Poland is about to have a second-round run-off in an important Presidential election. Incumbent President Andrzej Duda of Law and Justice is in a tight race with Rafał Trzaskowski (Civic Platform) the Mayor of Warsaw.
This is typically presented by the chatterati as quite a civilisational battle: nasty reactionary xenophobic ultra-nationalist right-wing Law and Justice against chic, modern, liberal-minded, pro-EU, pro-LGBTQ+ progressive thought in general!
As of today (10 July) the polls are noisily proclaimed to be too close to call, which (I cynically suspect) means that Duda is edging it. But there’s no way of assessing the mood in Poland when one is far away in #lockdown UK – there’s one suggestion on Twitter that Trzaskowski maybe is slipping back into rather lame Kaczyński-bashing. Just not working hard enough?
I’ve written here on and off about Poland the Law and Justice (PiS) phenomenon. See eg this from 2016:
Jarosław Kaczynski has won power by relentlessly championing the idea of More Poland (and More Poles). He plays skilfully on Poles’ romantic views about themselves but also on a Polish collective pessimism.
Poland is not a multi-culti melting-pot with different languages and ethnic traditions jostling for position, as now happens in most western European countries. Instead it is a genuine nation-state, where state institutions are seen as championing the cause of the Polish nation as such.
However ridiculous it sounds to say so, Poland is overwhelmingly Polish. PiS wants it to stay that way.
The Law and Justice party since then have, perhaps against expectations, managed to sustain a more than successful economic policy:
Poland also managed to find robust innovative sources of growth in the ‘New economy’. One of the fastest growing sectors is video games development. The success of CD Projekt, now a company with a market capitalization of over EUR 5bn surging almost ten-fold over the last 3 years, triggered an impressive growth in the number of video game developers in the country.
Presiding over PiS is the enigmatic and (for liberals) loathsome figure of Jarosław Kaczyński. He has the very temerity to opine that ‘men’ and ‘women’ are distinct categories. Hate! Cancel him NOW.
Kaczyński interviews may come across as eccentric if not offensive beyond Poland, but they are typically ‘strategic’ and interesting. His thoughts as given to Catholic-conservative TV Trwam as the election showdown looms.
A big part of the Kaczyński/PiS pitch is to denounce ‘elites’:
Our opponents are ready to treat Poland as a kind of an addition to Germany. That airport in Berlin instead in Poland shows what this is all about. [Rafał Trzaskowski said two years ago that Poland does not need the Central Transport Hub as an airport is being built in Berlin and we can hardly compete with it].
We want to be a great European nation; they do not want to be a great European nation as they know that if Poland is a great European nation, this “elite” will have nothing to say.
When in Polish doubt, bash the Germans!
We saw an extremely brutal and far-going interference on the part of the press. Let’s not conceal this: German press. We need to prevent such situations in the future in general.
(…) The situation in the Czech Republic was worse for many years. Now it has incomparably improved as everything that was German has been bought out and now is Czech. We must go in this direction.
We must reckon with the law as we are in the European Union. But a lot can be done within the framework of this law if one has the will and determination. We cannot consent to a situation where a part of our national system is in foreign hands. Because all those who argue that this is immaterial, that capital has no nationality, cynically lie. (…) This is manifestly untrue. Every self-respecting state makes sure that the media remain in the hands of its citizens or institutions.
In Spain, Ringier Axel Springer tried to set up something like our Fakt – a big tabloid. And it collapsed quickly because Spaniards, knowing that it is not Spanish-owned, simply did not buy it. We need to teach our fellow countrymen to adopt such an approach … we need to make sure that Poland has a Polish nervous system.
Now that is a powerful metaphor: make sure that Poland has a Polish nervous system.
Ideological battle rages across the Western space over exactly this. In today’s globalised world (sic), is ‘national identity’ (especially when the nation concerned is ‘white’) necessarily a malevolent inherently raaaaaaacist force? Or is national identity always something special and worth championing, a valuable part of our shared global identity? In either case, what policies make sense?
The stakes are also about the shape of the Polish state. It can either be very far from perfect and compatible in its practice with liberal-democratic assumptions, or it can serve genuine interests of citizens so that we can live safely in Poland and so that Poland can develop at a fast pace.
Just remember that Law and Justice are not ‘right-wing’, let alone ‘ultra-conservative’. They are crafty if truculent patriotic-welfare étatists, suspicious of ‘international capital’ and toiling to help Poland become ‘strong’ both as a state and as a European/EU country in its own right and with its own loud Polish voice. The see that as the only sure way to make up for all the decades lost to useless Soviet imperial communism.
On that note, was Trzaskowski’s mother a communist snitch?
My utterly ignorant guess? Duda by a bit of clear water.