New elections in Poland. And as the polls predicted, a big win again for the Law and Justice party (PiS) led by Jarosław Kaczyński. Although [BREAKING NEWS] as the final results come in it looks as if PiS have not won the Senate (upper house) as well as the Sejm (a definite setback).
New readers with an interest in famous cartoons here might be asking: who are this PiS party and what do they want? Western media outlets fall over themselves to explain:
- Poland’s ruling rightwing (sic) Law and Justice party (Guardian)
- Rightwing (sic) populists … super-conservative (Guardian)
- Conservative-nationalist grouping (Financial Times)
- Conservative nationalist party (BBC)
- National-conservative, Christian democratic rightwing (sic) populist party (Wikipedia)
- Right-wing populists (Washington Post)
- Conservative nationalist party (Daily Telegraph)
- Unusual blend of nationalist appeals and progressive policy … marry a kind of right-wing populism with left-wing economic politics (New York Times)
Basically, any outlet calling PiS ‘right-wing’ or even ‘rightwing’ is ignorant and/or missing the point and/or selling a #fakenews narrative. For once the New York Times gets it more or less right.
I explained all this back in 2015 when PiS won the last election with the biggest win in Poland since the end of communism:
Law and Justice [ie PiS] don’t fit into the UK’s political vocabulary. Some UKIP and Tories here, dabs of New and Old Labour there.
Law and Justice are usually denounced as nutty Catholic reactionary right-wingers by the chattering classes within Poland and around Europe. In fact they are a sui generis movement of truculent, carefully Eurosceptic étatist-patriots. They urge a “strong Poland”, by which they mainly mean robust and sternly honest state institutions, and a square deal for state employees and pensioners.
Charles de Gaulle famously said that he had ‘a certain idea of France’. Jarosław Kaczynski comes across as having a similarly subtle view of Poland…
The cleverness in the PiS approach is that it cherry-picks policies and attitudes from all parts of the political spectrum. It’s therefore no surprise that just as PiS has done well, the rest of the Polish political scene now looks uncertain and fragmented … Plus, of course, the incompetence of the various Left groupings who have successfully divided their own vote also make the results look more ‘conservative’ than they in fact are.
Poland (as seen from the crumbling ramparts of multi-cultural Western Europe) is an eccentric place. It has a strong national identity. Poles are very Polish. In fact Poles do a better job at being really Polish than anyone else. But with that perhaps comes a certain, ahem, rigidity in outlook and maybe even some psychological ‘complexes’.
You needn’t take my word for this. Look at what triumphant J Kaczyński said as the latest Sejm campaign closed:
“We want to eliminate that eternal Polish complex — [the feeling] that we are poorer and . . . in that sense, somehow worse [than countries in the west] … This complex can be eliminated if our policies are continued.”
Once any country’s leader freely says that it has a complex, it’s safe to say that that country does indeed evince some sort of defensive, uneasy, pessimistic/fatalistic insecure view of itself that in an odd way is reinforced (even enjoyed) by admitting it.
In this case, Poland was a European superpower for a long time before it got wiped off the map, only to reappear after WW1 and then have a grim time until the end of communism. That sense of frustrated Paradise Lost and being the puny plaything of vast historical forces does run deep in the collective Polish psyche.
This in turn explains Poland’s ambivalent attitude to the European Union. It’s good that the EU hands out loads of cash and acts to protect Poland against Russia. But it’s not good to replace brutish rule from Moscow with sneaky rule from Brussels, the more so when the EU is scheming to impose on Poland un-Polish radical ‘liberal values’ (eg the idea that ‘men’ and ‘women’ aren’t discrete categories) that Poland was denied the chance to help formulate.
The other thing to grasp is that J Kaczyński is phenomenally clever. He is by far the best politician I have ever observed at framing issues and opponents to his own advantage while keeping a steely eye on his strategic objective of making a Strong Poland full of Strong Poles living in a Strong State. He deliberately picks zany fights with domestic opponents or Brussels to project a sense of principled patriotic defiance that mobilises Polish voters open to those pessimistic complexes. But while he eschews Tweeting and other Internet fluff himself, he has an eye for inspiring clever younger people and letting them play with social media to advance PiS ideas:
In July, hours before the Civic Coalition announced its policy manifesto, PiS put up a fake website called Forumprogramoweko.pl, fooling voters and search engines seeking information about the party’s real policy positions. Clicking on issues like “education” or “foreign policy” led voters not to Civic Coalition’s campaign statements, but to pages of gaffes by the party’s politicians. The site remains active …
Sawicka believes PiS’s leadership has won the organizational battle so far, granting younger strategists like Szefernaker and Fogiel key responsibilities. Opposition campaigns stick with veterans, even in defeat. “It’s astonishing that campaigns lose, and the same people are in charge,” she said.
Despite this further crushing political PiS victory, with something like a whopping 45% of the national vote amidst an increased turn-out, last night Kaczyński was sounding disappointed that he had not got closer to winning enough seats to be able to change the constitution without feckless coalition partners (plus no doubt he knew that the Senate race was not going PiS’ way):
Kaczyński complained about “this huge front against us” and lamented that there were still many voters who don’t support PiS. “We received a lot, but we deserve more … This means an obligation for us, an obligation for more work, more ideas, looking at the groups that didn’t support us. We’ll have to consider a lot of things.”
Haha as we here know, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it:
My prediction back in 2015?
Jarosław Kaczynski has manoeuvred craftily for many years to try to give effect to his ‘certain idea of Poland’. Now he has a straight run at it: a young, inexperienced President and an absolute majority in Parliament for people who share his ideas. He absolutely does not want to mess up this tremendous position. If he keeps things steady, Law and Justice indeed might become Poland’s natural party of government and stay in power for a very good run.
Or, then again, it all might fall apart in a blaze of footling scandals and recriminations. Many Poles would say that that’s the safe way to bet.
My guess? They’ll have ups and downs, but not do too badly.