Poland’s populist turn: A looming Hungarian scenario


Poland’s election on Oct. 13 is the biggest test of the Law & Justice Party’s durability, say Bloomberg analysts Wojciech Moskwa and Rodney Jefferson. It has increased its popularity by reducing the tax burden on the poor and providing bigger subsidies for raising children. In a second term, the party vows to complete judicial reforms, nearly double the minimum wage, “re-Polonize” the media and possibly change the constitution, they write for the Washington Post:

It has already revamped the constitutional court, restricted demonstrations and tried to tighten one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws. The EU, which gives more money to Poland than any other country on a net basis, has pursued a series of disciplinary measures against Poland for failing to adhere to democratic values; it’s considering tying future funds to rule-of-law standards. Poland’s ruling party struck a nerve at home and abroad by calling for the country to assert its national identity, uphold Catholic values and control its borders. It is seeking to rewrite history, turning Solidarity freedom fighter Lech Walesa into a communist collaborator, making it illegal to suggest that the Polish nation had a role in the Holocaust and backing the creation of “LGBT Free” zones. 

Poles have clearly shown that, after three decades of transition based on the neoliberal reforms that became known as “shock therapy,” they expect concrete benefits from a welfare state, adds analyst Sławomir Sierakowski. 

National Endowment for Democracy

What is more, they will accept a welfare state that provides them these benefits whether it is part of a liberal or illiberal order – something that still seems to come as a surprise to the majority of Poland’s opposition and media. Consequently, what Poles are going through as their country becomes more illiberal and a Hungarian scenario looms can be seen as shock therapy in the opposite direction, especially for Polish elites, he writes for DGAP – the German Council on Foreign Relations. RTWT

“For Kaczyński, not everything from the West should be imitated,” said Aleksander Smolar, president of the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw. “His view is that Poland should be developed along its own lines.”

Those lines have three characteristics, he told Carnegie Europe’s Judy Dempsey:

First is the socio-economic agenda. To increase the birth rate, the PiS government pays parents 500 zlotys per month for every child, an election promise that helped the party win power in 2015, and which it implemented shortly after….

Second is PiS’s support for traditional values anchored in the Catholic Church, even though the church was involved in sexually abusing young people. Such values include opposition to LGBT+ rights and abortion. These issues have actually galvanized civil society movements into defending individual freedoms.

“If PiS wins the election, they will appoint one of their own as Ombudsman,” argued Professor Wojciech Sadurski, author of Poland’s Constitutional Breakdown.  “They will finish the capture of the courts and, most importantly, they will probably find some legal way to take over private media through ownership requirements. That will be pretty much the end of constitutional democracy,” he added.

Third is how Poland’s influence inside the EU has markedly waned since 2015. Even though support for the EU among Poles is remarkably high and Poland is the sixth-largest of the bloc’s members, neither has been translated into influence. This is in stark contrast to the time when the center-right Civic Platform party was in power from 2007 to 2015. Then, the Polish government lobbied for strong European defense and security structures and a more integrated energy market. ….RTWT

The palpable fear among liberals and on the left is that a second term for Law and Justice will irrevocably entrench its power within the institutions of civil society, the Observer’s writes. Last week, Gazeta Wyborcza, the newspaper which made its name in the Solidarity era, published a special supplement entitled The Black Book of PiS (Law and Justice). “How Poland became one political party’s loot.”

According to the sociologist Radosław Markowski, who has been a thorn in the side of the Law and Justice administration, “populism is a lazy catch-all description of this. This is authoritarian clientelism.”

Most analysts would attribute Poland’s political polarization and democratic recession to domestic factors rather than foreign influence from Russia or China, said a National Endowment for Democracy report on Sharp Power. However, research reveals many dangerous liaisons between specific political narratives employed by homegrown populists and Russian propaganda, as well as calculated efforts by China to portray itself as an ultramodern, benevolent power featuring an authoritarian political system that offers a better incubator for economic growth than liberal democracy.

Europe’s GLOBSEC think tank (above) recently awarded its Freedom Medals to Wendy Luers, the National Endowment for Democracy and five state National Guards from the U.S.‚ Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Indiana and Nebraska, represented by their commanding generals, who have helped defend Central and Eastern Europe in 26-year-long partnerships since 1993, POLITICO reports.

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