Activists dressed as foxes participate in the demonstration for the day without fur on November 15, 2016 in front of Sejm in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Darek Majewski/Gallo Images Poland/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The Polish Government’s animal welfare plans have created a political crisis

Poland votes to ban fur farming and ritual slaughter

Of all the concerns that could have shaken Poland’s ruling coalition, few would have predicted animal welfare would be up there. Coronavirus? Perhaps. Constitutional matters? Maybe. Farm animals? What on Earth?

Of course, there are deeper forces at play. But let us begin with the facts. When a Bill which banned fur farming and restricted ritual slaughter came up in the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish Parliament, it was supported by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, as well as Jarosław Kaczyński, the co-founder and leader of Law and Justice, the leading party in the United Right coalition.

Kaczynski, an animal lover, had attempted to ban these practices before, but his ambitions had shelved in the face of internal opposition. Law and Justice has been strongest in Poland’s rural heartlands, and some of its prominent figures and supporters, like Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski and Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, founder of traditional Catholic stronghold Radio Maryja, view this legislation as something akin to a betrayal of Polish farmers.

One cannot help feeling for the mink and foxes who are being booted around in a game of political football

Many Polish farmers were outraged. Poland is the world’s third largest exporter of fur, and also, surprisingly, produces billions of zlotys worth of halal and kosher meat – not because it has a large Muslim or Jewish population but because it exports these products to the Middle East and Western Europe. Farmers rallied in Warsaw last week, holding signs that bore slogans like “Leave our jobs alone” and “Who wants to butcher Polish agriculture?”. “What should I tell my children?” roared farmer and president of the Institute of Agriculture Economy, “That we will live in a cardboard box?” They were joined by nationalist and traditionalist politicians, like Krzystof Bosak, the young leader of the party Confederation, who called the legislation “anti-Polish”.

Notably, the legislation was not supported by the other parties in United Right. The MPs of United Poland voted against it while most of the MPs of Agreement abstained. The Bill passed because, in a curious turn of events, it was supported by MPs from the liberal Civic Platform and from the left-wing coalition which bears the somewhat unimaginative name The Left.

While no one would suggest that Kaczyński is not sincere in his fondness for animals, some believe that he has other motives. “It’s not about fur,” says Adam Traczyk of the German Council on Foreign Relations:

It’s a proxy war with his smaller coalition partners. He had the feeling that […] the tail was wagging the dog.

Certainly, Kaczynski must have had misgivings about Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro. Ziobro co-founded United Poland after a split from Law and Justice in 2011, when the party was in the electoral doldrums. Kaczyński dragged it back to the top but still had to cut a deal with Agreement and United Poland. Ziobro has built a reputation as a firm right-winger in contrast to more moderate, less outspoken figures like Prime Minister Morawiecki – making himself a leading figure in campaigns against “leftist ideology under the sign of LGBT”. As Artur Bartkiewicz writes for Rzeczpospolita:

Ziobro’s problem, however, is that while he undoubtedly sees himself as Kaczyński’s successor, Kaczyński seems to have other plans.

Faced with resistance from his junior partners, Kaczynski did not blink. Marek Suski of Law and Justice said the party would continue to run Poland as a minority government. “The coalition at the moment does not exist,” he said, “Our former coalition partners should be packing up their desks.” Ziobro soon struck a comradely note, saying he was “convinced of the wisdom of our coalition”. Apparently, he has been summoned to a meeting to “hear the conditions of his party remaining in [United Right].”

Still, even if the wily Kaczyński wins this game of chess, the affair will have mixed implications for Law and Justice. Kaczyński and his party’s support for animal welfare may, on the bright side for them, have softened their austere image among many Polish young people. There was anger when an investigation revealed dreadful suffering on a Polish fur farm earlier this month, and this Bill might channel some of that anger into pro-government sentiment. Mr Kaczyński and PM Morawiecki even made appearances on TikTok to promote the Bill, appealing to younger voters who might not have deemed conservatism as compatible with compassion.

With that said, right-wing supporters of the government, especially from rural areas, might feel let down. Despite its severe image in the West, Law and Justice has taken relatively liberal stances on such issues as immigration and the environment, and being seen to have cooperated with the left to curb Polish business might lead to disaffection. Some right-wingers might place a high value on humane custodianship as a conservative principle, but others will argue that human needs come first – and, indeed, that a few bad apples are being used to tarnish a good industry. That Mr Bosak and his colleagues in Confederation have identified themselves so firmly with the farmers illustrates the perception that there are votes in right-wing disillusionment.

Meanwhile, Law and Justice and United Poland remain stitched together – the latter far too small to thrive without the former but the former not quite big enough to thrive without the latter. Ziobro sought conciliation this time, but he knows, in the florid words of former Law and Justice and United Poland MP Ludwik Dorn, that he has a “suicide belt” that he can activate if left without another option. One cannot help feeling for the mink and foxes who are being booted around in a game of political football.

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