Poland’s populist revenge


Cédric Gouverneur in Le Monde Diplomatique:

In October 2015 PiS [Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc)] won the parliamentary elections in both the lower house (Sejm) and the Senate, with 37.6% of the vote, against 24.1% for the neoliberals and 8.8% for the populist Kukiz 15. The progressive camp failed to clear the threshold (5% for parties, 8% for coalitions) and have no parliamentary representation. The left — which is divided between United Poland and Poland Together — has had its welfare ideas co-opted by the reactionary right and won no seats. The presidential election was a foretaste of this groundswell of support for the right: the incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski, was beaten in the second round by the virtually unknown Duda

Despite many attempts, no PiS representative agreed to be interviewed. But there is an insight into the party’s ideology in what foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski told the German tabloid Bild in January: “Who says the world had to evolve according to a Marxist model in a single direction — towards a mixing of cultures and races; a world of cyclists and vegetarians who only use renewable energy and fight all forms of religion? None of this has anything to do with traditional Polish values. It goes against what the majority of Poles hold dear: tradition, a sense of their history, a love of their country, faith in God and normal family life with a man and a woman”.

Conservative values are not the only motivation for PiS voters. The party has found recruits in the Poland of job insecurity and falling living standards concealed behind strong macro-economic indicators; the Poland specialised in manufacturing low-end goods for big European companies, especially German ones; the Poland of pensions of less than $330 a month. Ordinary Poles, like Kalabis and his family, have suffered under neoliberal reforms and often have to choose between a $250-a-month junk contract and emigrating. The nationalist, pro-religion, protectionist, xenophobic PiS has attracted these disappointed people with an ambitious welfare programme: a family allowance of 500 zloty ($130) a month per child, funded through a tax on banks and big business; a minimum wage; and a return to a retirement age of 60 for women and 65 for men (PO had planned to raise it to 67 for both).

Professor Radoslaw Markowski, a political scientist at the University of Warsaw, has studied PiS’s evolution: “When they were in power between 2005 and 2007, they were conservative, but economically neoliberal. They have become increasingly populist, xenophobic and Eurosceptic: it’s a form of Catholic nationalism, sweetened with a welfare package.” He identifies three groups of PiS voters: “First, there’s what I call the Smolensk sect, the people who’re convinced that the April 2010 crash was the result of a plot by Donald Tusk and Vladimir Putin. Then there are the practising Catholics, whose knowledge of the world is often limited to what their priest tells them. A third of Poland’s practising Catholics have had experience of the Church’s political propaganda.” Lastly, there are the poor, who are attracted by the party’s welfare programme: “PiS has successfully worked out what workers and peasants want.” The low turnout at the polls — nearly 50% did not vote — did the rest.

More here.