If they’re out, then who is in?

New power, old habits

16th of November marked the end of the eight-year tenure of the ‘liberal’ Civic Platform (PO) in the Polish government. Law and Justice (PiS), the ‘rightist’ opposition, won a landslide victory, making it the first single party to get a majority since 1989, when first democratic elections took place. The May presidential elections turned out to be the prelude to this victory with Andrzej Duda, supported by PiS, taking over from the then incumbent Bronisław Komorowski.

To many, the recently elected party represents moving away from the path of a more enlightened understanding of social issues, such as gay rights and secularisation, to much more Catholic-minded and traditionalist ‘God, Honour, and Fatherland’ (a unifying Polish motto) values. When PiS had previously been in power some ten years ago, their government was characterised by phone-tapping and mass public vetting, and an ever-growing role of special and anti-corruption forces. Despite trying to set high standards, these practices were particularly directed at opposition politicians.

The new government may, at a glance, seem as if the old days are past. Quite surprisingly, a female was chosen to run for the Prime Minister (Beata Szydło). New faces are to be seen in the Cabinet. However, the most extremist hardliners remain, such as Antoni Macierewicz, known for his hawkish remarks regarding Russia and adherence to conspiracy theories, who was chosen as the head of National Defence (dubbed ‘The War Minister’). No one doubts that the real power will remain with the party leader – Jarosław Kaczyński (twin brother of the late President, Lech, who died in a plane crash in 2010), who has been known for his militaristic and hostile attitudes towards foreigners (from both East and West frontiers).

Trouble at home and abroad

All of this may not seem of any importance, unless you are particularly interested in foreign politics, or a Polish national. However, Poland is now the biggest economy in Central Europe having emerged relatively unscathed from 2007-8 financial crisis. Poland’s former Prime Minister Donald Tusk is the current President of European Council, and approximately 900,000 Poles are living in Britain – these factors make the Polish politics relevant to the UK. Most importantly, a change in the Polish government may represent a fundamental change in the European affairs. For it must be said that PiS is fundamentally anti-European. Therefore, as many in the past have held Poland as the prime example of success of European integration, now that it may be out, who will remain?

This is not to suggest that Poland is in any way closer to leaving EU, far from it. It still remains the greatest benefactor of the European development funds, and gains hugely from the free movement of labour, under Schengen agreement, and foreign investment linked to European trade. However, the change is psychological. Before, it was held as an example , now it may become its creator’s critic.

Cracks begin to show

A huge debate was sparked in Poland on the eve of the migration crisis: the then prime minister of Poland (Ewa Kopacz) agreed for 100,000 asylum-seekers to be allowed into the country, making Poland the only one among Visegrad Group (the other three being Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary) to do so. Compared with the number of immigrants in Germany, the count seemed poor, but even that decision was widely criticised by a major part of the Polish public, and added to the government's unpopularity.

Many fear a Polish ‘Orbanisation’, as it is known that Mr Kaczynski looks up to the hard-line prime minister of Hungary, Victor Orban, in terms of his way of ruling and ideology. The latter seems to personify the determined anti-immigration policy and claims that “Islam was never part of Europe”. Added to this are the many outspoken reactions of Polish war-mongers to the Paris attacks, which seem to have congealed the lack of acceptance and fear against any foreigners of Muslim origin. Mass rallies chant songs with unambiguous connotations and the public seem to be convinced that the problem lies fundamentally with Muslim religion itself, giving rise to ideas like ‘religion checks’ on borders.

The tensions between Poland and the European Union are on the rise. Last Wednesday (18th November), Jean-Claude Juncker (the President of the European Commission) was explicit in saying that Poland needs to obey the European directive to absorb the asylum-seekers as its duty during the ‘State of Europe Debate’. This sparked outrage amomg the ruling party ranks. Cracks are clear to be seen.

As a fellow Pole, the author would like to offer some perspectie to the citizens of his homeland - these are not times for petty arguments and dissociation. Values of solidarity and integrity are imperative now. It is necessary to take decisive action and adopt a solid stance, but in doing so we should never forget the values that define European unity and, more importantly, our humanity.

Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Poland_map_flag.svg