state, it’s important to watch the changes going on there. It seems consequential and similar to other countries like Hungary or Czechia with all their right winged tendencies. Not that I could change anything.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. piotrek

      After recent presidential elections I saw German politicians increasingly resigned to make peace with our regime, loosing hope we will get back to the democratic side. Maybe now they will see a chance, help the EU to take more decisive stance on all the breaches of rules and standards?

      The idiocy of Polish government is not helping Europe, recently they blocked an AI document in EU Council over objections to the “gender equality” term being used. It’s no surprise the women in Poland are angry…

      The “my country right or wrong” crowd is always angry when people abroad react to injustices at home, just like the perpetrators of home violence would like to keep it all “in the family”. One more reason to spread the news…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. German politicians are well known for having a relaxed stand with bad governments if it just helps the economy. Maybe that’s what’s needed and call it diplomacy. In addition, there is always that history with both countries and Germany has taken arrogant stances in the past (like in the EU finance crisis).
        With all the turbulence about Covid and climate, the upcoming cleptocracies in the East are yet another front. Maybe it would generate interesting diversions in the news?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Extreme right seems to prosper in times of crisis – also in Germany, if I’m not mistaken? But yes, in the younger post-communist democracies of Middle and Eastern Europe the problem is much more pronounced. I do hope that EU will be able to take a determined stance as a whole, without singling out Germany, who seems to bears the shadow of the past still a tad too uneasily to make any anti-authoritarian proclamations lightly.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have a far right winged party in nearly all parlaments, the „AfD“. There are even neo-nazis in it. At least, they are not part of governments. They came up and prospered with the fugitive crisis.
        Germany isn’t free of nazis at all.
        But it’s also part of the culture to remember the holocaust inheritance and its causes.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my, in some ways all of this is disheartening, and I am talking about how it seems that society is not going forward, but backward… Forward may be a strange and indefinite thing, but backward is not good (at least in this case) and I am sad to say that in Italy the pitical climate is going there too. But it is good to see young people joining in and taking an active interest in the matter. Because it is a thing that touch every single one of us.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, indeed, Susy – it touches all of us. And if we don’t react quickly, we’ll be swept by this current. So I’m happy that Polish young finally find their political voice – three years ago, when the dismantling of the judicial system started in earnest, the demonstrators were mostly people from our parents’ generation – now, it’s the young people 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. You know it’s serious business when you guys don’t colour code your parts in collab posts! 😉

    I’m sorry to hear about these political agendas being shoved down the throats of citizens. There’s clearly a problem in how some of these anti-abortion laws are being brought to the table as if it didn’t draw attention to a clear issue in contrasting paradigms between different generations. Piotrek’s discrete comment on his old age made me laugh though. 😀 I can’t stop imagining Santa among elves now! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      🙂

      Well, in my mid-thirties I am way older than average. And not so long ago, when it was mostly my parents’ generation protesting, I was the young one 😉 Lets hope something lasting will come out of it, and all the generations will find common goals (beyond getting rid of the regime)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Lol, we’ve been in a bit of hurry 😉
      Abortion is always and always will be a controversial subject – but the main problem is not what exactly, but how it is dealt with, against the wishes of a significant majority of the society (only about 10% of Poles wanted more restrictive abortion law, and approx. 50% wanted more liberal law). The main issue is the authoritarianism of the current government; the Soviet methods, the open scorn for democracy; the hatred for people who think differently.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my goodness, I honestly didn’t know half of this was happening (my ignorance is astounding).
    I am both heartened that protest is being made and despairing that the situation got so far. I feel like the world is going backwards in so many nations and I do not understand it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You and me both ;). I blame the crises and the pandemic – people tend to look for easy solutions when they are scared, disregarding the complex problems of truth.
      I’m glad of the protests, though – before, the situation was similar to that of a slowly boiled frog: it was getting worse but so gradually that the majority of the Polish society felt complacent and indifferent enough not to do anything about it. Now it’s changed; hopefully this change of attitude will bring a change in politics in turn.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. News of the protests hasn’t seeped through to our news services, probably because our news is dominated by the second wave. News on the rulling on abortion did reach us. We’ll see how it goes: it seems as if protests in Belarus have hit a military wall. Much hinges on the elections in the US. That will or won’t empower authoritarianism across the globe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed; we’re all waiting to see what the US will do.
      I predict that there will be soon a full lockdown in Poland and the ruling party will hope to wait out the protests this way and see their strength dissipate in the time of lockdown; i don’t think it will work this time, though. People finally noticed that their rights are being taken away on a whim of an increasingly paranoid and spaced out misogynistic failures comprising our current government.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. piotrek

