Populism and protest: is Poland a harbinger?


Politico-Poland-FINAL-714x677The 2015 victory of Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party is an example of the rise of contemporary authoritarian populism, say analysts Joanna Fomina and Jacek Kucharczyk. The PiS’s rise can be attributed to a cultural backlash against “long-term ongoing social change,” and not, as the “Poland in ruins” theory holds, against trenchant inequality or downward mobility, they write for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

In spite of its limited core electorate and by virtue of a number of distinct factors, the PiS gained a parliamentary absolute majority; it has since drawn on this majority to dismantle democratic checks and balances. The PiS’s policies have led to intensifying xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, and unprecedented polarisation that have engendered deep splits within Polish society and have given rise to social protest movements not seen in Poland since 1989.

Since winning a decisive electoral victory in October 2015, Law and Justice had set about dismantling many of the structural checks and balances designed to prevent a return to the authoritarianism of the Soviet era, James Traub writes for The New York Times:

As the largest country in the West to have elected one of these authoritarian-minded parties to power, Poland may be a harbinger. Radoslaw Markowski, a leading political scientist, told me that he had begun to have an awful premonition. “Maybe this 25 years of democracy and liberal values in Poland is a deviant period,” he said. “Maybe now we’re returning to normal.”


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