      Of course, there is also a risk Biden’s win makes Polish regime go even further into authoritarianism – with Trump gone, they can only find allies in the likes of Putin.
      But one other thing, beside women’s rights, that could mobilise our society, is the risk of Polexit (leaving the EU). Even right-wingest peasants like their EU subsidies too much, and for the rest of us, it’s a matter of civilizational choice we’re not ready to give up.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I have to echo what Suzy said: this is a slow but constant backwards motion, and it worries me that so many people across the world are falling for this kind of trap as if history taught them nothing at all. Either their memory does not work, or they prefer not to remember…
    But indeed there is hope if the younger generations choose not to take this lying down!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hope so too, Maddalena. It’s very hard to accept that some history lessons might be just forgotten or not learned at all. And I do wonder, if it’s the problem of the difference between individual and social memory – if the majority of us can really learn from someone else’s mistakes and not be condemned to repeat them… Here’s to hope! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Covid, mostly – they are currently introducing new lockdown measures and blaming protesters for the rise in cases. They’ll try to wait it out, I’m afraid – the new interpretation of the law has not been published in the required time, so there’ll also be a lot of legal hassle involved at some point, but for now they’re trying to hush the whole thing up.
      But I’m hopeful they won’t succeed this time – this one cut too close to the bone for too many people.

      Like

  8. Oh man! I didn’t know this was going on in Poland. That’s horrible. But I hope that the marches and the teens becoming involved in pushing for better changes will have a positive effect. Seems like that’s the spirit of the time we’re in now, younger folks pushing more and more for a better society.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I’d really love for it to work – and for young people to realize they have a stake in it and they have to make their voice heard; it’s a bit like the end of ’60s and the beginning of ’70 in the West 😉 Though, to be fair, all those rebellious young people of then are now the old, rich, entrenched power players of now 😉 Still, I have hope! I marched 3 years ago, I marched this year, and I see that finally there’s more conviction that these things just went too far.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Posts like this remind me of how little I know of what’s going on in other countries. It’s good to hear that so many people are standing against it the growing darkness. You remind me that I need to start listening to World Service news, as well as our national stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So many things are happening everywhere that it’s difficult to keep track of stuff beyond one’s immediate surroundings. It’s great to know more about the world, but it’s very time-consuming and requires a lot of effort, mental fortitude and inquisitiveness.
      Therefore I’m very happy we can share those tidbits with you and receive a positive response! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      Hi, sorry, I missed that comment earlier… but not much has changed since then 😉 Thank you, and yes, when we think about the future of society we live in – the worst year of my life, but not without a dash of hope, in the younger generation joining the fight.

      I had a short discussion about Polish metal with Bart from “Weighing a pig doesn’t fatten it”, recently, and he reminded me about Vader, band I listened to a bit in the past, and I learned about Graveland – I listened to a few albums, it was interesting, sometimes I am in a mood for something like that. Do you have an opinion about Behemoth? Bart is not their fan, I’ve never listened to them much, but their leader is definitely on our side politically 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Behemoth I know about but do not actively listen too as it falls in my “a bit too extreme” category. I dip my toes in there only a few times. I’m sorry if I disappoint you with that reply. I should give them a propper listen. I never know when a persons art borderlines that of anti politics or just being against everything that is forced upon us by the government. Ever heard of Drudkh? they are Ukrainian and they have worked some poems of anti war poets into their work. Really like them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. piotrek

          Well, as I confessed – I don’t listen to Behemoth myself, I just like the views of their leader.

          “Correct” political allegiance does not guarantee artistic value, and some of the best art was created by people with ridiculous ideas… that might even fuel their creativity. Bart’s post that started our discussion quoted Gene Wolfe arguing that Middle Ages were superior to modern democracy – and still, Wolfe’s books are great.

          I’ll give Drudkh a listen, thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I do not know how your Ukrainian is, mine is pretty bad, but their music is what i love most about them. Try out Sunwheel, Glare of 1768, Summoning Rian, the whole Songs of Grief and Solitude that is basically a instrumental version of some of their songs, but with a folk twist, really like that album, put it on before I slept every night from 2012 through to 2014

            Like

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